LAST year, Maria McCambridge, preparing for a spring marathon a few weeks later, came to the Ballycottton 10 in superb shape.
Her course record of 54 minutes 48 seconds was so good that she finished 16th overall in a strong field.
McCambridge's time knocked 40 seconds off the mark set by British international athlete Marian Sutton 15 years earlier when she was pushed hard by Clonliffe's Cathy Shum, who finished just a second behind. Can she do it again?
After the disappointment of not making the London Olympics, McCambridge went on to win the Dublin Marathon last October in 2:35.28 – a personal best by one second.
A stalwart of the Marathon Mission, McCambridge hopes to knock a few minutes off that time when she runs the Rotterdam Marathon on April 14.
Although she is in heavy training, she ran 33 mins 38 secs to win the Enniscorthy 10km a few weeks ago.
With Lizzie Lee, second last year in a personal best 57 mins 17 secs, concentrating on the World Cross-Country at the moment, Clonmel's Angela McCann, second two years ago, and Siobhan O'Doherty of Borrisokane, second in 2010, will battle it out for the minor placings.
Newly-crowned national cross-country champion Sergiu Ciobanu from Clonliffe goes for a hat-trick of wins in the men's race.
Since he came to Ireland, Ciobanu, a prolific racer, has become a Ballycotton regular. He finished second in 2008 before his wins of the past two years, both of them in under 50 minutes.
A strong group from the Marathon Mission has signed up, although flu-stricken Sean Hehir is doubtful. Tallaght's Tomas Fitzpatrick, the form man of the moment, has withdrawn with injury. That leaves the way open for Brian Maher, the Kilkenny farmer who showed some of his old sparkle when finishing second behind Fitzpatrick at the Enniscorthy 10km. There's also a welcome return for Bantry's Alan O'Shea, the 2007 winner, fresh from a warm-up victory in a local race in Inniscarra last weekend.
At his best, O'Shea can dip under 50 minutes. Making his Ballycotton debut is Michael Mac Diarmada of Clonliffe, while a strong Raheny squad hopes to retain the team title. Leading the local entry is James McCarthy of East Cork, who last year produced the best performance by a local athlete in many years when he finished third.