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2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Preview

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Whenever running is nationally televised, we pay attention.

'Frankenstorm' Generates Large Waves On Lake Michigan Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is Sunday morning, and given the late posting of this preview, you should read it as a companion to the race. That, indeed, is the beauty of the marathon: you can just turn it on then figure out what’s going on during the early miles.

Race and Broadcast Information

The race, as its name suggests quite clearly, takes place in Chicago, which is a city in the United States state of Illinois. This particular city is known as the Windy City. To that point, Weather.com is only projecting winds between five and seven miles per hour Sunday morning and near-perfect temperatures in the mid-50s during the running of the race.

The men’s and women’s races begin at 8:30 a.m. EST and will be televised nationally in the Unites States on NBCSN. You can also stream it live via NBCChicago.com. Coverage begins 30 minutes before the race at 8 a.m.

Men’s Preview

The men’s field lacks the sort of names that would draw you to tune in with the hope of catching a World Record, but there are plenty of names that are sufficiently intriguing to the extent that you might whisper to yourself, “Hm. I wonder what he can do. What honey? No. I wasn’t talking to myself. My mental faculties are perfectly intact, thank you very much. Did I mention I’m waking up early on a Sunday morning to watch people run down some streets for over two straight hours?”

Among those names is defending Chicago champion Dickson Chumba. Chumba set his 2:04:31 PR in his 2014 third-place in Chicago and won in 2015 with a slower 2:09:25. His recent resume doesn’t suggest he’s in top form with a 2:07 in Tokyo and 62:12 for the half marathon back in April. Still, he’s the favorite on Sunday—albeit a vulnerable favorite—with the top of this field lacking in established marathoning talent.

He’s vulnerable because of the two classes of “hm. I wonder...” guys. In the first class is past-their-prime marathoners looking for one final shot at major marathon glory. First is Tsegay Kebede who, at 29, is hardly past his prime in terms of years. But, his recent performance speaks a different tune. He’s a two-time London champion and a former Chicago champ, so he knows the course. However, he’s coming off the slowest marathon in his career (2:10:57) in April. He hasn’t raced since, so it’s hard to gauge where he is relative to that fitness beyond wild, baseless speculation. The talent’s in there and he is only 29, but his last couple years suggest he may be beyond the edge. The other member of that class is Abel Kirui. He is a two-time world champ and Olympic silver medalist, but the latest of those accolades is from over four years ago. He looks like he may be rediscovering his form this year, though, as he finished fifth in Tokyo in 2:08:06.

The second class consists of those either looking to complete their first marathon or those perhaps primed for a breakthrough. Let’s start with the most intriguing of any of them: Stephen Sambu. Sambu has twice broken 27:00 in the 10k and has most recently developed into one of the more accomplished road racers on the U.S. circuit, with three straight wins at Falmouth and a 60:41 win at the New York half marathon. Of concern, though is his 72:12 performance last month in the Rock and Roll Half in Philadelphia. He was with the leaders halfway through, but fell apart in the final 10k or so. That certainly casts some doubt on his ability to transfer his talent to the marathon, but that talent is loud enough that he is very intriguing. Next, we’ll look at two Americans. Luke Puskedra is making his return to Chicago after his breakout race there last year, where he ran 2:10:24. He is coming off an underwhelming performance in the New Haven 20k last month, but attributes that to a lack of spadework and taper leading up to it. Diego Estrada has had a tough last couple of months, dropping out of both the Olympic Marathon Trials and the 10k Trials. He ran a 60:51 at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last year, so he can clearly run fast off the track—and he seems committed to doing more of that going forward—but it hasn’t happened in the marathon. Yet.

Women’s Preview

Unlike the men’s field, the women’s entries immediately spark excitement, with a battle set up between Edna Kiplagat and Florence Kiplagat for first place. Florence Kiplagat enters as the favorite and defending champion. She won last year in 2:23:33 after running 2015 London in 2:24:15. She ran London again this year and finished third in 2:23:39, so indications are that she may be in better shape than that that led her to victory last year. She also has the fastest marathon PR in the field and is the half marathon world record holder. Edna Kiplagat has defeated Florence in three of their four marathon showdowns, however, at 37 years old, it feels prudent to set that aside for Sunday. She's a two-time World Champion with the most experience in the field, and she’s run well of late with a 2:22 performance in Tokyo this year.

The third intriguing name is Visiline Jepkesho, who wouldn’t be all that notable a name if she were not chosen for the Kenyan Olympic Marathon team over, well, Florence Kiplagat (and Mary Keitany). That’s unfortunate, because she’s a fine marathoner and should contend for a top three or five spot here. Blame Athletics Kenya for that. She blew up in Rio with an 86th-place finish in 2:46, so it will be interesting to see how she bounces back less than two months later. Given that she’s entered in the race, though, one would have to figure she’s confident she had recovered fine from that performance in the heat of Rio. Her PR of 2:24:44 certainly puts her in the conversation for the top three in this race, or even more. Hell, maybe she’ll even beat the Florence Kiplagat and make Athletics Kenya look prescient (I’d advise against putting money on that, though).