The Penn Relays will be conducted for the 118th time starting Thursday, and if you add the qualifying heats to a good chunk of the 264 running events, you easily get more than three races for every year the carnival has been in operation.

But add 62 field events to the program, including 43 inside Franklin Field, and you have a menu that will whet the appetite of any level of track-and-field fan.

The nearly 38-hour marathon over the next three days will involve more than 20,000 athletes from about 300 colleges and 1,000 high schools. The carnival has a truly international flair this season, with runners from as many as 21 countries entered in Saturday's six USA vs. the World relays.

So how will you get through these next three days? Glad you asked.

Welcome, champs. More than a dozen NCAA champions from the last year (2011 outdoor, 2012 indoor) are scheduled to compete, including multiple winners Sheila Reid of Villanova and Kimberlyn Duncan of Louisiana State.

The men's 110-hurdles features three NCAA champs - Illinois' Andrew Riley (2011 indoor), LSU's Barrett Nugent (2011 outdoor), and Syracuse's Jarret Eaton (2012 indoor).

Surprise warning. The Princeton men (4xmile) and the women of Duke (4x800) and Boston College (4x1500) were surprise winners last year. Can the Tigers and the Eagles (the Blue Devils did not enter the 4x800) repeat this weekend?

Throwing your weight around. The Penn Relays throwing events will be held at a new River Field facility carved out of the former softball field south of Franklin Field along the Schuylkill Expressway. Officials call it one of the finest in the country.

All Red and Blue. As a freshman last year, Maalik Reynolds became the first athlete from Penn to win the high jump since 1955 and called the crowd reaction "a big ball of loud." It should be the same Saturday when he goes for a repeat win.

Hanging outside. Because of construction on the former tennis courts that faced 33d Street, the Nike tent in the Carnival Village has been moved toward the back of the parking lot, closer to the bridge over the train tracks. And speaking of the bridge, it is back in operation after being closed last year, giving athletes a spacious warm-up area.

Let's go eat. Grace Foods, considered the top food producer and distributor in the Caribbean, will provide samples of its products all weekend in the Carnival Village.

A company release said the items include exotic chips, mannish water, and pepperpot soups and juices such as "tropical rhythms."

Set your alarm. Because NBC (Channel 10 locally) will televise from the carnival Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m., the USA vs. the World races will go earlier than usual. The women's sprint medley starts at 11:40 a.m., and the five other events will be run between 12:55 and 2:52 p.m.

Best investment. As always, that would be the official Penn Relays program, a 152-page cornucopia of information that includes entries, lineups, and event history. Most appealing this year is the list of Olympic gold-medal winners who have competed at Penn.

Need a ticket? Tickets for Thursday and Friday are $18 (general admission) and $24 (North side reserved). Ticket prices for Saturday range from $35 to $55.

Don't need a ticket. If you are watching your pennies but want to get a taste of the Penn Relays, come about 7:30 p.m. Thursday for more than four hours of distance races.

Getting there. Public transportation is the way to go. SEPTA's Route 40 bus stops right at Franklin Field, and the 21 and 42 will get you to 33d and Walnut, a short walk away. The Airport, Media-Elwyn, and Wilmington train lines have a stop fewer than 100 steps from the stadium entrance. If you must drive, parking is available at Garage 7 (South Street and Convention Avenue), Garage 37 (34th and Chestnut), Garage 30 (38th and Walnut), and Garage 40 (40th and Walnut).

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq