While runners lace up for the city's biggest running event of the year, the organisers of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon said talks were being held to change its much-criticised route. William Ko Wai-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletics' Association, said yesterday that discussions had begun with the government on a new route for future marathons, preferably one bringing the race into urban areas. The present route, which mostly follows pedestrian-free highways on both sides of the harbour with the half-way turn on the Tsing Ma Bridge, has been criticised as 'soulless' because it lacks crowds of cheering spectators. 'We have submitted a few proposals, and I believe the government is considering them,' Mr Ko said, speaking at a family fun carnival at Victoria Park yesterday to prepare runners for Sunday's race. 'We have talked to them about this, but generally everybody agreed that we should explore other potential routes. Of course, what we want to do is to bring the run to the city and into the urban area. But ... that would involve closing down roads, and that would be a real operation.' He declined to specify which routes the association had proposed to the government, or give any sort of timetable on when a new route could be agreed upon. Mr Ko said the association hoped to attract up to 100,000 participants each year in future races, more than double the record field of 43,000 runners signed up for Sunday's race. Of these, 7,000 runners will compete in the 10km category, 10,500 in the half marathon and 6,000 in the full 42km. A further 19,700 people will run along a 10km route without racing competitively. Although Mr Ko could not guarantee there would be no repeat of last year's incident in which a runner died, leading to concerns about high pollution levels, he was confident that planned medical precautions would be able to deal with any emergencies. A government official said 360 auxiliary medical service personnel would be on standby on Sunday, 10 more than last year.