The little girls who live in the tiny Kenyan village where Lornah Kiplagat grew up might never have been to New York or know much about the city.
But when Kiplagat tells them she is running a marathon, only one place comes to mind.
"New York is everything to everybody," Kiplagat said. "Running a marathon here is special, and everyone wants to do it."
Today, Kiplagat will be part of one of the strongest women's fields in the New York City Marathon. Four of the top 10 will run: Kiplagat, Margaret Okayo, Catherine Ndereba and defending champion Joyce Chepchumba.
"New York is the best place to be and the best marathon you can race," said Kiplagat, who became a Dutch citizen this year.
In the men's race defending champion Rodgers Rop is back, along with runner-up Christopher Cheboiboch and third-place Laban Kipkemboi. Rop had a disappointing seventh-place finish in this year's Boston Marathon and hopes to rebound in New York.
"The race from last year was one of the best I've ever had," he said. "It meant a lot to me to be the winner of New York. When I went back to Kenya, everyone wanted to see me. They were coming up to me, asking me how to be a champion."
There are several other quality female runners in the field. American Marla Runyan finished fourth last year, and Ludmila Petrova and Adriana Fernandez are former champions.
Okayo set the course record of 2 hours, 24 minutes, 21 seconds in 2001, and Ndereba is the reigning world champion. Ndereba can join Ingrid Kristiansen as the only women to win the New York, Boston and Chicago marathons.
If Kiplagat wins, she will receive a $100,000 bonus because she won the New York Mini 10K this year.
"We have an incredible field, even more competitive than last year," Runyan said. "With the addition of Catherine, and Lornah being as fit as she is now, I am expecting a very fast race. I really think the course record's going to go this year."
The only thing that might keep the record from falling is heat. Temperatures from 65 to 70 are predicted, which would make this the warmest NYC Marathon since 1994, when the high was 70.
Though no Americans are favored to win, the top male and female finisher will win the inaugural Alberto Salazar Award.
American men have slipped to the back of the pack in the marathon, continuing a downward spiral that started in the mid-1980s since Salazar won from 1980-82.
Clint Wells, Matt Downin, Chad Johnson, Scott Larson and Phillimon Hanneck hope to finish in 2:12 or less, not even close to what the elite Kenyans are capable of running.
34th NYC Marathon
WHEN: Wheelchair division starts at 9:05 a.m. today; professional women start at 9:35; professional men and open field start at 10:10.
WHERE: Marathon starts at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island. From there, marathoners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and enter Brooklyn, where the course passes through several ethnic neighborhoods. The Pulaski Bridge marks the halfway point of the marathon and the entrance into Queens. They cross over the Queensboro Bridge and go north into the Bronx before going back south and finishing in Central Park in Manhattan.
DEFENDING CHAMPS: Men, Rodgers Rop, Kenya. Women, Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya.
PRIZE MONEY: Winners receive $100,000. Second place is worth $45,000 and third is $30,000. The total purse is $532,500.
TV: Ch. 8, 2 p.m.
NOTES: Rap mogul and producer Sean "P. Diddy" Combs plans to run in the marathon to raise money for charity. The last American man to win was Alberto Salazar in 1982; the last American woman was Miki Gorman in 1977.
WEB SITE: http://www.nycmarathon.org