Ultra-marathon champion Zach Bitter to highlight field at fifth-annual SLO Marathon

The fifth-annual SLO Marathon will celebrate a full field of competitors for Sunday’s two races.

Both the full and half marathons sold out, with 420 and 2,310 entrants set to participate, respectively, making it the largest running event on the Central Coast, according to organizers. The full marathon will also see a number of elite competitors returning to the race, highlighted by two-time USA ultra champion Zach Bitter, two past champions in Van McCarthy — the inaugural winner — and Joe Thorne, the 2013 marathon and 2014 half-marathon champion.

Bitter, a Davis resident, adds a touch of celebrity to the race. He owns a marathon PR of 2:31.29 and holds records in the world 12-hour race and the 100 miles, 100K and 200K ultras. He’s coming off setting an American record in the 100-mile ultra with a time of 11:40.55 at the Desert Solstice Invitational in Phoenix in December 2015.

“It is wonderful to see two local past race champions returning, Joe Thorne and our first champion and Masters ace Van McCarty, and with USA ultra star Zach Bitter and other top runners, our event records will be in jeopardy again,” said Samantha Pruitt, founder and CEO if Race SLO, the event’s organizing company, said in a release. “We look forward to seeing all the runners as well as some great competition for the prize money and awards.”

McCarty, 45, who placed second in 2014 and 7th last year, and David Campa are among the top local runners. San Jose’s Bihama Vedaste, who placed sixth last year, is also expected in the field.

The top women include 2015 runner-up Carri Arrieta (Moreno Valley) and Nadia Ruiz (Santa Fe Springs).

In the 13.1 mile race, 2014 half marathon champion Joe Thorne of Grover Beach, Cory Smith (Santa Barbara) and City to the Sea Half 2015 winner Brandon Messerly (San Luis Obispo) lead the men, while the top women expected are Makely Lyon (Oakland), Maria Rivera (Visalia), Erin Tracht (San Luis Obispo) and 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and finisher Heather McWirther (Pacific Grove).

Last year, event records were set in the marathon by Jorge Maravilla (2:26:47) and Kimberly O’Donnell (2:59:02) and the half marathon by Cal Poly grad Ben Bruce (1:10:55).

The 2016 prize money, sponsored by LeftLane Sports and Race SLO, totals $3,150 and will be awarded to the top three per gender in the marathon ($600, $300 and $150) and half marathon ($300, $150 and $75). Post-race, the top 3 will be recognized on the podium at the finish line festival at the Madonna Inn, while the marathon champions will also receive an engraved antique cow bell, an event tradition.

The race will start at 6 a.m. at San Luis Obispo High School, wind through downtown streets before heading out of town south on Orcutt Road to the rolling hills surrounding the city. At the final stretch, runners are treated to sweeping views as they cross the Jennifer Street bridge before making their way to the finish line at the Madonna Inn.

The field will also include 84 legacy runners, who have finished all four of the previous SLO Marathons or half marathon events, and runners from 35 states and seven countries.