Stephen Mokoka will need to be at his best on Sunday if he is to achieve his goal, but the South African distance runner is confident of challenging for a record fourth victory at the Shanghai Marathon.
The 32-year-old athlete, who won the IAAF Gold Label race for the third time last season and set his personal best of 2:07:40 in Shanghai two years ago, faces a line-up which includes three men who have run under 2:06:00.
Though Mokoka’s past experience at the race will count in his favour, he will need to fend off expected battles from the likes of Ethiopian athletes Dino Sefir, who clocked 2:04:50 in Dubai in 2012, and Endeshaw Negesse, a former winner of the Tokyo Marathon who holds a personal best of 2:04:52, as well as Kenyan Peter Kimeli who won the 2013 Paris Marathon in 2:05:38.
While he clocked a relatively slow time by his own standards last year, crossing the line in 2:10:18, Mokoka joined Ethiopian Gashaw Asfaw and Chinese athlete Zhang Shujing as the only treble winners of the annual race.
He trailed home in 2:16:53 in his last attempt at the 42.2km distance at the Tokyo Marathon in February, but Mokoka went on to show good form over shorter distances this season, clocking 28:22 at the Great Manchester Run 10km race in England in May and winning the SA Half-Marathon Championships in 1:01:21 in Port Elizabeth in June.
The multiple national record holder, who has never finished outside the top four in his six previous appearances in Shanghai, warmed up for his return to the race with a fourth-place finish in 28:34 at the inaugural 10km CitySurfRun in Durban five weeks ago.
“I want to go there and run a fast time this year,” Mokoka said in the build-up to the race.
“The shape is good, the endurance is good and the speed is good, so that’s my goal.”