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Ryan Hall Returning To The Roads In Virginia Beach

He will square off against sub-60-minute half marathoner, Benson Barus.

He will square off against sub-60-minute half marathoner, Benson Barus.

From: Running USA

Ryan Hall is looking for the win this weekend at the Dodge Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon. Photo:

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The original half marathon of the series that bears its name, the 2011 Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon will look to crown its first American champion since Deena Kastor in 2001 when Olympian Ryan Hall toes the start line on Sunday morning.

Hall, 28, won the 2008 U.S. Marathon Trials in New York, finished 10th in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, and is the only American to break the one hour barrier in the half marathon (59 minutes, 43 seconds) on a record standard, certified course. He recently finished fourth at the 2011 Boston Marathon (2:04:53), running the fastest marathon time ever for an American.

“Ryan is a special athlete at the peak of his career, and we’re delighted he’s coming to Virginia Beach this weekend as he prepares for the Chicago Marathon in October,” said Matt Turnbull, Elite Athlete Coordinator for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

Throughout its history, the Virginia Beach event has produced some great champions, including Paul Tergat and Martin Lel. If Hall was to follow in their footsteps, he would have to break the stranglehold of African domination at the race; nine of the ten races to date have seen the champion hail from Kenya. Shadrack Hoff of South Africa crossed the half-marathon finish line first in 2001, the first year the Labor Day Weekend road race was held.

Hall will have to stave off a formidable field of contenders for the victory, which include eight men with half-marathon personal records (PR) under the 63 minute mark. Foremost among them is Kenyan Benson Barus, who owns a half-marathon best of 59:41. Barus, 31, is coming into Sunday’s race in top shape, having run a marathon PR earlier this year when he won the Prague Marathon in 2:07:07.

The other top contenders in the men’s field include Canadians Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, teammates on the Speed River Track Club. Coolseat recently won the Acura Toronto 10 mile in 48:34 and ran a half-marathon PR of 1:02:42 in New York in March. Gillis, 31, set a PR in the 10K, finishing second in Toronto earlier this year. He also owns a half-marathon best of 1:05:48.

“[London 2012] definitely motivates me and keeps me on top of it because I have goals to run faster this fall,” said Coolsaet, who will try to qualify for the Canadian Olympic Team at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October. “I want to improve upon [my PR of] 2:11:23 like anybody would want to get a personal best. But having guys to keep me in check definitely raises the bar a little bit and gives me incentive and motivation.”

In addition to the two Canadians, Hall and Barus can expect challenges from Solomon Busendich of Kenya, 27, who won the Milan Marathon this year in 2:10:38; Hironori Arai of Japan, who set his PR for the marathon earlier this year running 2:12:27 in Otsu, and who owns a half-marathon best of 1:01:53; Koichi Sakai of Japan, 25, with a 1:02:46 best set in Sapporo in 2008; Kazuki Onishi of Japan, 24, who ran his PR earlier this year in 1:02:58; and AmericanTim Young, who runs with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Michigan and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at February’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon with a time of 1:04:21 .

While most of the attention will be centered on Hall and the men’s field, the women’s event record – 1:09:17, set by Kenya’s Margaret Okayo in 2003 – could be broken. Yurika Nakamura of Japan is the fastest of the group, with a 1:09:20 best winning the Sapporo Half Marathon in 2009. The 25-year-old represented Japan at the 2008 Olympic Games in the Marathon.

The other women’s favorites are Japan’s Yoko Miyauchi (1:09:54) and Yoshiko Fujinaga (1:10:54), who ran a marathon PR of 2:25:40 at the London Marathon in April. Potential challengers include Japan’s Hiroko Shoi, who has set PR’s over 10,000m, 5,000m and 10K so far this season; Romanian Nuta Olaru, the 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach champion, and Kenya’s Jane Kibii, who set her PR winning the 2009 Carlsbad Half Marathon in 1:12:26.

Rounding out the professional field are Great Britain’s Nicky Archer, American Leah Thorvilson and 24-year-old Korei Omata of Japan, who will make her half-marathon debut. Omata represented Japan at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships and set a PR at 10,000m earlier this year.

“We have a strong group of women who can attack 70 minutes,” added Turnbull. “The form and personal records of the leading athletes in both the men’s and women’s field suggest they are all capable of running a quick and competitive contest. I’m looking forward to two close and very exciting races.”

Entering into its 11th year, the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon is Virginia’s premier running event, annually attracting between 15,000 and 20,000 participants to the city on Labor Day weekend. Each half-marathon participant receives free entry into the three-day American Music Festival by presenting their race number.

The weekend entertainment kicks off on Friday night, September 2 with headliner Stone Temple Pilots on the 5th Street Beach Stage, followed by a matinee performance with ZZ Top on Saturday. Runners will celebrate their half-marathon finish on Sunday night to the party anthems of legendary rock star Bret Michaels.