Defending champion Martin Mathathi has a battle at hand when he faces compatriot and former world record-holder Patrick Makau at the Fukuoka Marathon on December 7.
Makau, who is making a comeback after 18 months following a nagging knee injury, is looking for a 2:05-2:06 performance in Fukuoka.
The 29-year-old Makau, who set a world record of 2:03:38 when winning the 2011 Berlin Marathon, has struggled in the last two years and has not broken the 2:10 barrier since the 2012 Frankfurt Marathon.
A hamstring injury also ravaged his attempt at qualifying for the Olympic marathon team in 2012 but Makau made his competitive return in August this year with a sub-28mins in 10km will be looking to resurrect his career over the classic distance at the 68th edition of the Fukuoka race.
Makau has to put behind him a disappointing half marathon outing in Valencia earlier this month where he finished a modest 23rd in 1:04:48.
Mathathi won the 2013 edition of the famous Japanese race in 2:07:16, his only completed marathon to date, and then clocked 1:00:11 to win the Marugame Half Marathon in February but he has kept a low profile since.
THREE PREVIOUS WINNERS
He is one of three previous Fukuoka winners who will stand on the start line this year.
Also on the starting list is the surprise 2012 champion, Joseph Gitau, but the Japan-based runner was well-beaten into second place last year by Mathathi.
The elite field also has four more runners with sub-2:08 Persona Bests: Dmytro Baranovskyy (2:07:15), Isaac Macharia (2:07:16), Yared Asmeron (2:07:27) and Henryk Szost (2:07:39).
The Fukuoka Marathon is the third oldest marathon in Japan with past winners including Frank Shorter, Toshihiko Seko, Rob de Castella, Gezaheghne Abera, Haile Gebrselassie, Sammy Wanjiru and Tsegaye Kebede, who holds the course record at 2:05:18.