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Race officials are projecting a strong showing for the seventh annual Anthem Manchester City Marathon, Half Marathon and Relay today. Organizer Jayne Cornell said close to 600 marathoners, 900 half-marathon entrants and 350 relay participants will be ready for the 8:50 a.m. start on Elm Street in front of the Citizen's Bank building,
The finish line is nearby in front of Veterans Memorial Park, which serves as the Athletes Village.
"As we expected, we got a late push in registration signups. and we're very pleased with the numbers," said Cornell. "Our four-person relay is sold out. We accepted a maximum of 100 relay teams, and we met our goal."
This year marks the first time the marathon is serving as a USA Track and Field-New England Grand Prix event.
Cornell said earlier that Manchester helped its cause to gain grand prix status last year when it re-opened registration to accommodate runners who were planning to run in last year's New York City Marathon before it was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Two of the runners who took advantage of that opportunity wound up winning the race: Ben Payne of Florida, a 31-year-old captain in the United States Air Force, led the men's field in 2 hours 24 minutes 43 seconds. Muliye Gurmu, a 28-year-old Ethiopian runner from New York City, won the women's open division in 2:55.16.
Because the marathon route was revised for last year's race, Payne's and Gurmu's times stand as the course records. Neither runner is expected back this year to defend their title.
In last year's half marathon, another Ethiopian, Tadesse Girma, a 32-year-old resident of Malden, Mass., led the men's field in 1:12.18. Heidi Westover of Walpole defended her women's title and won her third Manchester Half Marathon overall, in 1:19.41.
As of late last week, neither Girma nor Westover had registered to run.
The finish line will be on Elm Street just north of the entrance to Veterans Park.
Cornell said beginning at Mile 3, there will be water stops every two miles and two ambulance crews will roam the course. A medical tent will be available at Veterans Park, and 26 police posts along the course will stop traffic and direct the runners.
"We got feedback from our runners last year, and it was positive," said Cornell.
Today's weather forecast calls for temperatures around 40 degrees at the start of the race, with the sun emerging as the runners make their way through the early miles.
"I try not to look at the weather forecast," Cornell said, "but if it's in the mid-40s, I'd say it's ideal for running a marathon."
Local runners returning this year include Jason Porter of Bedford, who finished ninth overall in last year's marathon, in 2:45.06, and Kelly Galan of Londonderry who was seventh among the women in last year's half marathon, in 1:37.19.
Galan, 44, had planned to run last month's Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton, but a respiratory infection caused her to change plans. After running the last four Manchester City Half Marathons, this will be her first attempt at the full 26.2 miles.
"I did my very first half marathon in Manchester and loved it," she said. "The half marathon here is a tough, challenging course with lots of hills, particularly when you reach the 10th and 11th miles. If you have never been in the Manchester Marathon, I would suggest you start with the half marathon."
Galan averaged 8:16 per mile in her 2009 debut. She ran last year's race at a 7:26 pace. She ran this year's Boston Marathon in 3:24:43, a personal record for the distance.
A graduate of Raymond High School and Southern New Hampshire University and director of operations for United Healthcare, she said she appreciates having an event of the Manchester City Marathon and Half Marathon's caliber so close to home.
"This marathon is held in the perfect time of year," she said. "It's not too cold or hot. The course itself is challenging, but the scenic view is very nice, and the people are wonderful. Last year, people coming out to watch were cheering for me along the course and some were yelling out my (bib) number. It's a great experience."
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is primary sponsor of the event. The New Hampshire Union Leader is a co-sponsor.