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During his long and successful running career, Ed Eyestone has claimed more than his share of records and championships and twice has been ranked the No. 1 road racer in the country. And yet one race has eluded him - a great marathon.

Eyestone's relationship with the 26.2-mile race has been brief and stormy, but this weekend he'll try the distance again. On Sunday, he will run against many of the world's top distance runners in the Chicago Marathon.The race, which will begin at 8 a.m., is annually one of the biggest and fastest marathons in the world. The first eight miles of Sunday's marathon will be rabbitted by Olympic 5,000-meter runner Doug Padilla, another Utahn.

"If I ever put it all together, I know the marathon could be my event," says Eyestone.

Eyestone hopes to put it all together on Sunday. On the bathroom mirror in his Bountiful home, Eyestone has written 2:10 - the time barrier he hopes to break in Chicago.

Not only would that time smash Eyestone's personal record, but it also would bring new hope to America's dismal marathon scene. Sixteen runners broke 2:10 last year; no American has done it since Alberto Salazar - in 1983.

Eyestone, the No. 1-ranked American road racer in 1986 and '88, has been one of the steadiest and most consistent road racers in the country at distances up to 10,000 meters. A four-time NCAA champion at BYU, he has won or placed well in nearly every race he has entered. But his four tries at the marathon have been uncharacteristically erratic.

"That's just the way the marathon is," says Eyestone's agent, Bob Wood, a long-time running afficionado. "It's hard to predict. It's a long race. A lot of things can go wrong."

Eyestone first tried the distance in 1984, finishing 21st at Houston in 2:16:21 with a cautious, reserved effort. "After that I thought there's nothing to this marathon stuff," he says. "When I get serious, watch out world. Then I was humbled at Boston."

At the '87 Boston Marathon, his first serious effort, Eyestone stayed with the leaders through 18 miles and then faded badly. He finished 19th in 2:19:19 and afterward vowed never to run a marathon again. That notwithstanding, Eyestone was still convinced enough of his marathon potential that he entered the 1988 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and finished second in 2:12:47. But all he could manage in the Olympics was 2:19:09 - good for 29th place.

"When I look at what I did at the Trials, I know I can do it," says Eyestone. "It's like golf. You might hit the ball all over the place, and then hit one good shot and that keeps you going. I've taken the other races (10K, 5K, etc.), about to the limit, but I haven't pushed the envelope in the marathon."

Eyestone, who hopes to win a berth on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team in both the marathon and the 10,000, has invested much in Sunday's Chicago race. He dropped out of the potentially lucrative summer road racing circuit to devote full time to training for Chicago. He has produced 120-mile training weeks during the past two months, including one weekly 20-mile run.

"Running 20 miles used to be a big deal," says Eyestone. "I had to get all psyched up to do one. Now it's no big deal. I think that will help me."

Although he has performed well in the 10,000 and even the 5,000, Eyestone would seem to be even better suited to the marathon. He has run 27:41:05 for 10,000 meters on the track - the fifth fastest time ever by an American - but as Wood notes, "Nowadays, if you don't have sub-four (mile) speed, running a 10,000 in a world championship meet is almost out of the question."

Looking ahead to Sunday's race, Eyestone says, "I feel as ready as I can be. Of course I felt like that before Seoul, too."