Will Albers, the 26-year-old track coach at Fairfax County's Robinson High School who has not raced competitively since August, will attempt to make it two victories in a row Sunday in the second annual District of Columbia Marathon.
Albers pulled away from the pack at the 12-mile mark last year and finished in 2:27:58, a time that put him 1 1/4 miles ahead of the second-place runner. Albers said early this week that a pinched sciatic nerve had interrupted his training last summer but that recently he's been running well.
"I'm not in A-1 shape, but I certainly plan to challenge," said Albers. "If you catch me at about 23 miles, I'll let you know whether or not I have a chance of winning."
Approximately 800 runners are expected to participate in Sunday's marathon, which will begin at 8 a.m. on the Mall in front of the Museum of Natural History and will wind 26 miles 385 yards through all eight wards of the city to the finish line, also on the Mall and not far from the starting point.
Among those expected to challenge Albers are Douglas Wood, 31, of Quantico, Va., and J. Jacob Wind, 32, of Arlington, last year's second- and third-place finishers.
Approximately 90 percent of the entrants in the race are from the Washington area. Ted Cox, 10, of Summit, N.J., who will run with his 38-year-old mother, Eileen, is the youngest entry. Ed Benham, 74, of Ocean City, Md., who ran in last year's race and finished in 3:32:10, is the oldest.
Women will make up less than 10 percent of the field. Roselle Geuss, 26, of Arlington, whose best marathon time is is 2:52, is the leading woman entry.
From the starting point on the Mall, runners will head west toward the Lincoln Memorial and head north into Georgetown over the P Street Bridge. The next several miles make up the hilliest part of the course as the race winds through Georgetown, Cleveland Park and then east toward Adams-Morgan before crossing into Northeast near Catholic University. The field will cross the Anacostia River on the Benning Road Bridge and return on the 11th Street Bridge to Pennsylvania Avenue SE for the run back to the finish point on the Mall.
"The first 10 miles are a bit hilly, but not unduly so, and if you're going to have hills that is the place to have them," said Herb Chisholm, 55, of Alexandria, a retired project manager for NASA who finished fourth last year in 2:38:30.
Chisholm, who will run again Sunday, has competed in 18 marathons, including Boston, and he says he enjoys running in a field that is not congested.
"You don't have to worry about losing time at the beginning. In Boston, you can't really get running until you're two to three miles into the race. This race has a varied topography and, compared with the Marine Marathon, you see a greater area of the city."
As the runners pass from one of the city's wards into another, they will be greeted with displays of red, white and blue helium-filled balloons