Something astonishing has happened to men's marathon running in the last few years. Not so long ago only one man had ever run faster than 2 hours 6 minutes for 26.2 miles, and no one had run quicker than 2:08 to win a major championships. Now, Khalid Khannouchi's former world record of 2:05:38, set in London in 2002, is only 16th on the all-time list and all but two of the 14 names ahead of him set their best times in the last two years.

The good news for London Marathon fans is that five of them are in this year's line-up, including the second fastest man in history, Duncan Kibet, the world champion, Abel Kirui, the Olympic and defending London champion, Sammy Wanjiru, the Olympic and world bronze medallist, Tsegaye Kebede, and the Olympic silver medallist, Jaouad Gharib, twice a world champion in the past.

Add to that the world silver medallist, Emmanuel Mutai, and you have every chance that the battle for the 2010 London Marathon will be just as fierce as those won by three-times London champion Martin Lel in 2008 and Wanjiru 12 months ago.

Lel was hoping to become the first man to win the London Marathon four times this year but for the second year in a row he has been forced to pull out of the race with injury. Sidelined with a hip problem, the Kenyan could only watch last year as his young compatriot attacked the world record for 20 miles last year and raced home to snatch the title and his one-year-old course record in 2:05:10.

The Olympic champion will start as favourite again this year, having added the Chicago title to his CV in the autumn. He certainly won't give up the crown easily and may well chase another record. Indeed, he was actually disappointed last year when he didn't break Haile Gebrselassie's world record so no doubt the Kenyan will have a sub-2:04 figure in mind again.

Yet, Wanjiru will hardly have an easy ride. In fact, he is only the third quickest in the field as both Kibet and Kirui have faster PBs thanks to an astonishing Rotterdam marathon last spring in which they finished first and third respectively. Only Gebrselassie has ever run faster than Kibet's winning time, 2:04:27, while Kirui backed up his 2:05:04 when he went on to win the world title in Berlin setting an impressive championships record in the process. Both these Kenyans will be hoping to leave their mark on their London debuts.

Kebede and Gharib, who finished second and third last year, within seconds of Wanjiru, will also be keen to claim their first victories here, as will Mutai who has been unlucky to twice finish just out of the medals.

Many will again have their eyes on Zersenay Tadese, the Eritrean who has won four world half marathon titles. He dropped out last year but returns with renewed hope after smashing Wanjiru's half marathon world record in Lisbon last month. He'll again be accompanied by the Eritrean record holder, Yonas Kifle.

Then there's the double New York Marathon winner, Marilson Gomes dos Santos; the 2008 Boston marathon runner-up, Abderrahim Bouramdane; the former world 30km record holder, Takayuki Matsumiya; and the British duo, Dan Robinson and Andrew Lemoncello, seeking selection for this summer's European Championships and October's Commonwealth Games.

It may take something special to better the last two epic races over this famous course, but with this field there's every chance.

Click here to view the 2010 Virgin London Marathon Media Guide