Sports

For Weldon Kirui and other Kenyan marathoners, L.A. heat is no problem

Weldon Kirui may be one of the few marathoners in L.A. this weekend who is not concerned about the heat.

"The temperature is nice. It's very cool," he said Friday after a leisurely morning training run around the Coliseum. "This is no problem."

Kirui is an experienced world-class distance runner who has been training in the warm highlands west of Kenya's Rift Valley. But for most of the 25,000-plus runners who will go from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica in Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon, midday temperatures expected to reach into the 80s could be a big problem.

The event begins at 6:30 a.m. with the wheelchair racers, followed by the female runners at 6:45 and the rest of the field at 6:55.

Last year, when the race was in March, temperatures hit 90 degrees and more than 185 runners were treated by medical personnel along the route, with three dozen requiring trips to a hospital. Race organizers are taking steps to avoid a repeat, stocking 22 aid stations with water and Gatorade, parking air-conditioned "cooling buses" at the 10 medical stations on the course and providing misting stations, cold towels and ice for runners who need them.

Tracey Russell, chief executive of Conqur Endurance Group, which is managing the race, said runners will also have to listen to their bodies.

"We're suggesting, given the temperatures, slow it down," she said. "This is not the year to go for your fastest time."

Kirui and the other four Kenyans in the marathon's 25-runner elite field have no choice but to push the pace. Unlike the United States, which will choose its Olympic marathon team in a trials race Saturday, Kenya uses a highly politicized selection process that takes into account recent performances in marathons all over the world.

Kirui, with a lifetime best of 2 hours 9 minutes 6 seconds, needs to slice a few minutes off that time to force his way into the conversation.

"I like this course. That's why I came," said Kirui, who has twice finished in the top four in L.A.

Among his rivals Sunday will be another Kenyan, Daniel Limo, the defending champion, who ran 2:10:34 last year. He, too, is expecting little problem with the weather.

"The heat, it's the same way I am feeling in Kenya," he said. "It's not a problem."

Limo also hopes a fast time will improve his chances at an Olympic berth, though the competition is stiff: six Kenyans ranked among the top eight marathoners in the world last year, among them world record-holder Dennis Kimetto (2:02:57).

"I cannot say I can make it. Because you don't know how it goes, the selection," Limo said. "Maybe. But I cannot guarantee that."

He is guaranteed a $23,000 winner's prize if he defends his title.

On the women's side, no one in the tiny elite field has broken 2:30. One runner who is hoping to do that is Ethiopia's Simegn Abnet, who led last year's race through 30 kilometers before finishing 14th in 2:44:17.

"Last year was bad," she said. "It was too hot."

She thinks it will take a time of 2:26 to win and if she runs that fast, she'll finish before the temperatures begin to soar.

"I did very hard workouts," she said. "This year, it's not too hot. That's good."

The women's winner will also get $23,000 from a total purse of $100,000.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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