If Ian Frink could choose only one competitor to return every year, a reigning champ would be the pick for the longtime elite runner's coordinator of the TBK Bank Quad Cities Marathon.
So this year's 26.2-mile race features an extra-special bonus, with course record-holder and two-time QCM champ Philemon Kiplangat Terer back to defend his title against a 19-man elite field.
The 22nd annual race takes off at 7 a.m. on Sept. 22, with the start/finish again at John Deere Commons in downtown Moline.
"Having Philemon back is great because he's been such a big part of our race," Frink said Wednesday. "He's run the two fastest times in our history, so he's set the bar really high."
Terer won the 2013 QCM in a record 2:14:04, and returned last fall to win again in 2:14:25. The Kenyan also was the runner-up in 2:17:37 at the 2014 multi-town, bi-state road race.
Terer's track record also includes a 2016 win at Cleveland, where he placed second in 2018 and earlier this year. Terer also owns a third in Des Moines (2016), fifth in Philadelphia (2017), and a sixth at California International (2016).
"He's been consistently good," said Frink, who plans to announce the elite women's field soon. "On paper, Terer's certainly the favorite, but we also have some other guys that will push him."
Frink expects those main challengers to be Ethiopia's Birhanu Dare Kemal and Kenya's Julius Maisei.
Last year, Kemal took second at the elite Grandma's Marathon in 2:12:21 before settling for third in 2:14:47 at Twin Cities. Kemal also has finished fourth at Pittsburgh (2018) and ninth at New York City (2015).
Maisei took seventh in 2:13:20 at the 2016 Hong Kong Standard Chartered, one of the world's top marathons.
"That's two guys that have run faster than Terer," Frink said.
"Kemal is from the West Side Runners Club, and they've said that's their No. 1 guy they're sending us. So he's the real deal. Julius we don't know as much about, but Hong Kong is a big race, so he's legit.
"Those are the top 3 on paper, but you never really know until you get to the day and what the weather conditions will be like. There could always be somebody else sneaking in there."
Frink said leading the secondary pack of hopefuls are two competitors with QCM experience — Kenya's William Mutai and Ethopia's Abu Kebede Diriba.
Mutai was seventh here last year in 2:21:07. Diriba has placed top 5 locally in both 2015 (3rd) and 2016 (4th).
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Of the others, Ethiopia's Gezaghagn Girma Beyene has the top career-best (2:15:10), while countryman Teshome Etana Gelana (2:19:08) and Kenya's Philip Mburu (2:20:16) are also veteran marathoners.
"Any one of those guys on a good day could contend for the win," Frink said.
Adding additional spice is former Alleman star Tim Hird, one of two elites making their marathon debut on the Mississippi Riverfront.
The former All-American at Division III North Central College ran a 1:11:50 half marathon and 35:36 Bix 7 earlier this year. His brother Zach Hird, entered in the half-marathon, also is running part of the course with him.
The top five marathoners and best three half-marathoners are among the prize-money winners. The top local finishers earn $200 in the marathon and $100 in the half.
"Tim's run some really good times, so we're delighted he chose our race to be his first marathon," Frink said. "Having a familiar face up there is really cool and adds a lot to the event.
"He has the potential to run in the 2:20s, and many times that's been a Top 5 finisher for us. I don't see any reason why he can't have that as a goal."
Of the 14 elite entered in the men's 13.1-mile race, Frink said half hail from Illinois, including Zach Hird and Milan's Brandon Wilkerson.
Like his brother, Hird was an All-American at North Central and boasts a 36:48 from this summer's Bix 7. Wilkerson earned All-American honors at Augustana in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
"I can't ever remember having that many regional guys that are that good," Frink said, with the list topped by defending champ Brett Lustgarten of Chicago. "If the weather's good, we could have at least five guys under 1:10, which should tell you it's a great field."
Lustgarten will be rematched with Kenyan Elisha Kipruto, whom he edged by two seconds last fall in the Mel Foster Co.-sponsored half.
Lustgarten's winning time was 1:08:35, almost a minute slower than his personal record. Another top contender, Michigan's Zach Ripley, has run faster than both last year's champ and runner-up, with a 1:05:11 best from 2018 Detroit.
Former University of Illinois star Colin Mickow is in the field, too. He won the 2018 Healthy Driven Half in 1:07:50.
"We have the rematch of a really exciting race from last year," Frink said. "Then we add Ripley and Mickley on top of that, and there's no reason why Zach Hird can't be in the mix with those guys."