BENDIGO triathlete David Meade, Bendigo Harriers Brady Threlfall and Kennington's Stephen Freemantle shape as the top local hopes in Sunday's O'Keefe Marathon.
Forty-six year-old Meade has a best time of two hours, 25 minutes over the 42.195km distance and is a threat in any form of racing he competes in, while Freemantle is aiming to go one better than last year's second place finish.
They will face some red-hot competition in the form of race favourites Julian Spence and Ash Watson, both from Ballarat.
The pair have respective best times of 2:24.07 and 2:24.50.
Spence, a winner of the past two Great Ocean Road Marathons, heads to Bendigo in great form with a win also in the Surf Coast Torquay event.
Race director and Athletics Bendigo general manager Craig Green said both Ballarat runners would target a $500 bonus as the first athlete to break the 2:30 mark.
“There are 10 runners in the field with sub-three hour personal bests," Green said.
"The unpredictability and difficulty of the marathon can result in upsets."
Organisers are ecstatic with the level of entries for the second instalment of the marathon, with runners coming from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and all parts of Australia.
More than 130 runners will face the starter, up from 84 finishers in the marathon's inaugural year in 2016.
Event director Sandra Slatter said nearly 600 people would participate in running events across the weekend, with about half coming from outside the central Victoria region.
“It includes participants with disabilities who will be assisted in wheelchairs by some fantastic local citizens making this truly an all-inclusive event,” she said.
In the women's event, Sarah Jalen is looking to go back-to-back after recording a 19-minute personal best last year to run a slashing time of 3:12.26.
Intrigue surrounds the women's 45-plus event, through the appearance of veteran Ringwood athlete Lavinia Petrie.
The 73-year-old is the holder of eight world records in her age group, ranging from 1500m to the half marathon distance.
Petrie has just returned from the World Indoors Masters Championships in Korea where she broke another world record in the 3000 metres in the 70-74 age group.
Earlier this year she obliterated the fields at the World Masters Athletics Championships and claimed five world titles.
Petrie previously broke the world record in the half marathon at the Oceania Masters Games in Bendigo in 2014.
Julia Thorn, from Brighton, with a 3:18 personal best and Strathmore’s Rose Parente (3:34) will provide toughest opposition.
The marathon starts in Junortoun at 7.50am and finishes in Heathcote.