Time limits will be strictly imposed on the record field of 18,492 runners - an increase of nearly 5,000 from last year - taking part in Sunday's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, organisers said yesterday. The biggest worry for officials is that a large number of the entries for the popular 10-kilometre race, which has attracted the biggest field of 10,489 runners, are novices probably taking part for the first time and as such could clutter up the route, especially at the end. 'We anticipate some problems. The fact that a lot of interest has been shown in the 10km race could mean that some of them have not run before, or not done long distance running. If people can't finish within the time limits they will be picked up,' said Malina Ngai, Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association spokesperson. An extra 3,239 runners are taking part in the 10km event this year. This big increase and the restrictive nature of the route which starts from Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and ends at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Cai, will see organisers take a strict attitude towards stragglers. Organisers have warned competitors in the 10km race that they have to reach the halfway mark in 60 minutes, or they will be picked up by a fleet of buses. And any runner who cannot finish this race in two hours will also be picked up so as to prevent a repeat of the crush that occurred last year when stragglers from the 10km event and half marathon impeded runners taking part in the showpiece marathon. Last year's marathon winner Benjamin Matolo of Kenya and runner-up South African Johannes Maremane both complained of having to weave their way past competitors taking part in the 10km and half marathon events. 'There are time limits for each of the three races,' said Ngai. 'The 10km and half marathon have two time limits, a halfway mark and a finish, while the marathon has eight points. If runners do not achieve these marks within the required time frame, they will be asked to get on the bus,' Organisers also hope the change in format this year, with the 10km race starting 25 minutes before the marathon and half marathon, will also prevent congestion and confusion at the end. 'Last year we started the 10km and half marathon together. This time the half marathon will be run with the marathon and we hope this will reduce blocking at the finish,' Ngai said. 'We will also once again emphasise to the invited runners the nature of the course which at three points is narrow. 'The invited runners will be taken by bus on Saturday and shown these three points, the first being two kilometres from the start, the next coming out of the Western Harbour Tunnel and lastly a few hundred metres from the turn into the Golden Bauhinia Square.' Meanwhile, upbeat Hong Kong athletic supremo William Ko said yesterday that more than 20,000 runners could take part at next year's Hong Kong Marathon. Organisers were forced to stop accepting entries this year four days before the deadline because of the overwhelming response, especially from on-line registration. 'Next year we will be looking at more than 20,000 runners, maybe even 22,000 or 24,000. It will all depend on how successful this weekend's race is. We will be looking closely at whether we can accommodate this large field, especially at the start and finish,' said Ko.