Organisers expect 45,500 runners but much-criticised race route will remain Bigger - but is it better? The 2007 Standard Chartered Marathon will expand to 45,500 runners next year, but the 'long and soulless' route will remain the same, revealed Peter Sullivan, the moneyman behind the March 4 showpiece. 'Our hope is we can eliminate the long and soulless run to the Hong Kong airport and back,' said Sullivan, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), at yesterday's announcement that the race would make room for a 10 per cent increase in competitors. 'The process of change has started and our partners [the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association] are looking into it. But any changes to the route will not happen in time for next year's race.' There has been a loud clamour from runners, as well as officials, for changes to the route, which is mostly along pedestrian-free highways on both sides of the harbour, with a half-way turn for the marathon on Tsing Ma Bridge. Sullivan has been a leading advocate for change, arguing the route should take the lead from famous marathons like Boston and London and be more accessible for spectators. It has been proposed that the route take in a longer stretch on Hong Kong Island with the home leg winding back from Chai Wan along King's Road to the finish at Bauhinia Square at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre. Proponents say this will be more fan-friendly. 'It is a difficult challenge for Hong Kong considering this is such a small place,' said Sullivan. 'But I'm pleased to say the issue is under serious consideration. A committee has been set up and they will be exploring various options.' HKAAA chairman William Ko Wai-lam, who also heads the committee, said change would be inevitable. 'For the time being, we will stick to the same route. But in future years, there will be change,' Ko said. This year, more than 41,000 runners took part in either the marathon, half-marathon or 10km event. Organisers have projected 27,000 runners will take part in the 10km next year, 11,000 in the half-marathon and 7,500 in the full marathon. Entries opened yesterday, and will cost HK$270 until the end of this month. From next month there will be a HK$50 surcharge. 'We are confident the race will be fully subscribed,' said Ko. 'The route will be able to accommodate the extra numbers, simply because once again we will have five different start times.' Like this year, the 10km race will have three different starts. However, the major difference is that only runners who have a personal-best time under one hour and 10 minutes will be eligible for the first start at 5.30am. Those who have a personal best under 1:25 will run in the second start, while everyone else will feature in the last start. 'By staggering the starts, and separating the best from the rest, all the fastest runners will be able to compete without hindrance,' Ko said. 'This will help us achieve our quota of 45,500 runners.' To counter the rash of criticism which organisers faced this year from runners who were 'bussed' off the route after failing to finish within the required time, organisers said an extra 30 minutes would be given next year. The total allotted time to finish the marathon will now be five hours and 30 minutes. The later than usual start - March 4 - was put down to the Chinese New Year, which in 2007 will fall on February 18. 'We needed at least a two-week gap after the holidays, otherwise it would be too close,' said Ko. 'And we are not worried that the weather will be hotter or more humid than in February. In fact, March this year was cooler than February.' Hong Kong's four-man team for the Greatest Race on Earth Series was unveiled yesterday. Winter Tsui Theeradej, 20, will run the first leg in Nairobi (October 29), Choi Tat-ming, 33, Singapore leg (December 3), Ng Kam-tai, 32, the Mumbai leg (January 21) and Lai Hok-yan, 33, the final leg here.