Defending champion Biruktayit Degefa is hoping to get a third title in Houston Marathon win

The defending champion also returns in the women's marathon. In fact, Biruktayit Degefa, who also won in 2016, will be chasing a third title. The 28-yer-old has competed here the past five years, finishing third in 2015 with a 2:23:51 PB and second in 2017.

The strong Ethiopian contingent includes Muluhabt Tsega, who improved to 2:25:48 in Shanghai last November, Sechale Delasa, who was third here in 2016; and 23-year-old Gebayenesh Ayele, who improved to 2:26:54 last September in Hengsui.

Kenyan hopes lie with Sarah Kiptoo, whose 2:26:32 dates back to 2013 and Gladys Kipsoi, who was fourth here last year in 2:27:32.

Notable debutantes include 19-year-old Meseret Belete, who clocked a 1:07:51 world U20 best in the half marathon in Copenhagen last year.

Abayneh Ayele of Ethiopia is the fastest in the men's field at 2:06:45, clocked in Dubai in 2016. But the 32-year-old struggled last year, recording a season's best of just 2:13:47 in two races over the distance. His 25-year-old compatriot Yitayal Atnafu has shown stronger form, producing back-to-back fourth place finishes at the Paris Marathon the last two years, clocking 2:07:21 in 2017 and improving to 2:07:00 last year.

Three others will bring sub-2:09 bests to the start line: Kenyan Dominic Ondoro, who ran his 2:08:00 lifetime best in 2013; Birhanu Gedefa of Ethiopia, the 2015 Houston winner in 2:08:03, and Kenya's Albert Korir, who improved his personal best to 2:08:17 last March in Otsu.

Of course the perdicted cold weather could be a factor.

posted Friday January 18th