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Elite Runners, First-Timers Prep for Race Day

The field will feature some of the world's best long-distance runners

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Michael Kaplan
    At wall at the Chicago Marathon Expo listed all 45,000 participants for Sunday's race.

    It was hard to tell who was more confident on Friday, two-time Chicago Marathon defending champion Liliya Shobukhova or 83-year-old Betty Jean McHugh, who's also running.

    "I'm 83 and I'm going to win it," said McHugh, who came from Vancouver to run.

    Shobukhova, on the other hand, was eyeing a finishing time in Sunday's race that would help her qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

    "I'm in my absolute best shape," said Shobukhova, who is looking to become the first woman to win three straight Chicago Marathons. "I spent two months training in the Russia in high altitude trying some new workouts. Hopefully I can set a new personal record on Sunday and be selected for the national team."

    WATCH THE MARATHON LIVE ONLINE FROM YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE AT THIS LINK.

    While elite runners and event organizers met with members of the media Friday, all 45,000 runners poured into the pre-race expo at McCormick Place to collect their numbers.

    Both veteran and first-time runners from all 50 states and 120 different countries packed the convention hall which featured a massive wall with each participant's name.

    "I went from the couch to the marathon," said John Leja, 42, a lawyer who started running just 16 months ago. "I'm nervous but I'm excited. At first I didn't think I'd crack the finish line, but after finishing my 20-mile run, I think I've got a shot."

    As for the elite runners, men's favorite Moses Mosop didn't sound like someone who was about to break Sammy Wanjiru's 2009 course record of 2:05:41.

    "I'm not in very good shape after suffering an injury at Eugene," Mosop told the media assembled at the elite athlete press conference Friday morning. "I'm hoping to run well Sunday but I'm not promising anything."

    Carey Pinkowski, the race's executive director, said Mosop was simply engaging in a little pre-race gamesmanship.

    "I think he's downplaying his fitness level a little bit," Pinkowski said. "If he wasn't healthy he wouldn't be here."'

    Ryan Hall, the most accomplished American in the field, didn't share Mosop's ambivalence.

    "I'm very pleased with the form I'm in," said Hall, who finished fourth in last April's Boston Marathon. "I'm excited to be out here with all these other elite athletes. We're going to have something special on Sunday."

    Hometown hero Amanda McGrory is also looking to qualify to compete in London. The recent University of Illinois graduate won the 2010 women's wheelchair division of the Chicago Marathon, and will make the US Paralympic Team if she finishes in the top two on Sunday.

    "I'm not sure its extra pressure, it definitely sweetens the deal," McGrory said. "It's extra special for me growing up in Champagne. To be the winner of the Chicago Marathon and to make the 2012 team would be amazing."

    Warmer temperatures are expected for Sunday causing event organizers to raise the alert level from low to moderate. Doctor George Chiampas, the race's medical director, said that inexperienced runners should continue to monitor their hydration.

    Chiampas said it will still be cool in the morning so runners should wear something with long sleeves that they could take off at the starting line.

    Pinkowski said the heat shouldn't be a cause for concern.

    "The weather should be gorgeous, a bright sunny day, great for racing," he said. "It's going to be a great showcase for the city of Chicago and in my opinion the best tour of the city."
     

    Check out all of NBCChicago's Great Marathon Coverage and be sure to tune into the Bank of America Chicago Marathon online and on TV on Sunday morning.