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Year by Year Half Marathon History

2002
January 20
Men’s Winner: Justin Chaston (England) 1:08:42
Women’s Winner: Christy Nielsen-Crotta 1:21:37

After 30 years of marathon-only competition, Houston added the half-marathon in 2002, with El Paso Energy as the sponsor. The 13.1-mile race was immediately popular, with more than 2,500 finishers, but the first race didn’t present a dramatic finish.

Justin Chaston, a Houston resident and already a two-time British Olympian in the steeplechase, trailed eventual runner-up Gannon White through five miles and edged ahead before being overtaken again by White. Chaston, who would go on to represent Britain for a third time in the steeplechase in the ’04 Olympics, moved back ahead for good at 10 miles and put almost two minutes on White in the closing stages.

In the women’s race, Fort Worth’s Christy Nielsen-Crotta was never really challenged on the way to victory over University of Houston distance runner Karina Quesada, crossing the line in 1:21:37. The native of Iowa, who qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials marathon, beat Quesada by almost two minutes.

2003
January 19
Men’s Winner: Scott Strand 1:05:13
Women’s Winner: Beth Old 1:17:03

Originally conceived as a way to increase participation in the marathon, the ’03 half proved even more successful than the debut in ’02 as more than 4,500 runners signed up.

Another successful steeplechaser was a runaway winner of the second edition, as former Auburn star Scott Strand knocked more than three minutes off the event record with his 1:05:13. Strand, who qualified for the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 3000 SC, ran with Kenya’s Sammy Nyamongo through 5K and then pulled ahead with each additional kilometer, putting a 12-second gap on Nyamongo by the 10K point. By the time he crossed the line, Strand had completed the perfect warm-up for the ’04 Trials marathon, winning by almost three minutes.

Women’s winner Beth Old, who would go on to place 15th in the 2004 Olympic Trials marathon, went wire to wire at the front of the pack to beat runner-up Jackie Rzepecki by 1:46 in 1:17:03, slicing more than four minutes off the inaugural event record. Old, who ran at Georgia Tech as Beth Mallory and would be inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2010, was an NCAA cross country national qualifier for the Rambling Wreck in 1994.

2004
January 18
Men’s Winner: Gilbert Koech (Kenya) 1:03:08
Women’s Winner: Colleen DeReuck 1:10:55

A fast pace pulled five men under 1:04 at the ’04 half, sponsored by HP. Kenya’s Gilbert Koech had a PR of 1:02:05 coming into the race and needed every bit of that speed to outlean Dan Browne with the help of a cone near the finish line, earning victory in 1:03:08 to take more than two minutes off the event record.

Browne told the Houston Chronicle, “There was a cone out there, and there was a direction – half-marathoners stay on this side and marathoners on the other side. I took it literally, because in my heart, that’s what we’re supposed to do.” Koech slipped by the other side of the cone and edged Browne by one second.

Former South African Colleen De Reuck, a four-time Olympian in the 10,000 and marathon, won by 36 seconds over Sylvia Mosqueda, smashing the event record with her 1:10:55. Seven women finished faster than the existing record of 1:17:03, and ’03 champion Beth Old was sixth in 1:14:54. The 39-year-old De Reuck placed 36th in the 2004 Olympic Games marathon for Team USA.

2005
January 16
Men’s Winner: Julius Kibet (Kenya) 1:03:17
Women’s Winner: Olga Romanova (Russia) 1:12:36

Houston hosted its first of seven consecutive USA Half Marathon Championships in ’05, with ’04 overall runner-up Dan Browne holding off seven other men under 1:05 to take the U.S. title in 1:03:56. Browne went out with the aim of capturing the overall title, but when he realized that Kenya’s Julius Kibet was not to be caught, he set his aim on a national championship.

Kibet made a decisive move just after 10K, and went through the line at 1:03:17 to give Kenya a second-straight win. Aramco sponsored the race for the first time, starting a long-term relationship with the event.

Russians dominated the women’s contest, led by 24-year-old Olga Romanova, who took top honors in 1:12:36. Romanova, twice a top-15 finisher in the short course event at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, was 19 seconds ahead of countrywoman Lioudmila Kortchaguina, with ’04 winner Colleen De Reuck fifth in 1:14:05.

2006
January 15
Men’s Winner: Nicodemus Malakwen (Kenya) 1:02:07
Women’s Winner: Asmae Leghzaoui (Morocco) 1:11:56

A pair of big personal bests gave Kenya’s Nicodemus Malakwen and American Brian Sell the overall and U.S. titles in 2006, with both men chopping a chunk off the previous event record. Malakwen clocked 1:02:07 to trim 1:01 off Gilbert Koech’s ’04 mark, while Sell sped home in 1:02:39. The second American, Jason Hartmann, also beat Koech’s standard with a 1:03:07 in third, and five U.S. men bettered 1:04.

Malakwen started showing his dominance at 5K and had a full minute lead late in the race before easing in ahead of Sell by 32 seconds.

Morocco’s Asmae Leghzaoui, a seventh-place finisher in the 10,000 at the 2001 IAAF World Championships and the 10h-placer at the ’02 World Half Marathon, ran with the leaders in the women’s race through eight miles and then moved ahead on her way to a 1:11:56 that would put her 12 seconds ahead of runner-up Dorota Gruca of Poland. Jen Rhines was the top American in fifth at 1:13:29.

2007
January 14
Men’s Winner: Ryan Hall 59:43
Women’s Winner: Elva Dryer 1:11:42

Barrier-breaking Ryan Hall sent shockwaves through the running community with his masterful 59:43 to become the first U.S. man under 60 minutes, setting an American and North American record and demolishing the old national mark of 1:00:55 set in 1985 by Mark Curp. Not to mention crushing the Houston event record and seizing the USA Championship trophy and $21,000 in prize money.

Hall broke away from the field at two miles and went past 5K at 14:05. His lead kept getting bigger and bigger, and as he headed into the finish stretch there was no one else in sight. Fasil Bizuneh and Meb Keflezighi gamely battled for runner-up honors, with Bizuneh getting the nod by two seconds in 1:02:20. Five men dropped below the 1:03 mark and the top 10 finished faster than 1:04, with ’05 U.S. champ Dan Browne eighth in 1:03:55.

Houston also hosted the women’s national championship race for the first time, and two-time Olympian Elva Dryer came away with the win in 1:11:42, just five seconds up on Kate O’Neill, her roommate at the Athens Olympic Games in ’04.

Dryer and O’Neill exchanged the lead for much of the race before Dryer opened up a small margin in the last mile. “I had to maintain a good steady pace,” said Dryer. “A couple of us were together at the beginning. I knew she (O’Neill) wasn’t far behind the whole time.”

2008
January 13
Men’s Winner: James Carney 1:02:21
Women’s Winner: Kate O’Neill 1:11:57

When a man is determined to win and he has the talent, it’s hard to stop him. At least that was the case with James Carney, who overcame the disappointment of a 14th-place finish at the Olympic Trials marathon in New York the previous November to run away with the U.S. half title in 1:02:21. Running aggressively from the start, Carney was never headed as he beat second-placer Jason Lemkuhle by 11 seconds.

Before the race even started, Carney had other obstacles to overcome, since an airline lost his luggage and it didn’t arrive until late the night before. “The lost luggage wasn’t going to stop me,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I was focused. I would have run in dress shoes if I had to.”

Moving up one spot from 2007, Kate O’Neill was 10 seconds slower but a great deal happier to win in 1:11:57, with Desiree Davila second in 1:12:10. Battling pesky winds, O’Neill ran at the front all the way and was aided by the withdrawal of defending champ Elva Dryer, who stopped at nine miles due to injury.

2009
January 19
Men’s Winner: Meb Keflezighi 1:01:25
Women’s Winner: Magdalena Boulet 1:11:47

Two years after watching Ryan Hall shatter the American record ahead of him, Meb Keflezighi improved on his third-place effort and made a bold statement with his 1:01:25 win and U.S. title. With uber-talented Dathan Ritzenhein on his heels, Keflezighi pushed hard between the second and third miles and managed to stake himself a solid lead, increasing it to almost 100 meters at times during the middle stages. Ritzenhein made up ground heading to the finish and crossed the line at 1:01:35.

Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist, said this win was one of the most special to him, given his injuries in 2008 that hobbled him for much of the year. His time was a personal best.

Magdalena Boulet also set a lifetime best to win the women’s U.S. crown in 1:11:47, 19 seconds in front of Kelly Jaske. Looking for redemption after not finishing the marathon at the ’08 Olympics in Beijing, Boulet noted the loud crowds in Houston as a key to her performance. Reigning champ Kate O’Neill had a lead over Boulet early in the race but couldn’t hold on as she slid back to 11th, while ageless Colleen De Reuck (44) was third behind Jaske in 1:12:16.

2010
January 18
Men’s Winner: Antonio Vega 1:01:54
Women’s Winner: Shalane Flanagan 1:09:41

Two years after claiming Olympic bronze in the 10,000 on the track at Beijing, Shalane Flanagan tested herself at a longer distance in Houston and came away as a very impressive winner with an event-record 1:09:41, chopping more than a minute off Colleen De Reuck’s ’04 standard. Flanagan’s efforts helped drag Serena Burla to a 1:10:08 in second place, also under the previous record, and ’09 winner Magdalena Boulet was fifth.

Kelly Jaske, the previous year’s second-placer, went out hard to take some of the pacesetting pressure off Flanagan, who became the No. 5 American ever at the distance, with the 10th-fastest U.S. time ever. Flanagan told Track & Field News, “The primary goal was to win the race. Everything else was a bonus. I feel like I gave a really good effort, but I actually feel like I have more running in my legs. That’s a good sign to me.”

In what was certainly the top performance of his career, former Minnesota Gopher Antonio Vega moved up from seventh in ’09 to the top of the podium with a lifetime-best 1:01:54. Calling it his breakout race, Vega was seven seconds better than Patrick Smyth, who clocked 1:02:01 to lead four other men under 1:03. Vega told the Houston Chronicle, “I was going to make my big move at the turnaround point, so I increased the pace and that separated me from the pack. … But I almost got a stiff neck coming into downtown, looking around for people to come up from behind.”

2011
January 30
Men’s Winner: Jeffrey Eggleston 1:08:26
Women’s Winner: Colleen De Reuck 1:16:19

With the U.S. Championships being held separately on Saturday, Sunday’s half marathon fields were diminished, giving 46-year-old Colleen De Reuck a chance to win her second Houston title. De Reuck did just that, taking an easy victory in 1:16:19, almost three minutes in front of Leah Thorvilson. She won her first Houston half in ’04, setting an event record that was not broken until 2010.

The men’s competition gave Jeffrey Eggleston a second chance at gold, since he dropped out of the U.S. race on Saturday after the eight mile mark. Eggleston decided to give it another try Sunday, a decision that led to a 3:30 margin of victory in 1:08:26.

“I just hit a really rough patch and made the poor decision of dropping out,” Eggleston told the Houston Chronicle in reference to Saturday’s abortive effort. “I was here for another day, and Houston is such a great venue that I wanted to come back and get out there and enjoy the course and have a more positive experience.”

2012
January 15
Men’s Winner: Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) 59:22
Women’s Winner: Belaynesh Olijara (Ethiopia) 1:08:26

In a year that saw Houston host the Olympic Trials marathon and gain worlwide attention, a pair of Ethiopian youngsters rampaged through the half marathon record books.

Feyisa Lelisa and Belaynesh Oljira broke course records held by a couple of familiar names: Lelisa’s 59:22 edged the mark set by American Ryan Hall (59:43) in 2007, while Oljira’s winning time of 1:08:26 shattered the mark set by American Shalane Flanagan (1:09:41).

Lelisa, a 21-year-old who won the marathon bronze medal at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, was a late entrant, but had little trouble handling the field. Ethiopian Tilahun Regassa was runner-up, in 1:01:28, with American Scott Bauhs on his heels in a personal best 1:01:30. In fourth was Luke Puskedra in 1:01:36, a senior at the University of Oregon who was making his half-marathon debut.

The women’s race was another matter. Oljira and Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon, ran shoulder-to-shoulder right to the end, with the 21-year-old Oljira, running her first race in the United States, using her 10,000-meter speed to win in a sprint.

“Right from the beginning I was following her and I knew, and I prepared in my mind, that I have to sprint very fast at the last 100 meters or so,” Oljira said.

Joan Samuelson, 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, finished in 1:38:03.

2013
January 13
Men’s Winner: Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) 1:01:54
Women’s Winner: Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) 1:09:53

Running in wet and cold conditions, course record-holder Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia defended his title in the men’s race and countrywoman Mamitu Daska, the 2011 marathon champion, won the women’s crown. Daska became the first-ever woman to win the marathon and the half marathon at Houston.

Lilesa ran side-by-side with Deriba Merga until the pair entered the home stretch, where Lilesa used his superior speed to win in 1:01:54. Merga was second at 1:02:00 and Kenya’s Wilson Erupe made a late surge to take third in 1:02:12.

Daska took command early in the race, leading through 5km in 16:18, and then doubled her margin by the 10km mark, clocking 32:42. At 15km, she had a 1:27 lead over Caroline Kilel of Kenya and her margin of victory was 2:05 when she crossed the line at 1:09:54, the fifth-fastest time in race history. Kilel finished as the runner-up for the second year in a row, finishing in 1:11:58 and Hellen Jemutai, also of Kenya, was third in 1:12:34.

The top Americans were newly-minted U.S. citizen Shadrack Biwott, who finished fourth in 1:02:23, and Lisa Uhl, who took sixth in 1:13:38.

2014
January 19
Men’s Winner: Meb Keflezighi 1:01:23
Women’s Winner: Serena Burla 1:10:48

Houston once again hosted the USA Half Marathon Championships, this time on a new course with superb weather, and Meb Keflezighi broke away from the field after the eight-mile mark to win in 1:01:23, his second U.S. title and the second-fastest time in race history by an American. It was Keflezighi’s 22nd U.S. title at all distances.

Keflezighi ran with a large pack for the first half of the race, trading the lead with last year’s top American finisher, Shadrack Biwott, and Tyler Pennel. Aaron Braun and Tim Ritchie pulled the field through 5K in 14:38, and a group of seven men led by Pennel passed 10K in 29:10.By 15K Keflezighi gapped the pack by three seconds at 43:34, and he added nine seconds to that margin over the next 5K to clock 58:12.

Braun and Josphat Boit edged past Pennel over the final kilometer to finish second and third in 1:01:38 and 1:01:41.

Serena Burla mounted the podium for the first time, winning the women’s title in 1:10:48 as she ran almost unchallenged for the majority of the race.

A pack of eight cruised through 5K under 17:03 with Burla at the front.  Burla made a strong push in the next 5K to take a 15-second lead over Lauren Kleppin at 10K, and by 15K that lead had stretched to 40 seconds at 50:07. She went through 20K at 67:08 and had a 1:18 margin, which increased to 1:24 at the finish, with Kleppin second and Caitlin Comfort third at 1:12:16.

2015
January 18
Men’s Winner: Diego Estrada 1:00:51
Women’s Winner: Kim Conley 1:09:44

Two very different races produced two superb results in races which served as the U.S. championship race for the ninth time for men and seventh time for women.

Diego Estrada shot to the lead after running with the pack for the first 5K at 14:41, opening a 20-second gap by 10K (28:51) and stretching that margin to 45 seconds over Jared Ward at the 15K mark (43:14). He tacked on five more seconds to his cushion by 20K (57:45) and eased to the finish at 1:00:51, the third-fastest time ever by an American and also the third-fastest ever at Houston.

Ward finished well to clock 1:01:42 in his debut at the distance to move to ninth on the all-time Houston list, and Girma Mecheso was third at 1:02:16. Three-time champion Meb Keflezighi was fighting a cold and a sore back as he pursued his fourth U.S. title and third straight, but battled through to take fourth at 1:02:18.

Kim Conley, a gold medalist in the 10,000 at the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships, bided her time through 10 miles at a fast pace, running with the leaders through 5K at 16:45 and 10K at 33:27. She shared the lead with 2006 U.S. champ Annie Bersagel at 15K (50:08) and then pulled away over the next 5K, running 16:12 for that portion of the race to pass 20K at 1:06:20 and take a 22-second lead.

Conley was powerful through the finish, crossing the line at 1:09:44 for the fifth-fastest time ever at Houston and the second-fastest by an American woman in the race. Brianne Nelson trimmed more than two minutes off her lifetime best to take second at 1:10:16, and Janet Bawcom was third at 1:10:46.

2016
January 17
Men’s Winner: Lilesa Disesa (Ethiopia) 1:00:37
Women’s Winner: Mary Wacera (Kenya) 1:06:29

Kenya’s Mary Wacera ran the fastest-ever women’s half marathon on American soil Sunday, moving to No. 9 on the all-time world list as she shattered the course record with a 66:29 to win the Aramco Houston Half Marathon.

Wacera, who collected $45,000 for her record-setting win, made a move just after the 15-kilometer mark to take the lead from fellow Kenyan Cynthia Limo. She established a six-second gap over the next 5K and stretched the margin to 12 seconds at the finish. Limo’s 66:41 moved her to 11th on the all-time world list.
Last year’s world marathon champion, Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia, was also faster than the existing course record with a 1:07:55 in third, as was fourth-placer Ruti Aga of Ethiopia, who clocked 68:07. Sara Hall was the top American woman, setting a lifetime best with her 70:07 in fifth.
Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia ran the third-fastest men’s time ever at Houston, winning by eight seconds with his 60:37. Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was the runner-up at 60:45, and Luke Puskedra took the top U.S. spot in fourth at 61:29.