Ric Sayre wasn't expected to enter the Los Angeles Marathon last year.
Sayre had won the Long Beach Marathon five weeks before the L.A. race, and the prevailing opinion was that his body wouldn't be up to another long run in such a short time.
Sayre entered anyway, then proved just how elastic a body can be by winning the first L.A. Marathon with a personal-best time of 2 hours 12 minutes 59 seconds.
Sayre, 33, will be back to defend his title in today's Los Angeles Marathon, starting at 9 a.m. at the Coliseum.
"I think it will take at least a time of 2 hours 11 minutes to win it," Sayre said. "The lead runners will be running 5-minute miles. But the pace is going to depend on whether somebody decides to take it out."
The other top runners in the field include Gidamis Shahanga of Tanzania, the runner-up in last year's L.A. Marathon; Rod Dixon of New Zealand, and Jose Gomez of Mexico. Dixon returned home earlier this week when his father died but was planning to be back for the race.
Gianni Poli of Italy, winner of the 1986 New York Marathon, had been entered but withdrew last Monday, claiming that a cold had cost him 10 days of training.
Unlike other major marathons, though, the emphasis here is on participation rather than competition. Therefore, appearance money, as well as the prize fund, is small and the appeal is to Everyman, rather than to the world's elite marathoners. Obviously, that appeal is effective, since approximately 13,400 runners have entered.
In any event, Sayre says he isn't worried about other runners, elite or not.
"I don't concern myself with the competition," he said. "If I win the race, great. If not, great. I just want to relax and take it easy."
Nancy Ditz of Woodside, Calif., the women's winner last year, will also be back to defend her title.
Ditz, 32, a reporter for a San Francisco TV station, was the 1985 U.S. marathon champion. She is the seventh-ranked American woman and No. 12 in the world.
Her winning time last year was 2:36.27, but she said she hadn't been top shape, since fighting off a cold had left her short of preparation time.
"This year, I'd like to knock about five minutes off my time," she said.
Sayre has won nine other marathons, but his win here last year gave his career, and his finances, a boost. His victory was worth $10,000 and a $23,000 Mercedes-Benz. He sold the car to help finance a two-story house he is building in Ashland, Ore.
Sayre said he has been able to make a living from his running for the last two years, and he also has a shoe sponsor, but he still doesn't look upon himself as a guy running strictly for money.
"I think (other elite runners) look at it as more of a job," he said. "But running is still fun for me.
"I've been running for 20 years, but I've only been able to make a living at it for the last two years."
Sayre is a warhorse, running seven to eight marathons a year. The L.A. event will be his second this year. He finished seventh in the Houston Marathon Jan. 18 but was the first American finisher and qualified for this summer's Pan American Games in Indianapolis.
"Most (marathoners) run in one or two marathons a year," Sayre said. "They'll run once in the spring and once in the fall. They say that it takes you a day for each mile you run to recover.
"But it takes me four days to a week to recover. I think part of it has to do with my diet and part has to do with psychology."
Sayre, who coaches himself, said the more he runs the better he runs.
"I find coaches limit you," he said. "You put enough limitations on yourself without someone else doing it. Nobody knows your body better than you do.
"I run 100 to 110 miles a week in training. I don't plan my workouts. I just go out and do what I want to do. I don't do the same workout twice because I like variety."
Sayre, who stands 5 feet 10 1/2 inches and weighs 135 pounds, credits his vegetarian diet with helping him recover quickly from races.
He ate a bag of figs during an interview in his hotel room the other day, and there were bags of granola, poppy seeds, raisins, more figs and dried peaches beside his bed.
"I'm big on raw foods with low fat," he said.
Sayres' only complaint about the race is that not enough prize money is offered.
"If they want to attract (elite) runners, they need to give out more money," he said. "The winner of the New York Marathon gets $75,000. First place here is $15,000 plus a $45,000 car. But second place only gets $8,000. That's a big dropoff."
There also is a $25,000 bonus to any male runner who runs at least 2:08 or any woman who runs 2:25.
Among the elite runners in the women's field are Maria Trujillo of Mexico, Madga Ilands of Belgium, Naydi Nazario of Puerto Rico and Chrisa Vahlensiede of West Germany. Trujillo, who won the 1986 San Francisco Marathon, will collect a $10,000 bonus if she also wins here.
Sylvia Mosquedo of Cal State Los Angeles, who upstaged Ditz for much of last year's race as an unofficial runner, is an official entrant this year.