Sandy sends a few contenders to CIM

12/01/2012 12:00 AM

12/01/2012 10:16 AM

In years such as this, race director John Mansoor expects a smaller field of elite runners for the California International Marathon.

Turnout often ebbs right after the Olympics, he said, because American runners aren't flocking to the fast course in hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

The top of Sunday's field appeared similarly tight — until last month, when organizers canceled the New York City Marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Some elite runners began looking for other places to race, and some — Mansoor estimates about 10 — settled on Northern California.

"If we were going to have five runners in contention (to win) prior to New York, we now maybe have 10," Mansoor said.

It hasn't created a scenario, he said, in which "a person was favored to win (the CIM) prior to New York, and now New York has sent somebody who is heads above the field. But it certainly added some depth and strength."

That adds intrigue to Sunday's Folsom-to-Sacramento race. If conditions are wet and windy, as expected, it's unlikely anyone will run the race like 2010 winner Dylan Wykes, who broke away from the leaders early and tackled the rest of the course alone.

Should the leaders stick together into the later miles, more depth means more potential answers to the question of who will try to "kick" first toward the finish line — and more competition for each individual to consider.

"The real question with those New York runners is they're a month past their peak right now," Mansoor said. "And if they were totally focused on New York, that's a long time to try to maintain your peak. That's going to be difficult for them."

The timing, said Flagstaff, Ariz.-based runner Nick Arciniaga, was part of the reason he settled on the CIM. The 29-year-old, who finished eighth at the Olympic Trials in January, had tapered his training ahead of the New York event and needed to build up and re-taper before racing.

Arciniaga said it's "difficult to get my mind wrapped around being able to be physically ready for this race."

The breakthrough, he said, came at the 10K Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving.

"It went 10 times better than I expected," said Arciniaga, who finished third in 29 minutes, 29 seconds. "It let me know what my fitness actually was, rather than just what I was hoping it would be."

Arciniaga immediately appears among the favorites in the CIM men's field. His personal best of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds is the second-fastest in the field behind Tesfaye Alemayehu (2:11:18).

As with the New York race, Arciniaga said he doesn't plan to run for time as much as position, especially if the weather is bad. Having entered late, he said he did glance at the other favorites to get a sense of their past finishes.

"I took a look at all their times, 2:11 to 2:15, and I'm like, OK, this is the same ballpark as what I consistently run," Arciniaga said. "I just need to go out there and compete."

Alemayehu, an Ethiopian who lives in Antioch, anticipates good times despite the weather forecast.

"I think it will be a good race this year, a fast race," he said. "They are good athletes."

Alisha Williams, 30, a financial analyst from Colorado Springs, planned to run just her second marathon in New York. Her first came at the Olympic Trials. She finished 14th in 2:35:09.

Williams, fifth in the 10,000 meters at the Trials, opted for the CIM over a long break partly to run against a strong field in hopes of setting a personal record.

"I don't think I adjusted the time goal at all," Williams said. "The workouts have been going pretty well. I don't know what to expect with the weather and the tapering, building up again and tapering. But when you go into a race, you want to put it all out there."

Williams' best time is the fifth-fastest in the CIM women's field, and she could challenge Ethiopia's Yihunilish Delelecha (2:30:38), Russia's Natalia Sergeeva (2:33:01) and Atalelech Asfaw (2:33:56), an American originally from Ethiopia.

"It is nice to try to run for the win as opposed to New York, where that was not ever going to be an option when you're going up against Olympic champions," Williams said. "That part is really exciting, and I think that'll be fun."

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