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Runner's World: 5 things to watch in the NYC Marathon women's field

Editor's note: This list originally appeared at RunnersWorld.com.

Can anybody catch Mary Keitany? The defending champion is back for the New York City Marathon on Sunday, but she is joined by some stellar international talent, like Caroline Rotich (winner of the 2015 Boston Marathon) and Tigist Tufa (winner of the 2015 London Marathon), not to mention Aselefech Mergia, the Dubai Marathon champ. It’s a talented field, with a promising Kenyan debutante and a two-time New York City runner-up thrown into the mix for good measure.

Here are five things to watch in the women’s race at this year’s New York City Marathon.

All eyes will be on Keitany

The 33-year-old Kenyan, who is the second-fastest female marathoner in history with a personal record of 2:18:37, likely won’t break from the pack early. She learned that lesson in the 2011 edition of this race, blitzing the first 16 miles on her own and building more than a 2-minute lead, only to fade in the final 5K and settle for third.

The professional women start 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the field and anybody who dares to make an early move will have a long and lonely road to Central Park. That kind of strategy usually doesn’t work well through the five boroughs, though it has been tried by a few, including Buzunesh Deba, the Ethiopian who lives in the Bronx and has placed second in her hometown race twice.

Five women have a shot

Keitany may be the favorite, but she’s not a sure thing. Seven women bring personal bests under 2:24 and some of them have plenty of experience on the streets of New York.

Deba, with a 2:19:59 under her belt, is a constant podium presence here and at Boston -- and is still looking for her major marathon victory. Mergia, 30, of Ethiopia, comes with a 2:19:31 PR. Rotich, a Kenyan who trains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, won Boston in April in a sprint finish down Boylston Street; she has also won the NYC Half twice.

Tufa, a 2:21:52 marathoner, is another Ethiopian who trained in the Bronx with Deba in 2013. She won the London Marathon this year by making a break for it at mile 23 -- ultimately beating Keitany, who placed second.

Two will debut

Sally Kipyego, the 29-year-old Kenyan who trains with the Oregon Track Club, is taking her first stab at 26.2 miles. She is the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 meters and won the NYC Half last year in 1:08:31, which was her debut at the distance. She trained for this race in Iten, Kenya, and many believe her ultimate success will lie at the marathon distance.

Laura Thweatt, 26, of Boulder, Colorado, will also run her first marathon. She is the 2015 U.S. cross country champion and has a half marathon PR of 1:11:01. Thweatt has a fair shot of nabbing the first American spot on Sunday -- the top U.S. distance runners are sitting this one out in order to prepare for the Olympic Marathon Trials in February. She’s going for place, not time, and her Olympic Trials aspirations remain on the track.

A teen will race as a pro

American Alana Hadley, 18, has the fastest U.S. time heading into the race, 2:38:34, run at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last year. Coached by her father, Mark Hadley, the teen ran her first marathon at age 16 and has passed on NCAA eligibility in order to compete as a professional. Her goal is aggressive in New York: run 2:35 or 2:36 for a new personal best.

Although she plans to race the Olympic trials this year, she will not be eligible to compete for Team USA should she make the team -- rules require that competitors be 20 years old by Dec. 31, 2016. She misses that cutoff by eight days.

Weather won’t be a factor

Last year’s windy, cold conditions leveled the playing field for the pro runners. With winds gusting up to 40 mph and temperatures in the low 40s, the pack played it conservative. This year the forecast calls for a light breeze, overcast skies, little chance of rain and temperatures in the 50s.

Will the course record go down? It’s a deep field, likely competing under ideal running conditions, so it’s a possibility somebody could top Margaret Okayo’s mark of 2:22:31 set in 2003.