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Though defending champs won't return, strong field set for Saturday's Baltimore Marathon

Approximately 23,000 runners are expected to compete downtown at Saturday’s 18th Baltimore Running Festival, with roughly 4,000 participating in the day’s marquee event, the Baltimore Marathon.

While last year’s men’s winner, Jordan Tropf, and women’s champion, Silvia Baage, will not return to defend their marathon titles, a strong field is primed to contend for both crowns.

Among the top male contenders are Arlington, Va., resident Michael Wardian, who placed third in the event last year; Emmett Saulnier (Richmond, Va.); Kian Messkoub (Portland, Ore.) and Tyler Muse of Bel Air, the area’s top runner.

Two-time winner Dave Berdan, who will not be competing in this year’s marathon as he’s still recovering from an injury, said a smart start is the first key to a successful race.

“I think the key is being patient early on,” said Berdan, an Owings Mills resident who will serve as color analyst for WBAL on Saturday. “A lot of people go out too fast. You can even go out too fast the first three miles because they’re up hill. So if you go out a little too fast, your body is burning a little more carbs, then you’re going to hit the wall a little earlier if you go out a little slower.”

Saturday’s weather forecast is calling for a chance of rain a few hours before the race, followed by partly cloudy skies with temperature in the low-60’s. The day’s biggest factor could be some high winds, which Berdan said would likely prompt competitors to run closer together.

The favorite on the women’s side is Julia Roman-Duval, a Columbia resident who is using the event as a training run for the California International Marathon/USA Track & Field National Championships in December.

A 2016 United States Olympic Team Trials qualifier, this is her third Baltimore Marathon. She’s planning to set an easy pace (6:50- to 7-minute miles) in the first half of the race before pushing it in the second half.

“I want to have a solid, strong training run,” she said. “I just want to feel good the whole way and if I can do that, then I think I’ll have my confidence level up for what is coming in December.”

Shannon Pyles and Anna Wenzel — both Baltimore residents — are also expected to be in contention in the women’s race.

After changing the location of the finish line at last year’s festival — moving it to Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor — there’s one significant change to this year’s course, coming between miles 13 and 14. After bearing right around the circle on President Street, runners will funnel over the recently opened Central Avenue Bridge and around Harbor Point’s Central Plaza before making their way back to Boston Street for the second half of the race.

Marilyn Bevans, a Baltimore native who is the first female African-American marathoner to break the three-hour mark, will serve as the festival’s honorary starter. She won the Maryland Marathon in 1977 and 1979, and has coached cross country and track at Perry Hall High School since 1990.

The festival will kick off at 7:30 a.m. with the ShopRite Supermarket 5K, followed by the marathon and four-person team relay at 8 a.m. and the half-marathon at 9:45 a.m.

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