Why, yes we do.
“Last year, I ran a 14:13,” returning champion Patrick Cheptoek said. “This year, I feel a little stronger than last year, based on the races that I’ve been running of late.”
“I think, with a good competition, it’s very possible that we’re going to break the record on Saturday.”
Competition for breaking the course record has surged since Woodstock organizers chipped in a $500 bonus for it before the 2010 race. The men’s and women’s course records fell in each of the three races since.
This year, the fourth and final year in which Woodstock is scheduled to serve as the Road Runners Club of America’s 5K national championship, competition is especially strong in the men’s field.
Emmanuel Bor, who finished one second behind Cheptoek a year ago, was among 15 elite male runners registered as of Thursday night.
There’s also a three-man contingent coming from Kongasis Sports Club in Kennesaw, Ga., and team manager Ambrose Kimitei said they have a goal of 14-flat.
While Woodstock elite-field chairwoman Hayley Long acknowledges that the field of women’s elite runners is down from 2012 --- missing top two finishers Risper Gesabwa and Carmen Hussar --- she said the men’s field is deep.
“That last-minute (entry from) the Kongasis team really made the difference,” Long said.
Kongasis runners Fred Kosgei, Daniel Kipkoech and Stephen Sirma are registered.
“We’re looking into running at least a 14 minutes flat to cut the course record by 13 seconds,” Kimitei said. “That’s what we’re looking into.”
Sirma, 25 and a new Kongasis team member from Kenya, looks to be the likeliest candidate.
“I’ve worked him in workouts, doing speed work on the field every Tuesday and Thursday,” Kimitei said. “He’s doing pretty good.
“From what I see, since I’m the one coaching him every day, I see the way he runs, and I can see the potential.”
Team members can also work together, so a three-man team will help Kongasis.
But Cheptoek, 27, won’t be alone. This year, he’ll come with former Western Kentucky University teammate Joseph Chebet.
“It’s exciting, definitely very exciting to have Joseph in the race,” Cheptoek said. “It’s been a long time I’ve been working with him. When I was a grad assistant, I’ve working with him. We’ve been training together.
“It’s kind of exciting, because we work as a team. We’ll be pushing each other. I believe that, running side by side, we’ll run a little faster and more comfortable in the race.”
Cheptoek also has experience on the officially declared historic Woodstock course. He knows all about the hills and that tough final mile.
“You know that it’s coming ahead, so kind of having it in mind is very important,” Cheptoek said. “Knowing that there’s a hill ahead kind of prepares you for it, and so that is very, very advantageous.”
The rest, he said, comes down to recent training and how runners feel when they awaken on race day.
Like the Kongasis runners, Cheptoek comes in with confidence. His recent times include a 14:10 in a four-mile race in Peoria, Ill. The Woodstock course is 3.1 miles.
He also ran a 14-flat 5K in Frankfort, Ky., on July 4.
On July 13, Cheptoek finished third (22:55, 4:36/mile pace) in the Crazy 8s (8K) Road Race in Kingsport, Tenn., besting two of the three Kongasis runners slated to run in Anniston on Saturday. Kosgei was 14th (24:21) and Sirma 15th (24:23).
Kipkoech did not run in the race, but Bor also finished ahead of the Kosgei and Sirma, taking seventh (23:28).
Cheptoek is coming off of a 10K this past weekend in Chicago, where he finished in 29:06. All of his recent times came on road courses and not faster tracks.
“All of those are fast times,” he said. “So, with good competition, I could run anywhere around 14-flat or even 13.”
Cheptock will wear the No. 1 bib on the front of his top Saturday. He knows he’ll wear a target on his back.
“Being reigning champion,” he said, “I’ll have that little extra pressure to defend my title and, possibly, break the course record.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.