ALBANY -- This year's 41st annual Freihofer's Run for Women 5k has shaped up to be a "Whorunnit?" game of Clue.
Will it be the veteran in the park with the Freihofer's resume?
Will it be the newcomer on the Washington Avenue finish with the good downhill strength?
There have been years when an obvious favorite, like Lynn Jennings or Benita Johnson, has shown up, but 2019 is not one of those years.
So, since nobody seems to have a good read on how the race will shape up at 9 a.m. Saturday, spectators could be treated to an exciting finish. One thing is certain, the Freihofer's Run has assembled its typically strong elite field of pros, and even though it makes sense to tab Diane Nukuri as the top contender after her third-place finish here last year, it's anybody's race to win.
"I am thinking I'm just going to take it out like we're doing a 400 meters," Nukuri said. "Go out, see if I'm feeling good. I really don't know what to expect, because I really didn't get ready for it. I'm just looking forward to being part of it."
"I think for one of the first times, there's no clearcut favorite, which is good," Freihofer's Run elite athlete coordinator John Tope said. "We have a chance of having everybody run together for a long time.
"Obviously, I think they'll be looking at Diane, but she is coming off a marathon and hasn't done a lot of speed work. I don't know how that's going to affect her. It may play out better for her, because she probably won't go to the lead like she did last time. It could rein her in just a bit, which could play to her advantage."
Nukuri, a three-time Olympian for her native Burundi and a dual citizen from the U.S., ran the Prague Marathon in early May, so she's not sure what she can do with such a severe dropdown in distance a scant month later.
That could open the door for a Freihofer's Run newcomer, like Elaina Tabb, who is coming off a 15:38 at the B.A.A. 5k in Boston, or Kaylee Flanagan, who followed her sister to the University of Washington and now is following in her footsteps at Freihofer's.
Both got a first look at the course, which goes uphill from City Hall on Washington Ave., takes a tour of the hills in Washington Park, and finishes back down the same hill for a lightning-fast finish that could play as an advantage to someone like Tabb.
"The BAA 5k is a pretty fast course; it's pretty pancake-flat," she said. "This one, the good thing about the race is that I really don't care much about my time, I'm just going for place.
"You read the competition and gauge the effort for the first mile. It should feel hard, but you should be within yourself knowing you've got some rolling hills. I'm a strong downhill runner, so I want to capitalize over that last mile."
Like Nukuri, Flanagan is dropping down in distance after post a 10-mile personal record 55:57 (5:36 mile pace) at SACTOWN in California on April 7.
Her older sister Lindsay was seventh last year and ninth in 2015, when Nukuri was seventh.
"Lindsay said there's nothing like standing on the starting line, where there's only women surrounding you," Kaylee Flanagan said. "It's such an empowering moment. Since last year, she told me, 'You need to do it, you need to do it.'
"She told me there is a slight uphill and to be careful on that, but then you just cruise down to the finish. I've been racing the last four weeks, so we'll see if this is another one in the racing cycle. I haven't run a 5k in awhile, so this'll be a chance to get those wheels turning.
"I think it's going to be fast, so I'll try to hold on during the uphill, then when I get to the park, stick with the pack, look who's around me, then hopefully cruise on in to the finish."
"I saw her doing some strides coming down the hill, and she looked great," Tope said. "Meghan Peyton is a veteran here. We've got a nice blend of people who have run here before and probably know the course a little better than some of the others.
"Then you've got some up-and-coming people that are looking to make a name. It could be a good race to watch for spectators. Lindsey Scherf, I think of her more as a distance person, but for some reason this course fits her, so I think she could be interesting."
Scherf, a former three-time NCAA Division I All-American at Harvard, was third (16:10) at Freihofer's in 2017.
The elite field also includes Nukuri's former University of Iowa teammate Meghan Peyton, Maddie Van Beek, Katie Matthews and Saratoga Springs High senior Kelsey Chmiel, who is squeezing in the Freihofer's between the Section II state qualifier this week and the state meet next weekend.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 3,365 participants entered in the Freihofer's Run.