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CIM draws record participants

The forecast calls for lows in the 30s Sunday morning, but chilly temperatures won’t stop more than 11,000 runners from going the 26.2-mile distance from Folsom Lake to the Capitol.

The 27th running of the California International Marathon will have a record field of 7,500 runners from the 50 states and 20 countries. In conjunction with the marathon, 4,000 runners will participate in the Marathon Relay Challenge and 3,000 children will participate in the Kaiser Permanente maraFUNrun.

"We sold out five and a half weeks early, even though we added another 1,000 to last year’s total," said Lucy Eidam, president of the CIM board of directors, in a press release. "People are looking for an outlet during these hard economic times, and running is a great way to relieve stress. It’s an inexpensive way to stay fit."

The race begins at 7 a.m. in Folsom and finishes at the Capitol in downtown Sacramento. Entrants will compete on a fast, point-to-point course with an elevation drop of 300 feet. The winning man and woman winners will receive $10,000 each from a purse of $50,000.

Last year’s second-place finishers, Tesafaye Girma of Ethiopia and Galina Aleksandrova of Russia, are scheduled to return.

Girma’s time last year was 2:17:06, 24 seconds behind the winner, countryman Halefom Abebe. Aleksandrova clocked in at 2:37:13.

The men’s CIM course record is 2:10:27, set by Jerry Lawson in 1993. The women’s course record belongs to Australia’s Nickey Carroll, who won the 1999 CIM in 2:29:21.

"This year we should have very competitive races for both the men and women," said John Mansoor, CIM race director. "I don’t foresee a course record being set, but a lot of different countries could win it and that always makes it exciting for the spectators."

Organizers capped entries at a record 7,000 in early November before allowing an additional 250 "charity" entrants. The entry fees of the charity entrants will be donated to the American River Parkway Association.

In the men’s CIM, Girma figures to have plenty of company from other East Africans at the front of the pack. Ethiopian Terefe Yae has a best of 2:11 and has twice won the Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon. Other Ethiopian contenders include Anteneh Solomon, Mohammed Awol, Fikadu Lemma and Worku Beyi.

Beyi will be making his marathon debut but could be dangerous based on his 1:1:57 half-marathon best. He is married to Buzunesh Deba, a leading contender in the race.

The Kenyan men’s contingent includes Rotich Kipruto, Richard Kessio and Wilson Chepkwong.

Top Americans include Josh Cox, a 34-year-old resident of Mammoth Lakes. He has a personal best of 2:13:54 and has qualified for the last three Olympic marathon trials.

Trent Briney, a 30-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz., finished fourth in the 2004 Olympic marathon trials in a personal-best of 2:12:34.

Mike Morgan (2:15:11 best) could be a contender Sunday, along with marathon novices Louis Luchini and Chris Pannone. Luchini, a former Stanford standout, finished fifth in the 10,000 meters at the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento. Pannone has a 10,000-meter best of 28:29.

American contenders in the women’s race include Cheryl Smith, a 2:38:38 performer from Laguna Beach; Melisa Christian (2:41:57 best) of Dallas; and Phebe Ko (2:41:42 best) from Baltimore.

Canada has a pair of strong entries in Cheryl Murphy (2:40:12) and Denise Robson (2:41:12 best, set in last year’s CIM).

This year’s race will pump an estimated $7.7 million into the local economy, according to figures compiled by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"The CIM has become a signature event for Sacramento and the running community, which is evident by the thousands of cheering spectators lining the course," said Steve Hammond, president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau."We are fortunate to have the CIM here in Sacramento."

There’s record interest in this year’s race, according to Mansoor.

"With help from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, we’ve done broader outreach to the East Coast and in Canada," he said. "The good weather we’ve had the last seven years is also a factor, as is word of mouth."

Activities kick off today with the CIM Sports & Fitness Expo from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. It continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This free event features exhibits for running enthusiasts and is open to the public.

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