CHICAGO | Moses Mosop not only hopes to be the fastest man in today's Chicago Marathon he wants to complete a comeback 26.2-mile run in record time.
The 28-year-old Kenyan, the 2011 Chicago winner, said Friday he's nearly back to full strength after being sidelined for nearly 18 months after last year's New York Marathon was canceled and a subsequent calf injury.
"I was supposed to run in New York, then after that I go back home and I get the injury and my doctor told me to stop training," Mosop said. "I'd say I'm 95 percent ... and the course record (2:04.38) is in my mind."
The 36th Chicago Marathon is expected to draw 45,000 runners and an estimated 1 million spectators along a flat, twisting route through 29 neighborhoods, lakefront parks and the downtown Loop business district.
The elite fields include 37 men and 20 women racing for a $100,000 first prize in each division while a record wheelchair field includes 25 men and nine women. Near-ideal running conditions are predicted with temperatures in the 40s and light winds from the north to start and rising to the mid- to upper 60s.
"We probably have one of the most athletic fields," said Carey Pinkowski, race executive director. "We have some great experience here (and) there's some young athletic runners on both on the men's and women's side.
In 2012, Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede set a new Chicago course record, breaking Mosop's mark of 2:05.37. But Kebede is not running this year, leaving the field open to a group of seven Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. Mosop's current personal best is 2:03.06.
Kenyan Dennis Kimetto and Ethiopian Ayele Abshero are among the top challengers with personal best times of 2:04.16 and 2:04.23, respectively. The top American male entry is Dathan Ritzenhein, whose 2:07.47 personal best is seventh-fastest among the elites.
Two-time U.S. track and field Olympian Matt Tegenkamp will run his first marathon on Sunday.
"Right now I'm pretty calm, it's definitely going to be a pretty big task (today)," he said. "As we keep moving forward there's going to be more and more butterflies building. But it'll be a good thing, an anticipation of the unknown and tackling a new challenge."
The women's race features reigning champion Atsede Baysa, an Ethiopian who won in 2:22.03. She'll face runner up Rita Jeptoo in a rematch as they race together for the first time since last fall.
Baysa outsprinted Jeptoo in the final leg to win Chicago by a second last year as each recorded personal bests. Jeptoo went on to win the 2013 Boston Marathon.
"I'm here again this year and ready to do anything," said Jeptoo, who ran a half-marathon in in February and then won her second Boston Marathon by 33 seconds over her closest competitor in April. "My training is good and I believe I'm OK."
The Chicago Marathon is the first major U.S. race since bombings near the finish line of the April 15 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured scores more.
Chicago police and the Department of Homeland Security have ramped up security to include an estimated 1,000 uniformed and undercover officers, bomb-sniffing dogs and reliance on some of the city's 22,000 surveillance cameras. Access to the start and finish areas will be strictly limited and spectators will not be permitted to jump into the race even to encourage a struggling runner.
Elite runners like Mosop say they're focused on the race, not security.
"We're there for running," he said. "When you're running you forget everything."
The women's wheelchair race features local favorite Tatyana McFadden, a three-time Chicago champ and winner of three gold medals at the 2012 London Games. McFadden, a 23-year-old from Champaign, Ill., won in 1:49.52 in 2012
Fresh off a 10-kilometer race in Ottawa on Thursday, Canadian Josh Cassidy is back to defend his 2012 title. The 27-year-old Cassidy finished his first Chicago championship run in 1:32.58 after setting a world record 1:18.25 time in Boston six months earlier.
Chicago is among five races in the World Marathon Majors, a two-year international cycle of elite races. Next up is the Nov. 3 New York City Marathon. The 2012 New York race was canceled in the wake of Sandy, which struck in late October 2012 and left large areas of the region damaged.