The Kenyan won in New York two years ago in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 6 seconds. That was the last time the NYC Marathon was held, and much has changed since that day Mutai describes as "perfect."
The 2012 race was called off because of the destruction of Superstorm Sandy, but not before the week's events enraged many residents and runners. City and marathon officials initially vowed that the race would go on, and many New Yorkers recoiled at the idea of possibly diverting resources after a natural disaster. The decision to cancel didn't come until a day-and-a-half before the scheduled start time, and by then, many out-of-town entrants had already made their long trips to the city after hearing the earlier assurances.
Then in April, at another major marathon in the Northeast, the scene of cheering fans packed along the race course lost its innocence. Two bombs exploded near the finish line in Boston, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
The increased security Sunday will be most evident near the finish line in Central Park. There will be barricades around the park limiting entry points, bag checks, bomb-sniffing dogs.
More than 47,000 runners are expected at the start of the 43rd running of the NYC Marathon, taking on the 26.2 miles through the five boroughs. A handful will be competing for the $100,000 prize for the men's and women's champions.
Five races within the race to watch:
Mutai has run the fastest marathon in history, 2:03:02 in Boston in 2011. It didn't count as a world record because the course is too straight and downhill. The official world record was lowered in September to 2:03:23 in Berlin by Wilson Kipsang, who also sometimes trains with Mutai. Two weeks later, Kimetto nearly broke it again when he won Chicago in 2:03:45. New York is a difficult course, unlikely to produce a world record. A windy morning is in the forecast for Sunday, which may also keep Mutai's course record safe.
Stephen Kiprotich's personal best time is 2:07:20, slow by today's standards. But he keeps proving he knows how to race. The Ugandan was the surprise gold medalist as the 2012 London Olympics, then proved that was no fluke when won a world championship in August. That New York is a championship-style setup, with no pace-setter, bodes well for Kiprotich.
Kiprotich and Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede, the reigning London Marathon champ, are also competing for the World Marathon Majors title, a $500,000 bonus.
A year ago, Meb Keflezighi planned to run the 2012 NYC Marathon and the 2013 races in Boston and New York, and then retire. He jokes he should qualify such pronouncements with "Subject to change."
So much for the first two races on that list. New York was canceled, and he pulled out of Boston because of injury. Now the 38-year-old Keflezighi is flirting with the idea of competing through the 2016 Olympics.
"Can I squeeze a little more out of it?" he said. "Otherwise, I feel content where my career has been."
He took silver at the 2004 Olympics, the first American man in 28 years to win a marathon medal. And at the 2009 NYC Marathon, he became the first American champion in 27 years.
Keflezighi missed some training because of a calf injury, but he finds confidence from strong performances in the past when he didn't seem to be at full strength.
Kenyans Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo train together and expect to work together for the first part of Sunday's race. The two are competing for a second prize: the World Marathon Majors title. If either wins in New York, she will earn the $500,000 bonus. Kiplagat is the two-time defending world champion, and Jeptoo won the London Marathon this year.
Kiplagat, who won in New York in 2010, is a force in championship-style races.
"This is one of the best courses it's not a flat course," she said. "It needs a lot of strategy and a lot of mental strength. And I'm happy when I'm on it. It's still very fresh in my mind, the whole course."
Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba grew up together in Ethiopia. Deba now lives in the Bronx, but they were reunited at the last NYC Marathon, in 2011. They worked together to chase down Mary Keitany, who had pulled away to a big lead. Dado won and Deba finished second in breakthrough performances for both. Now Dado returns as the defending women's champion, and Deba is trying to win in her new hometown. New York City Marathon Winners
2011 Geoffrey Mutai, Kenya, 2:05:06
2010 Gebre Gebrmariam, Ethiopia, 2:08:14
2009 Meb Keflezighi, United States, 2:09:15
2008 Marilson Gomes dos Santos, Brazil, 2:08:43
2007 Martin Lel, Kenya, 2:09:04
2006 Marilson Gomes dos Santos, Brazil, 2:09:58
2005 Paul Tergat, Kenya, 2:09:30
2004 Hendrik Ramaala, South Africa, 2:09:28
2003 Martin Lel, Kenya, 2:10:30
2002 Rodgers Rop, Kenya, 2:08:07
2001 Tesfaye Jifar, Ethiopia, 2:07:43
2000 Abdelkhader El Mouaziz, Morocco, 2:10:09
1999 Joseph Chebet, Kenya, 2:09:14
1998 John Kagwe, Kenya, 2:08:45
1997 John Kagwe, Kenya, 2:08:12
1996 Giacomo Leone, Italy, 2:09:54
1995 German Silva, Mexico, 2:11:00
1994 German Silva, Mexico, 2:11:21
1993 Andres Espinosa, Mexico, 2:10:04
1992 Willie Mtolo, South Africa, 2:09:29
1991 Salvador Garcia, Mexico, 2:09:28
1990 Douglas Wakihuri, Kenya, 2:12:39
1989 Juma Ikangaa, Tanzania, 2:08:01
1988 Steve Jones, Wales, 2:08:20
1987 Ibrahim Hussein, Kenya, 2:11:01
1986 Gianni Poli, Italy, 2:11:06
1985 Orlando Pizzolato, Italy, 2:11:34
1984 Orlando Pizzolato, Italy, 2:14:53
1983 Rod Dixon, New Zealand, 2:08:59
1982 Alberto Salazar, United States, 2:09:29
1981 Alberto Salazar, United States, 2:08:13
1980 Alberto Salazar, United States, 2:09:41
1979 Bill Rodgers, United States, 2:11:42
1978 Bill Rodgers, United States, 2:12:11
1977 Bill Rodgers, United States, 2:11:28
1976 Bill Rodgers, United States, 2:10:09
1975 Tom Fleming, United States, 2:19:27
1974 Norb Sander, United States, 2:26:30
1973 Tom Fleming, United States, 2:21:54
1972 Sheldon Karlin, United States, 2:27:52
1971 Norm Higgins, United States, 2:22:54
1970 Gary Muhrcke, United States, 2:31:38
2011 Firehiwot Dado, Ethiopia, 2:23:15
2010 Edna Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:28:20
2009 Derartu Tulu, Ethiopia, 2:28:52
2008 Paula Radcliffe, Britain, 2:23:56
2007 Paula Radcliffe, Britain, 2:23:09
2006 Jelena Prokopcuka, Latvia, 2:25:05
2005 Jelena Prokopcuka, Latvia, 2:24:41
2004 Paula Radcliffe, Britain, 2:23:10
2003 Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2:22:31
2002 Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya, 2:25:56
2001 Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2:24:21
2000 Ludmila Petrova, Russia, 2:25:45
1999 Adriana Fernandez, Mexico, 2:25:06
1998 Franca Fiacconi, Italy, 2:25:17
1997 Franziska Rochat-Moser, Switzerland, 2:28:43
1996 Anuta Catuna, Romania, 2:28.18
1995 Tegla Loroupe, Kenya, 2:28:06
1994 Tegla Loroupe, Kenya, 2:27:37
1993 Uta Pippig, Germany, 2:26:24
1992 Lisa Ondiecki, Australia, 2:24:40
1991 Liz McColgan, Scotland, 2:27:23
1990 Wanda Panfil, Poland, 2:30:45
1989 Ingrid Kristiansen, Norway, 2:25:30
1988 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:28:07
1987 Priscilla Welch, Britain, 2:30:17
1986 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:28:06
1985 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:28:34
1984 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:29:30
1983 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:27:00
1982 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:27:14
1981 Allison Roe, New Zealand, 2:25:29
1980 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:25:41
1979 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:27:33
1978 Grete Waitz, Norway, 2:32:30
1977 Miki Gorman, Japan, 2:43:10
1976 Miki Gorman, Japan, 2:39:11
1975 Kim Merritt, United States, 2:46:14
1974 Kathrine Switzer, United States, 3:07:29
1973 Nina Kuscik, United States, 2:57:07
1972 Nina Kuscik, United States, 3:18:41
1971 Beth Bonner, United States, 2:55:22
1970 No finisher