HOUSTON (January 14, 2018) – Exciting finishes, upset victories, American records, Olympic Trials qualifying times and personal bests highlighted a day that marked another poignant step in the city’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in August.
In the 16th year of the Houston Half Marathon, late entrant Jake Robertson of New Zealand won in 1:00:01, the third-fastest time in race history, while Ruti Aga of Ethiopia won the women’s race in 1:06:39—not only the second-fastest time in race history, but also the second-fastest time ever run on U.S. soil. The winners each earned a first-place prize of $20,000, plus time bonuses. Huddle’s record-breaking performance means that both the men’s and women’s American records have been set here in Houston.
Setting an American record in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon was Molly Huddle, whose time of 1:07:25 in finishing seventh broke the mark of 1:07:34 set by Deena Kastor in 2006. En route, she also broke American records at 10 miles and 20K pending ratification.
In the 46th year of the Houston Marathon, Bazu Worku, 27, of Ethiopia came back from a 23-second deficit at 40K to win here for the third time, breaking the tape in 2:08:30. Finishing second for the third consecutive year was Yitayal Atnafu of Ethiopia, in 2:09:07.
Atnafu, 24, ran the 18th mile in 4:30, the fastest of the day, to pull away from the field, and appeared to have the race in hand before fading in the final kilometers and being caught by his training partner. Worku also won here in 2013 and 2014.
“I was having a plan,” said Worku through a translator. “At 25K I was doing my pace, and at 35K.” After catching up with Atnafu just past 40K, he said, “I knew that I was winning.”
Finishing in sixth (2:15:52) as top American was Wilkerson Given, a local favorite, coached by Danny Green, the winner of the first ever Houston Marathon in 1972. Given was among three men running times that qualified them to compete in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon.
For the women, Biruktayit Degefa, 27, of Ethiopia won in 2:24:51 after a spirited battle with countrywoman Belaynesh Oljira, runner-up in 2:24:57.
It was Degefa’s fifth-consecutive appearance here at the Chevron Houston Marathon, a streak that included a win in 2016 and a second-place finish last year.
“When I come to Houston, I feel it is special joy, because I consider Houston as my hometown,” she said through a translator. “As if I’m coming to a family. I came here very prepared, and I knew that I would be winning today.” Both male and female marathon winners each earned a first-place prize of $45,000, plus time bonuses.
Sarah Crouch was the top American, seventh in 2:35:22, while Hiruni Wijayaratne, eighth in 2:36:35, set a women’s national record for Sri Lanka. Including Crouch, seven American women qualified to run in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon.
The half marathon saw Robertson, who has lived and trained in Kenya since he was 17, pull away from Guye Adola just before 20K. He kept the hammer down through the finish, trying to dip under the magic 60-minute mark before winning in a time that tied his personal best.
“Wow … the best in the world,” he said afterward. “The whole caliber of the field, I’m speechless. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Finishing as top American was Sam Chelanga, sixth in a personal best 1:00:37, while Bernard Lagat, 43, set an American masters record, winning the masters division in 1:02:00 and placing 15th overall. Lagat’s time is also the fastest ever run in the world by a 43-year-old, according to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians.
The women’s half marathon was both fast and deep. Before Mary Wacera shattered the event record for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon by running 1:06:29 in 2016 for the fastest half marathon ever on U.S. soil, the event record was 1:08:26. In today’s race, a remarkable seven women bettered that time, with Aga’s 1:06:39 now ranking as the second fastest ever run in this country.
Asked what she would do with her prize money, Aga said she would use it to build a house.
Caroline Chepkoech of Kenya was runner-up in 1:06:48, the fourth-fastest time in race history, with the next five women all breaking into the top 10 all-time here.
Setting a national record for Saudi Arabia with a time of 1:26:47 was Sarah Attar, who in 2012 was among the first two women to compete at the Olympics for her country.
Huddle, 33, is among them. A 25-time national champion and two-time Olympian, Huddle set the American record for 10,000 meters when she finished sixth in Rio in 2016. In November, after winning the USA 5K championships at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K, Huddle declared her intention to run here under 68 minutes, a time that would overtake Kastor’s mark. She ran with the leaders through 10 miles, but said she was worried about falling off record pace after that.
“This has to be one of the deepest halfs in the country for women, ever, and to be in that race and to be fit and ready for it is lucky, is awesome,” she said. “So even when I was hurting, I was like, just hang on to these women. They’re all here today. It was a great day for the women.”
Of the American record, Huddle said: “It means a lot. To be in the company of Deena Kastor, who had such a great marathon career, gives me a lot of confidence, and that’s a really special feeling. Deena has really set the bar high for us.”