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TURKEY DAY 10K: Elite runners expected at this year's Turkey Day 10K

WORTHINGTON -- Representing the Duma Runner's Club out of Coon Rapids, a fleet-footed quartet of elite distance runners have registered for this year's Turkey Day 10K road race, which starts along 10th Street at 10:30 a.m. today.

More than 500 runners -- of varying ability levels -- are expected to participate in the 33rd annual edition of the 6.2 mile race, which was started by a local group, known as the Okabena Bay Area Striders, in 1980.

Over the years, the popular event has grown into one of the largest road races in the upper Midwest.

"We expect close to 550 runners on Saturday," says race organizer Jerry Fiola, who has been in charge since the first Turkey 10K circled Lake Okabena more than three decades ago. "We may have more women than men this year, according to the pre-registrations we have received. That's quite a change from the early years."

While more and more novelty-type runners will participate today than did in the 1980s, there will also be a fair share of elite runners, who take road races quite seriously.

Four such athletes are Doreen Kitaka, Thitu Pauline Mutwa, Mbithi Robert Wambua and Tabut Edward Kiptum who all hail from Kenya and are under the tutelage of William Kosgei, who ramrods the Duma Running Club, which sends runners all across the United States.

Kitaka, who will be 29 in November, has run a 10K as fast as 33:29 --- which is 88 seconds faster than the existing Turkey Day 10K women's record of 34:57 set by Amy Lyons of Mounds View in 2006.

Kitaka has run a pair of marathons under two hours and 34 minutes. She has clocked a sizzling four-mile time of 21:23.

Mutwu, 22, is also a top women's runner, having a personal best mile time of 4:47. She has run an amazing time of 15:29 for a 5K and has a best 10K time of 34:12, which is 45 seconds faster than the six-year old standard set by Lyons.

Wambua, 23, is a leading contender for today's overall title. He has run a spectacular time of 28:08 in a 10K race in Verbania during June of 2011 and clocked a 29:41 in New Orleans this past April.

He has personal best times of 42:52 for 15 kilometers and has run a half marathon in an hour and one minute.

The all-time course record for the Turkey Day 10K was set by local distance-running ace Jerrold Wynia, who ran the course in 29:37 in 1983, the fourth year of the race.

Kiptum, 29, combines exceptional endurance and speed, as he has run a 2:14.46 marathon and has been clocked at 3:46.19 for 1,500 meters. On July 14, Kiptum ran a 10K in Ames, Iowa in 30:30. Two weeks later, he was timed at 4:08.0 in the famous Ryan Shay Mile in Charlevoix, Michigan.

"These are four top-notch distance runners, who have run in -- and  won -- lots of races all over the country," summed up Fiola. "They will be among the elite runners to watch [today], as will be Jason Lehmkuhle, who has consistently been one of Minnesota's most competitive runners at various race distances.

"These five will be joined by several runners who are ranked high in their particular age-group categories. So, we are anticipating some great age-group races, along with the usual tremendous camaraderie among all the runners who tend to bond together in a common goal."