Irina Mikitenko returns to London seeking to become only the second woman ever to win three London Marathons in a row following fellow-German Katrin Dorre's trio of victories from 1992 to 1994.

The double World Marathon Majors champion heads the field with her German record 2:19:19 from Berlin in 2008, but she will face stiff opposition from an intriguing field that includes Romania's Olympic champion Constantina Dita, all three medallists from the Berlin world championships, and Britain's Mara Yamauchi who finished second in 2009 just a minute behind the German.

Mikitenko withdrew from a race in Paderborn recently with sore shins but the 37-year-old is confident of completing a London hat-trick.

"I love running in London and I am determined to be fit and ready for the challenge," said Mikitenko, who missed the World Championships in Berlin last summer. "My goal is to win a third London Marathon and equal Katrin's record but I know it will be difficult against such strong opponents."

After a year of injury problems, Yamauchi will be keen to improve her best again and she may well need to if she's to claim another medal. The 36-year-old comes to the race in good form having won the recent New York half marathon in impressive style.

In all, seven athletes in the 21-strong field have run quicker than 2:22 while 14 have run faster than 2:25. Athens Olympic bronze medallist Deena Kastor has the second quickest time and the American will be keen to repeat her 2006 London victory when she set a US record with an impressive piece of front running.

Ethiopian record holder Berhane Adere, no stranger to the London course, is the third fastest. She is one of five strong Ethiopians, including last year's Berlin Marathon champion, Atsede Habtamu, the 2009 Dubai champion, Bezunesh Bekele, the World Championships bronze medallist, Aselefech Mergia, and former Paris champion, Askale Magarsa Tafa.

No Ethiopian has won the women's race since Derartu Tulu in 2001 and they'll all be keen to put that run to an end.

There's also a bunch of talented Russians, headed by the 2009 New York silver medallist Lyudmila Petrova. She's joined by fellow veteran Svetlana Zakharova, three times a silver medallist here, Liliya Shobukhova, who was third last year and won the 2009 Chicago marathon, Inga Abitova, winner of last year's Yokohama marathon and sixth in London, and the debutante Mariya Konovalova, an Olympic finalist over 5000m.

World champion Bai Xue of China leads the Asian threat along with World silver medallist Yoshimi Ozaki and her Japanese teammates Mari Ozaki and Yukiko Akaba.

Kim Smith, New Zealand's multi-record breaking track runner, is hoping to improve on her one previous marathon outing - she dropped out of the 2008 New York race - while South African Tanith Maxwell takes her place in this high class elite field.

Click here to view the 2010 Virgin London Marathon Media Guide