LANESBOROUGH -- The best of the best appear to be back for Sunday's second annual Steel Rail Half Marathon.
A nearly sold-out field is expected, according to Kent Lemme, the race's co-director. That will include the defending male and female champions, and a top-40 runner from April's Boston Marathon.
As of 7:30 Friday evening, 705 total runners were entered in the field. That's up from approximately 500 last year. Lemme and his wife Shiobbean, the co-owners of the Berkshire Running Center and co-race directors, set the cap at 750 for this year's field.
"We had nothing but positive comments last year," Kent Lemme said. "People just absolutely loved the event. We wanted to be conservative with our growth and make sure we could handle the capacity we had."
The 13.1-mile race will begin at the Berkshire Mall at 9:30 a.m., traveling through Lanesborough and Cheshire before finishing in Adams.
The runners will experience a scenic trek along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The trail will still be open to the public, so the runners will be instructed to be mindful of those on the trail. However, those not running should understand that, between 9:30 and noon, the trail will be fairly congested.
"We just want to make sure it's runner-friendly," Lemme said. "We put on races by runners for runners, and want to make sure the course isn't too congested, and make sure everybody can run the type of race they want to run."
The best runners from 2013's inaugural running will be back. Mark Rabasco, a Taconic High School product and the overall winner last year, confirmed via Twitter that he is in the field for Sunday. Lemme said Dalton's Megan Anello, the top female runner in 2013, is also registered.
"It was probably my favorite race last year," Rabasco, a 19-year-old sophomore runner for the Keene State College cross country and track teams, said Friday. "Compared to the college races and things like that, I really enjoyed this one. I'm a defending champ. Gotta defend the title."
They'll be joined by Boston's Eric Ashe, the 19th-fastest American male in the Boston Marathon. Ashe, 25, was the 36th overall finisher in a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 41 seconds.
Ashe confirmed his entry via email Friday, according to Lemme.
"That's kind of what we wanted all along," Lemme said. "I've asked, because I have some fairly elite runner friends. We wanted to showcase, in the Berkshires, what the state of running is."
Parking will be at the JC Penney parking lot at the mall. The race will finish at the Adams Visitor Center, where there will be food, music and drink.
The Berkshire Brewing Company will provide Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale to the finishers over the age of 21. Some of their other craft beers will also be available. Food will be provided by Bounti-Fare Restaurant in Adams.
The event contributed $8,000 to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, specifically to be used for the repair and maintenance of the DCR's Ashuwillticook Rail Trial. The funds this year will be used to repair root-damaged areas of the trail, and for the purchase of equipment needed to make sure the outdoor recreation area remains in great shape.
There is no race-day registration. Race packets can be picked up at the Berkshire Running Center, 42 Summer St., Pittsfield. Packets will be available on Saturday from 10-5 p.m. Contact Kent or Shiobbean Lemme at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (413) 344-4472 with any questions about the packets.
Further race information can be found at www.berkshirerunningcenter.com.