Heidi Peoples will try to make it 3-for-3 while Matt Byrne will also be after a third title when competitors in the 17th annual Steamtown Marathon make their way from Forest City to downtown Scranton the morning of Oct. 7.
The two local runners appear to be the favorites at this stage although there is always the chance of an elite runner being allowed a late entry into the race that has otherwise been sold out since May.
Peoples, the former Heidi Wolfsberger who was a state champion runner at Riverside, has won women's titles both times that she has entered. She won in 2008 by finishing the 26.2-mile course in 2:44:28 then set the women's record in 2010 by winning in 2:39:48.
Steamtown will be the first marathon for the 32-year-old Peoples since the birth of her second child last November. The Riverside physical education teacher and West Scranton resident said she hopes to be ready to run a time somewhere between her two previous finishes at Steamtown.
"I'll be disappointed if I'm not close to where I was in the past," said Peoples, who turned in some of her most impressive running efforts soon after her first child was born. "I'm hoping for better than 2008.
"I'm not so sure about that course record, but if I have a great day, I think I could do it."
She will only know that as the race develops. Peoples said her concentration will be on trying to be the first woman to finish.
"I'm more going for the win," she said. "I'll try to run a smart race."
Preparing for the race with two young children at home has meant 4 a.m. starts when Peoples goes for her longer runs. She has been racing at shorter distances this summer.
Steamtown seemed the logical place to make her marathon comeback.
"I love the support that you get right here at home," Peoples said. "It's ideal to be able to sleep in your own bed and to feel the crowd support."
Byrne is likely to feel that same support.
The Scranton resident, 37, has won Steamtown twice and was second last year behind Peter Kemboi, a Kenyan runner who was training in Kentucky at the time.
Samantha Snead, a 24-year-old from Moscow, joins Lori Kingsley and Ali Piacente as the likely top threats to Peoples.
Snead, a former North Pocono and Penn State-Scranton cross country runner, made an impressive marathon debut as one of two women to break three hours during last year's runner-up finish.
Kingsley, from Wysox, won this year's Boston Marathon 45-49 age group in 2:51:22.
Piacente, a steadily improving 27-year-old from Alexandria, Va., ran her career-best marathon to finish fifth among women at Steamtown in 3:06:19 last year and is expecting a significant drop from there.
The top threats to Byrne are expected to be: Chris Heisey, 23, Philadelphia; Jason Kennedy, 31, Honesdale; Louis-Philippe Garnier, 47, Montreal; Michael Daigeaun, 32, Philadelphia; Marcus Magyar, 26, West Pittston; and Christopher Gaube, 24, Vestal, N.Y.
They are expected to be running out in front of a larger field.
Steamtown continues its gradual expansion.
A total of 3,000 entries were accepted this year, with all of them taken by May 19, meaning this should easily be the largest Steamtown Marathon ever.
"We could have easily booked 5,000," assistant race director Jim Cummings said.
Following hundreds of cancellations – something that is not uncommon for marathons – about 2,000 runners started last year's race, which was finished by a record total of 1,861.
Cummings said growth will continue to be done slowly and evaluated each step of the way. He said there are some concerns about crowding too many runners in the Rails to Trails portion of the course and making passing difficult there.
"We certainly don't want to do anything to degrade the quality of the event," he said. " … The neat thing about the race is that we don't advertise it at all and it sells out in 50 days."
The race, as it currently exists, has been extremely popular with runners from outside the area as well as the strong local running contingent, which enjoys having a major event close to home.
"The support the runners receive out on the course from all the volunteers and the communities – the things we sort of take for granted here about the way you should treat people when they are in your community – that's not how the runners are treated elsewhere," Cummings said. "They just can't believe the enthusiasm, the support and the reception they get from people up and down the course.
"It's a nice testament to the people in this area."
• Race weekend begins with a sponsor VIP reception Thursday at the University of Scranton. At the reception, a check presentation will be made to St. Joseph's Center, bringing the total donations to more than $800,000 in the 17 years of the Steamtown Marathon.
• Preliminary work on the finish line area on the North Washington Ave. side of Lackawanna County Courthouse Square will begin Friday morning. Construction will be completed Saturday morning near North Washington Ave. and Spruce St.
• The Race Expo will be held at Scranton High School Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A presentation about the course will be held in the auditorium at 2 p.m.
• A pasta party for runners is planned for Saturday 4-7 p.m. on the Fourth Floor of the University of Scranton's DeNaples Center.
School buses will transport runners to the starting line the morning of Sunday, Oct. 7, leaving the corner of Spruce St. and Wyoming Ave. in Scranton between 5:30 and 6:45 a.m.
• Following the 8 a.m. start, runners should arrive at the finish between 10:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. There will be a post-race party at the University of Scranton's Byron Center 5-8 p.m. Oct. 7.