Year by Year Marathon History

December 30
113 Runners
5-mile loop at Memorial Park
Men’s Winner: Danny Green  2:32:33
Women’s Winner: Tanya Trantham 5:11:55

Run over a five-mile loop at Memorial Park at the end of December, the inaugural Houston Marathon drew 113 runners and about twice that many spectators. Race director Pete League, who would serve in that capacity until 1976, ensured that the course was measured properly so it could be certified by the AAU, with assistance from distance running legend Ted Corbitt.

Danny Green, who went on to become one of the nation’s top high school track and cross country coaches at The Woodlands, overtook Clyde Villamez after the 24-mile mark and went on to win in 2:32:33. Green told the Houston Chronicle in 2002, “We were doing those loops in Memorial Park, and my family would be telling me where I was and where he (Villamez) was… I never ran any faster. I was never able to break that (2:32:33).”

14-year-old Tanya Trantham was the first female finisher, crossing the line in 5:11:55. In 35th place overall was Frank Stranahan, better known as a top amateur golfer who was the 1952 British Open runner-up.

December 29
120 Runners started, 58 finished
5-mile loop at Memorial Park
Men’s Winner: Juan Garza 2:37:47
Women’s Winner: Nancy Laird 4:29:07 (course record)

Juan Garza, who went on to be an NCAA Division I national cross country qualifier in 1974 for Pan American University, won the second edition of the Houston Marathon by three minutes over Dennis Manske, one of the largest winning margins in race history. Manske ran three more times at Houston, including a 2:39:59 in 1991 after a 16-year hiatus.

Nancy Laird was the women’s champion, and was also the Gulf AAU LDR chair who asked race director Pete League to help develop more distance events in the Houston area. Laird returned to the race in 1975 and finished more than 30 minutes faster than her debut time.

Race not held, date moved to January

January 18
112 Runners
5-mile loop at Memorial Park
Men’s Winner: tie, Clent Mericle & Juan Garza 2:35:00
Women’s Winner: Dorothy Doolittle 3:31:24 (course record)

Two Rio Grande Valley foes used to duking it out on the track and in cross country ended up in a virtual dead heat in the third Houston Marathon. After a year off in 1974, the race returned for the final time to Memorial Park, where former Texas A&I Javelina Clent Mericle and 1973 winner Juan Garza (Pan American U.) both crossed the line in 2:35:00.

Top honors in the five-runner women’s race went to Dorothy Doolittle, who ended up 48th overall in 3:31:24. Doolittle would go on to win one more time (1977) and earn renown as a collegiate and high school track and field coach, including a stint at the University of Houston.

January 17
210 Runners
3-loop course incorporating Memorial Park and adjoining areas
Men’s Winner: Jeff Wells 2:17:46 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Marsha Johnson 3:37:04

Rice cross country and track star Jeff Wells ran in the inaugural Houston Marathon in 1972, finishing in 2:38:44, but in 1976 he ran his first serious race and destroyed the course record with a 2:17:46. At the time it was the tenth-fastest clocking ever by a collegiate runner in the marathon. John Lodwick, a Rice teammate, was second at 2:26:15, also under the old course record, and 1975 champ Clent Mericle was third at 2:29:37.

Wells was part of one of the closest finishes in Boston Marathon history in 1978, coming across the line only two seconds adrift of Bill Rodgers, who won at 2:10:13. He was a two-time Olympic Trials finalist in the 10,000 meters and was on Team USA at the 1977 and 1978 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Wells ran three more times at Houston, including a 2:29:16 in 1996 at age 41.

An 18-year-old, Marsha Johnson, was the women’s winner at 3:37:04. She would run the race six more times, with a best time of 3:16:09 in 1981.

January 22
410 Runners started, 290 finished
3-loop course incorporating Memorial Park and adjoining areas
Men’s Winner: Clent Mericle 2:27:46
Women’s Winner: Dorothy Doolittle 3:00:34 (course record)

George Kleeman took over as race director in 1977 as the race was held at Memorial Park for the final time. Clent Mericle, the 1975 co-winner, picked up the win by himself this go-around, covering the distance in 2:27:46. University of Houston legend and Olympian Leonard Hilton was the pre-race favorite, but fell victim to cramps as he was leading at 23 miles, finishing 11th at 2:39:33. Rice sophomore Chuck Jewell was the runner-up at 2:28:39 and edged out Mark Walter for the Junior title.

Improving her own course record from the 1975 race, Dororthy Doolittle won the women’s crown at 3:00:34 and was 54th overall. Jack Lippincott, who ran his 40th-consecutive Houston Marathon in 2014, had his highest placing in ’77, taking 12th overall.

January 21
788 started, 567 finished
Course started downtown, went out to 610 via Memorial Drive, then back downtown
Men’s Winner: Ron Tabb 2:17:11 (race record)
Women’s Winner: Peggy Kokernot 3:01:54

Frigid weather and a new course welcomed 23-year-old Missourian Ron Tabb, who ran away from the field to win by almost six minutes in 2:17:11 over David Odom. Tabb’s time lowered the previous race record of 2:17:46, set by Jeff Wells in 1976. The temperature at the start was 27 degrees, and it didn’t warm up much over the duration of the race, but it didn’t stop a Houston-record 127 runners from breaking 3:00:00.

Women’s winner Peggy Kokernot had gained national notoriety in December 1977, appearing on the cover of Time magazine as part of a story on the International Year of the Woman, a nationwide event that culminated in Houston and included a torch relay. Kokernot, a college athlete at Trinity University, stepped in for a 16-mile stretch in Alabama that was under boycott by local runners, keeping the relay going. She was one of three women selected to carry the torch the last mile and entered the Sam Houston Coliseum to raucous applause. Kokernot, who won by more than seven minutes in 3:01:54, helped the push to add the marathon for women to the Olympic program, and she went on to host the popular P.M. Magazine show in San Antonio.

January 20
1,700+ started, 1,000+ finished
Men’s Winner: Tom Antczak 2:15:28 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Sue Petersen 2:46:17 (course record)

What started out as a two-man race turned into a coronation and course record for Tom Antczak of Wisconsin, who chopped almost two minutes off Ron Tabb’s 1978 record with his 2:15:28. Antczak, a Wisconsin-La Crosse graduate who qualified for three U.S. Olympic Trials marathons and went on to a storied coaching career at Wisconsin-Platteville, ran the first 22 miles with Duke’s Scott Eden before pulling away as Eden struggled over the final four miles. Eden also finished under the previous race record with his 2:16:21.

Windy conditions held back women’s winner Sue Petersen, but the 34-year-old Californian still smashed the existing race record and won by eight minutes as she ran side-by-side with her husband, Pete. In winning the national AAU title, Petersen reinforced her world top-10 ranking and brought Houston into the realm of an elite women’s race.

January 19
1,914 started, 1,540 finished
Men’s Winner: Ron Tabb 2:13:36 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Vanessa Vajdos 2:44:45 (course record)

Two years after his initial win and course record, Ron Tabb returned with a vengeance to crush the since-lowered record in 2:13:36, overcoming windy and humid conditions and a strong challenge from Britain’s Chris Stewart. Tabb was running at 2:11 pace through 22 miles before the wind put paid to any hopes of a faster time. Stewart finished just over a minute back at 2:14:44. Tabb later placed fourth in the 1980 Olympic Trials marathon and was second at Boston in 1983 with a PR 2:09:31. He also represented the U.S. at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki in 1983, finishing 18th at 2:13:38.

A close-as-can-be finish in the women’s race saw Vanessa Vajdos edge Memorial High School coach Donna Burge by a second in 2:44:45, setting a course record. Vajdos, now a New Braunfels chiropractor, ran together with her close friend Burge all the way before outleaning her at the line. She finished 10th in 1981 at the Ottawa Avon International Women’s Marathon, the putative world championships at the time.

January 10
Men’s Winner: Bill Rodgers 2:12:19 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Patti Catalano 2:35:28 (course record)

The reigning king of American marathoners made his first appearance at Houston a memorable one, as Bill Rodgers rolled to a course-record 2:12:19 to win by 30 seconds over Dick Beardsley. Rodgers, known as “Boston Billy” after winning that race four times and setting an American Record of 2:09:27 in 1979, also had four New York titles on his resume. Reaching the halfway point in 1:04:46, near world record pace, Rodgers and Beardsley were still in contact, but at 16 miles Rodgers made his move. Two miles later a stomach upset and quick trip into the woods threatened to derail his title run, but Beardsley also suffered stomach cramps and Rodgers held on to win. Defending champion Ron Tabb withdrew at 14 miles with a bone spur in his left heel.

As the first U.S. woman to run under 2:30, Patti Catalano was the pre-race favorite and she fulfilled those expectations with a course record 2:35:28. But it wasn’t easy. Laurie Binder ran the race of her life to that point, shadowing Catalano until less than two miles remained. The duo bumped each other and both runners were unbalanced, with Binder taking the lead. That lead lasted until the final quarter-mile, where Catalano regained the lead and sprinted to the win while Binder slashed her personal best by three minutes with a 2:35:31.

January 24
Men’s Winner: Benji Durden 2:11:11 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Laurie Binder 2:40:57

Five years, five course records. But this time the record wasn’t set by the pre-race favorite. Heading into the race, most talk was about defending champ Bill Rodgers and runner-up Dick Beardsley, with Benji Durden almost an afterthought. Durden turned all the attention to himself, though, running a relatively easy 2:11:11 to set a new standard and take the scalps of some of the sport’s biggest names. He finished more than a minute-and-a-half ahead of Beardsley, who was second for the second year in a row, while Rodgers faded to fifth at 2:14:52 after a whirlwind week of promotional appearances and sales meetings to bolster his line of running apparel. Durden and Beardsley worked together from the eight-mile mark to drop Rodgers and then took turns pushing the pace. At 18 miles Beardsley didn’t take his turn and Durden moved away and on to the win.

After a second-place finish the previous year, Laurie Binder stepped atop the podium with a 2:40:57, taking control of the race after seven miles and never being challenged. Binder told the Houston Post that she was “pretty uncomfortable” over the final 10 kilometers, running by herself and having to try and maintain her pace. Kathleen Molitor was second at 2:43:02.

January 16
Men’s Winner: Hailu Ebba (Ethiopia) 2:12:17
Women’s Winner: Ingrid Kristiansen (Norway) 2:33:27 (course record)

Eleven years into the life of the Houston Marathon, the world showed up. For the first time ever, international athletes swept the titles, with Ethiopia’s Hailu Ebba outkicking defending champ Benji Durden to take men’s top honors by three seconds in 2:12:17, and Norway’s superstar Ingrid Kristiansen clipping more than two minutes off the course record with her 2:33:27 to beat reigning champ Laurie Binder by nine seconds.

Ebba, an Oregon State graduate who was an Olympic semifinalist at 1500 meters in 1972, saw Ron Tabb sprint away to an early lead, which stretched to 300 yards at the halfway mark. Tabb fell off at 15 miles, where Ebba, Durden and local favorite Marty Froelick of Rice took over the lead. Those three kept the lead, and it wasn’t until the final few yards that Ebba’s patented kick (he had a 1:47 800 PR) pushed him past Durden.

Binder was the leader in the women’s race through 14 miles, where Kristiansen took over. They stayed close the rest of the way and the Norwegian staved off a last-gasp challenge from Binder over the final 100 yards. Former Lamar University runner Midde Hamrin of Sweden was third, also under the previous record with her 2:35:06.

January 15
Men’s Winner: Charlie Spedding (Great Britain) 2:11:54
Women’s Winner: Ingrid Kristiansen (Norway) 2:27:51 (course record)

In baseball, the tie goes to the runner. At the ’84 Houston Marathon, the tie went to Charlie Spedding. A situation that was unprecedented saw Britain’s Spedding awarded the win after a dead-heat finish with Massimo Magnani of Italy. There was no finish-line camera, so it was up to the race staff to determine whose torso crossed the line first. Race director David Hannah, after much consultation, announced that Spedding had edged Magnani, and that announcement sparked an immediate protest by the Italian.

A big pack that included ’82 winner Benji Durden went through the 10-mile mark together before Dean Matthews opened up a lead through 13 miles. Magnani and John Wellerding took over then and started to move away from the pack that included Spedding. Spedding and Mark Finucane split from the chase pack and with just over a mile to go, four men were in contention. Making up a three-yard deficit over the final 30 yards, Spedding did just enough to earn the title.

Less dramatic, but no less impressive, was Ingrid Kristiansen’s second straight win in the women’s race. A completely dominant performance broke her own course record by more than five minutes at 2:27:51. The Norwegian would go on to win the 10,000 at the 1987 World Championships in Rome after a fourth-place effort in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon at Los Angeles in ’84.

January 6
Men’s Winner: Marty Froelick 2:11:14
Women’s Winner: Sylvia Ruegger (Canada) 2:28:36

Running earlier in the month than usual, athletes in the 13th edition saw UTEP steeplechaser Sam Ngatia of Kenya take off and establish a comfortable lead after the 14-mile mark. In his marathon debut, Ngatia had more than a minute on Rice’s Marty Froelick and Wolfgang Krueger of West Germany at 20 miles, running at sub-2:10 pace. That’s when the wheels came off for Ngatia, though, as he was hobbled by blisters and was reeled in by Froelick. Cutting the gap steadily into the final mile, Froelick finally passed Ngatia with just under a half-mile to go and went on to just miss the course record with his 2:11:14.

Froelick’s time was likely the fastest ever on the course, though, as a recent TAC rule change mandated that certified courses be one-tenth of a percent longer than the standard distance of 26 miles, 385 yards.

Two Canadians fought it out for the women’s title, with top honors going to 1984 OIympic eighth-placer Sylvia Ruegger in 2:28:36, almost a minute ahead of Jacqueline Gareau. The duo ran together for 22 miles before Ruegger started to pull away and win in only her third marathon ever. She lowered her own national record in the process.

January 19
Men’s Winner: Paul Cummings 2:11:31
Women’s Winner: Veronique Marot (Great Britain) 2:31:33

A new single-loop course that covered more of the city set the stage for a pair of contrasting races. Britain’s Veronique Marot, the third-placer in 1985, was a gun-to-tape winner in the women’s race, clocking 2:31:33 to beat U.S. legend Francie Larrieu-Smith in her marathon debut. Larrieu-Smith, a four-time Olympian who would eventually take 12th in the ’92 marathon at Barcelona, stayed within 30 seconds of Marot through 20 miles, but couldn’t make a real dent in the lead as she finished at 2:33:36.

Sub-4:00 miler and 1984 10K Olympian Paul Cummings made the most of his footspeed over the last 5K to outleg Canada’s David Edge by eight seconds in 2:11:31. Those two had to make up a lot of ground in the final half of the race to catch defending champ Marty Froelick, who had a 26-second edge after 21 miles. By 23 miles Froelick was out of contention, and Cummings sealed the win over the final quarter-mile.

The new course also drew in more volunteers, going from 950 in 1985 to 2,500 in ’86.

January 18
Men’s Winner: Derrick May (South Africa) 2:11:51
Women’s Winner: Bente Moe (Norway) 2:32:37

A collegian and a collegiate coach picked up the hardware as Seattle Pacific University’s Bente Moe of Norway captured the women’s title and South Africa’s Derrick May, an assistant coach at Nevada-Reno, won the men’s race. Moe’s biggest issue on the day came post-race, as she had to decide whether to accept the $22,000 prize money and forego her NCAA eligibility. From seven miles on Moe was basically unchallenged, winning by more than three minutes in 2:32:37 on a day that saw gusty winds lower the temperature from 43 to 38 degrees over the duration of the event.

Basically an unknown coming into the race, May eased into the lead pack at 10 miles, challenging a group of three that included 1985 runner-up Sam Ngatia by 17 miles. Hanging with Ngatia for the next seven miles, May made a decisive move at 24 miles and won at 2:11:51, 15 seconds ahead of Norway’s Geir Kvernmo, who was running only his second marathon.

The race also served as the U.S. men’s championship, with Ric Sayre the top American in seventh at 2:13:54 to earn a spot on the Pan American Games squad.

January 17
Men’s Winner: Geir Kvernmo (Norway) 2:11:44
Women’s Winner: Linda Zeman 2:34:52

Sometimes, it’s just your day. And it certainly was for Linda Zeman, who stunned everyone by easily winning the women’s race with a huge personal best as she became the first-ever “uninvited” woman to mount the podium. After deciding to run the race on January 1 as a part of her New Year’s resolutions, Zeman crushed her previous PR by eight minutes to clock 2:34:52, more than a minute ahead of the runner-up. Hotter-than-usual conditions at the start also affected the race, with the temperature at 64 degrees and the humidity at 85%.

Moving up a place from his runner-up finish in ’87, Norway’s Geir Kvernmo held off Mexico’s Salvador Garcia to win at 2:11:44. Kvernmo, who set a Norwegian record of 2:10:17 to place fifth at London in 1987, cranked up the pace at the halfway mark and held a 30-second lead over Garcia at 21 miles. Over the final five miles Garcia inched closer and closer, but he couldn’t close the gap completely and ended up six seconds back.

January 15
Men’s Winner: Richard Kaitany (Kenya) 2:10:04 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Veronique Marot (Great Britain) 2:30:16

Heavy fog at the race start limited visibility to less than 50 yards, but a little more than two hours later it was abundantly clear that no one could match the quality of former Iowa State runner Richard Kaitany of Kenya, who set a course record of 2:10:04 to win by more than 90 seconds. Those four seconds on the end of his time were heartbreaking, though, as Kaitany missed out on a $10,000 bonus on offer to the first man to break 2:10. He had run 2:09:39 at Chicago the previous October and said he would have gone under the bonus time if only there had been a clock for him to see as he raced to the finish. Kaitany and ’88 winner Geir Kvernmo were together through 17 miles, where the Kenyan felt jostled and took off, never to be challenged again.

Three years after her first Houston victory, Britain’s Veronique Marot ran with Maria Trujillo and Norway’s Sissel Grottenberg for the first 10 miles before moving away and easing to the win more than two minutes ahead of Kim Jones at 2:30:16. Three months later, on April 23, Marot ran the best race of her career to win at London in 2:25:56.

January 14
Men’s Winner: Paul Pilkington 2:11:13
Women’s Winner: Maria Trujillo 2:32:55

Former Weber State steeplechaser Paul Pilkington had all cylinders firing on the way to his career-best 2:11:13 win, the third-fastest time ever at Houston. Race veteran Sam Ngatia of Kenya, who had tried five times previously to win, had the lead at the halfway point and stayed with Pilkington through 18 miles, but the American was clearly stronger and powered away to win his first marathon in six starts.

With thoughts of her late-race fade the previous year, Maria Trujillo staved off Germany’s Kerstin Pressler over the last eight miles to win at 2:32:55. The German was on Trujillo’s shoulder at 18 miles, but cited fatigue and the course’s hills for her failure to maintain that challenge, finishing second at 2:34:49.

January 20
Men’s Winner: Carey Nelson (Canada) 2:12:28
Women’s Winner: Veronique Marot (Great Britain) 2:30:55

Strong winds blew throughout the race, gusting to 15 mph, but they couldn’t stop Britain’s Veronique Marot from becoming the first-ever three-time women’s champion at 2:30:55. Marot, who also won in ’86 and ’89, ran with Denmark’s Dorthe Rasmussen for 17 miles and then took off and created a two-minute gap over the runner-up. One year later at Barcelona, Marot would finish 16th in the Olympic marathon.

Men’s champion Carey Nelson of Canada, a 5K Olympian in 1988, won his second straight marathon in 2:12:28, the slowest winning time since Ron Tabb’s 2:13:36 in 1980. Contending with Czechoslovakia’s Martin Vrabel through 23 miles, Nelson’s winning move made up a 30-yard gap and he sprinted on to win by 12 seconds over Vrabel. Nelson finished 35th in the ’96 Olympic marathon at Atlanta.

January 26
Men’s Winner: Filemon Lopez (Mexico) 2:13:12
Women’s Winner: Kimberley Webb 2:50:17
Women’s Olympic Trials Winner: Janis Klecker 2:30:12

Houston ’92 served as the U.S. Olympic Trials race for women and it lived up to its potential. Top-seeded Kim Jones dropped after three miles with an ankle injury, leaving ’88 Olympian Cathy O’Brien and four-time Olympian Francie Larrieu-Smith to contend with Janis Klecker, who was running for her sixth time on the course. A strategic race dictated a moderate pace, and the turning point came at a water stop at 15 miles when Klecker got her feet tangled and fell. O’Brien helped her up.

Those two got back on pace and at 20 miles O’Brien broke away to open up a 20+-second margin over Klecker by 23 miles. Klecker and Larrieu-Smith worked together to close the gap and Klecker was 100 yards adrift of O’Brien with just over a mile to go. With less than a quarter-mile left, Klecker moved ahead for good and won by 14 seconds in 2:30:12, with O’Brien and Larrieu-Smith claiming the other two Olympic berths. For Larrieu-Smith, it was to be her fifth Olympic team.

Mexico’s Filemon Lopez was looking for his own qualifying time for his national Olympic team (2:11), but the pesky winds and his solo run late in the race put paid to those hopes. Lopez and Michael Heilmann of Germany opened up a 200-yard lead on the pack by 10 miles, but just before the 11-mile point Heilmann had to stop and tie his shoe and he could never reclaim the time that cost as Lopez moved away and eventually crossed the line at 2:13:12.

January 24
Men’s Winner: Frank Bjorkli (Norway) 2:13:21
Women’s Winner: Kristy Johnston 2:29:05

Scandinavian-like weather, with wind chills in the 30-degree range and 30 mph gusts, played into the hands of Norway’s Frank Bjorkli, who was running only his second marathon. Defending champ Filemon Lopez dropped at 10 miles due to leg cramps, leaving Bjorkli, ’90 champion Paul Pilkington and Mark Plaatjes to work the next seven miles. After Pillkington and Plaatjes began to drop, Bjorkli’s way was clear and the story was Sean Wade’s charge from 15th to second place over the final stretch. Bjorkli clocked 2:13:21, with Wade second at 2:16:09. Plaatjes would be the story of American marathoning later in the year with his stunning win at the World Championships in Stuttgart.

The conditions didn’t bother women’s winner Kristy Johnston at all, apparently, as she knocked 10 minutes off her personal best with a 2:29:05 that was the third fastest ever on the course. At the halfway mark Johnston was running with Hungary’s Karolina Szabo and Russia’s Albina Gallyamova, and she began to move away from those two, throwing down her fastest mile of the day at 17 miles to virtually guarantee her win. Gallyamova was second, more than two minutes behind Johnston.

January 16
Men’s Winner: Colin Moore (Great Britain) 2:13:34
Women’s Winner: Alevtina Naumova (Russia) 2:34:47

Slow times were the order of the day in damp and windy conditions, with veteran Russian Alevtina Naumova taking advantage of the neophyte tactics of Ukraine’s Tetyana Pozdnyakova to claim the women’s win and Britain’s Colin Moore running a very business-like race to take top men’s honors. Naumova let Pozdnyakova go when the Ukrainian surged at nine miles, and there was a minute gap by 17 miles, with Trina Painter joining Naumova in the chase. Debutante Pozdnyakova hit the proverbial wall after mile 19, and Naumova continued to gain ground. She took the lead at 25 miles and went on to the win at 2:34:47, 22 seconds ahead of Pozdnyakova.

Brick mason Moore and Canada’s Peter Fonseca were the leaders after 15 miles, breaking away from the field. Nearing the final miles, Moore took advantage of Fonseca’s cramping problems to take the lead for good at 25 miles and win by 19 seconds at 2:13:34.

January 15
Men’s Winner: Peter Fonseca (Canada) 2:11:52
Women’s Winner: Tetyana Pozdnyakova (Ukraine) 2:29:57

Third time was a charm for men’s winner Peter Fonseca of Canada, while second time was lucky for Tetyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine in the women’s race. On the heels of fourth-place and second-place finishes his past two tries in ’92 and ’94, Portugal-based Fonseca settled in at a fast pace with Norway’s Terje Naess and New Zealand’s Sean Wade. The trio was together through 23 miles before a Fonseca surge dropped Wade. On the run in to the finish Fonseca had the better speed and came away with the win at 2:11:52.

Falling victim to “The Wall” in her debut the previous year, Pozdnyakova didn’t make any mistakes this time around. Taking the lead from Tatyana Titova of Russia at 15 miles, Pozdnyakova stretched the margin to more than two minutes by 21 miles and cruised to the win at 2:29:57, more than four minutes ahead of runner-up Suzanna Ciric of Yugoslavia.

January 21
Men’s Winner: Turbo Tumo (Ethiopia) 2:10:34
Women’s Winner: Adriana Fernandez (Mexico) 2:31:59

A near wrong turn almost cost Ethiopia’s Turbo Tumo the men’s title, and a positive drug test did cost the women’s winner her second straight title. Tumo was the best of the deepest field in race history, with four men dipping under 2:11. Pacesetters Justin Chaston and Jon Warren carried the field through the halfway mark before dropping to let a group of six that included Tumo, Britain’s Steve Brace, Russia’s Leonid Shvetsov and New Zealand’s Sean Wade take over. Tumo and Brace moved to the front over the final three miles and as Tumo was making the final turn to the finish he erroneously tried to follow the lead motorcycle. Notified quickly of his error, Tumo corrected it and outsprinted Brace to win by one second at 2:10:34, the second-fastest time ever on the course.

Defending champion Tetyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine made a late-race surge to close a two-minute gap and win at 2:31:03, but was later disqualified after failing a doping test. Runner-up Adriana Fernandez of Mexico was elevated to champion with her 2:31:59.

January 12
Men’s Winner: Ake Eriksson (Sweden) 2:19:01
Women’s Winner: Claudia Dreher (Germany) 2:36:13

The most miserable conditions in the history of the event turned the ’97 race into a battle for survival, not speed. With the temperature never rising above 31 degrees, and sleet falling, a pair of Europeans picked up their first Houston wins. Claudia Dreher of Germany made her debut a memorable one, running the first few miles with a small group before assuming an insurmountable lead at seven miles on the way to a 2:36:13 win. In her wake, Betsey Kempter was runner-up more than three minutes back and 1995 champ Tetyana Pozdnyakova placed third. Those three were the only women under 2:40 on the day.

Eriksson, who notched a 2:10:53 PR to take fourth at Chicago in 1990, followed the early pace made by Sean Wade and Jon Warren until Wade dropped at 10 miles and Ethiopia’s Bedaso Turbe joined Warren at the front. Turbe turned on the jets and opened up a big lead until mile 21, where the engines sputtered and he was passed by Eriksson and Australia’s Shaun Creighton. Creighton crumbled after 23 miles, leaving Eriksson alone to win by more than two minutes.

January 18
Men’s Winner: Stephen Ndungu (Kenya) 2:11:23
Women’s Winner: Gwyn Coogan 2:33:37

Competing for a U.S. championship brought out the best of the women’s field, with 22 women breaking 2:50 and eight going sub-2:42. The best of them? Gwyn Coogan. Coogan, a ’92 Olympian at 10,000 meters, kept to her pre-race plan in the muggy conditions, letting Linda Somers take the early lead. Recovering from a fall three miles in, Coogan and Kim Jones steadily moved up and caught Somers Smith at 10 miles. From there, Coogan kept pushing the pace and opened up a two-minute lead by 24 miles. She kept that margin through the finish at 2:33:37, ahead of Jones and Somers Smith. Coogan earned a $30,000 payday and the total purse of $100,500 was the largest ever for a USATF women’s national championship.

In his second race at the distance, Kenya’s Stephen Ndungu showed a foretaste of things to come with a dominant win to lead a sweep of the top three men’s spots by Kenyan runners. Dissatisfied with the early pace, Ndungu pushed ahead at nine miles and had an easy time of it in winning at 2:11:23.

January 17
Men’s Winner: Stephen Ndungu (Kenya) 2:14:56
Women’s Winner: Tetyana Pozdnyakova (Ukraine) 2:33:23

Warm and humid conditions again played a role in the outcome, but couldn’t stop Stephen Ndungu of Kenya from winning his second straight title and leading fellow countrymen Sammy Maritim and Gideon Mutisya to a 1-2-3 repeat of the ’98 finish. Ndungu almost didn’t make it to the line, though, fighting off physical problems at 15 miles before recovering and winning by nine seconds.

Another former champion, 1995 winner Tetyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine, didn’t push the pace, biding her time behind Ethiopia’s Elfenesh Alemu most of the race before grabbing the lead after 22 miles while Alemu faded a bit due to fatigue and the lingering effects of a cold. Pozdnyakova nabbed her second official title at 2:33:23, three minutes ahead of Russia’s Zinaida Semenova, with Alemu a disappointed third. 1996 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Kerri Strug was a noteworthy finisher at 4:12:06.

January 16
Men’s Winner: Stephen Ndungu (Kenya) 2:11:28
Women’s Winner: Tetyana Pozdnyakova (Ukraine) 2:32:25

The first race of the new millennium had a pair of very familiar faces atop the podium after all the running was done, with Kenya’s Stephen Ndungu completing a hat trick with his third straight men’s victory in 2:11:28 and ageless Tetyana Pozdnyakova of Ukraine also picking up a third career women’s title at 2:32:25.

This was perhaps the easiest of Ndungu’s three wins. Unhappy with uneven pacesetting, Ndungu made the best of a bad situation and took over the lead at 19 miles and finished more than two minutes ahead of Kenya’s Sammy Maritim at 2:11:27. Maritim earned runner-up honors for the third straight year, outsprinting Gemechu Kebede of Ethiopia.

Nicole Carroll of Australia set a crazy pace for the first seven miles, given the relatively toasty conditions, and paid the price by dropping out at eight miles. ’99 runner-up Zinaida Semenova of Russia took over the lead and held it until she was passed by a very patient Pozdnyakova at 23 miles. The Ukrainian, with the best career flat speed in the field, strided on to win at 2:32:24 and relegated Semenova to the second spot again.

January 14
Men’s Winner: Chris Ciamarra 2:29:27
Women’s Winner: Stacie Alboucrek 2:43:40

Prize money was not offered and there were no international elites in the field, but the men’s race still had some intrigue with multiple lead changes and dropouts before Chris Ciamarra crossed the line for the win at 2:29:27, the slowest winning time since 1975. Ciamarra, a restaurant manager from Pennsylvania, drove to Houston the day before race, and hurriedly finished his post-race press conference to make the 1,400-mile drive back home. Jerry Pullins was the leader through 17 miles and abruptly dropped out, leaving a small group to take turns before Sean Wade grabbed the lead at 21 miles. Ciamarra passed Wade at 22 miles and never looked back.

Just over nine months after giving birth to a son, Stacie Alboucrek endured a bit more pain to win the women’s race with a personal best 2:43:40. The Florida mom went to the lead early and never relinquished it, topping runner-up Joy Smith by more than 12 minutes.

January 20
Men’s Winner: Drew Prisner 2:28:43
Women’s Winner: Becky Sondag 2:50:49

First-time marathoner Drew Prisner, a Compaq worker, kept the hardware in the company house, so to speak, winning his debut at 2:28:43 in a race sponsored by his employer. Daniel Shaw rolled out to a big early lead, stretching the margin to four minutes by 14 miles. Shaw started to tighten up four miles later, and by the 23-mile mark Prisner could see Shaw and made his move. Prisner ended up winning by more than a minute over Joshua Urban.

High school English teacher Becky Sondag ran with a couple half-marathon entrants for the first nine miles of her race before the two courses split apart and she was left on her own out front, never to see any challengers on the way to winning by more than five minutes at 2:50:49, the slowest winning mark since 1978.

January 19
Men’s Winner: Sean Wade (New Zealand) 2:24:43
Women’s Winner: Albina Gallyamova (Russia) 2:42:37

In his fifth finish, Sean Wade finally won. The local teacher from New Zealand had finished second, third, fourth and fifth the four previous times he finished the race. Lambros Zaragas of Greece jetted to the lead and was on 2:12 pace through the early miles and 2:16 through the halfway point. Encouraged by a group of his P.E. students from the Shlenker School, Wade passed his own house at 21 miles still trailing but heard from spectators that Zaragas was slowing down. Paying the price for his early speed, Zaragas yielded the lead with just under a mile to go and Wade was finally able to claim the Houston title at 2:24:43.

Moving to the lead quickly in the women’s race, Russia’s Albina Gallyamova was on cruise control when she was surprised by Madeline Tormoen at nine miles. The unexpected challenge spurred the Russian to surge again and she held on to the lead the rest of the way to win at 2:42:37, almost three minutes ahead of Tormoen, who ran with an implanted defibrillator.

January 18
Men’s Winner: Marek Jaroszewski (Poland) 2:18:51
Women’s Winner: Margarita Tapia (Mexico) 2:28:36

Not since 1995 had a woman run under 2:30 at Houston. Margarita Tapia of Mexico did that and more en route to a majestic and dominant win at 2:28:36, winning by more than five minutes over Nicole Stevenson of Canada. Tapia’s dominance was such that her competitors only saw her at the start and for a brief period after as she moved rapidly away from everyone. Her time qualified her for a spot in the Mexican Olympic team, and she finished 38th at Athens.

A six-man group led the men’s race through 14 miles, including Poland’s Marek Jaroszewski, defending champ Sean Wade of New Zealand and Australia’s Kim Gillard. Jaroszewski and Gillard pulled away from Wade after 15 miles and traded the lead for the next six miles before Gillard tried to make a decisive move. Jaroszewski managed to hold on as Gillard slowed a little, and at 24 miles the Pole took the lead for good. He ended up winning by 39 seconds over Gillard, with Wade third at 2:22:26.

January 16
Men’s Winner: David Cheruiyot (Kenya) 2:14:50
Women’s Winner: Kelly Keane 2:32:27

Local favorite Kelly Keane of the Woodlands couldn’t hold back a huge smile as she broke the tape at 2:32:27 to win the women’s title, having enjoyed the support of a huge and raucous crowd all along the course. Keane and Poland’s Wioletta Kryza ran with four other women through the early miles before breaking away after seven miles. The duo ran in tandem for most of the next 14 miles. Keane took off after the 21 mile mark and established a 100-yard lead, taking advantage of Kryza’s tightening hamstrings to stretch that lead and race on to the win by almost three minutes.

Entering the race late, Kenya’s David Cheruiyot puzzled many observers, who confused him with Daniel Cheruiyot, a seeded runner in the half marathon. Nonetheless, Cheruiyot sorted out any confusion by the finish as he picked up his first title at 2:14:50. Complaining later that the pace was too slow, Cheruiyot was stronger than Andrej Naumov of Ukraine and reigning champion Marek Jaroszewski of Poland, breaking away from the duo easily with sub-5:00 miles midway through the race. Naumov was second, 26 seconds behind Cheruiyot, while Jaroszewski improved his ’04 time by three minutes to take third.

January 15
Men’s Winner: David Cheruiyot (Kenya) 2:12:02
Women’s Winner: Firiya Sultanova (Russia) 2:32:25

Responding to complaints of a slow pace the previous year, race organizers provided an experienced rabbit for reigning champion David Cheruiyot. New Zealander Sean Wade, the ’03 winner and a veteran Houston runner, pulled the leaders through 11 miles before dropping out. Cheruiyot was surprised to have two fellow Kenyans still at his side in the persons of John Itati and Wesley Ngetich. Ngetich was the strongest of the challengers, taking the lead until the final 100 yards, where Cheruiyot sped past him to finish first with a PR 2:12:02, eight seconds up on Ngetich.

What looked like a runaway win for Russia’s Firiya Sultanova turned into a painful trip to the finish line for the 44-year-old after she felt a twinge in her foot at the halfway point. Ignoring the excruciating pain, Sultanova kept pushing but at 25 miles she was forced to stop and walk five times and watch her four-minute lead crumble. She put in one final valiant effort in the final mile, though, and crossed the line at 2:32:25, 31 seconds ahead of Canada’s Nicole Stevenson.

January 14
Men’s Winner: Feyisa Tusse (Ethiopia) 2:11:39
Women’s Winner: Dire Tune (Ethiopia) 2:26:52 (course record)

Breaking a course record that was set before she was born, Ethiopia’s Dire Tune ran a marvelous race that made the 21-year-old the first woman ever under 2:27 at Houston. Starting the race in a small group with defending champion Firiya Sultanova of Russia and Claudia Camargo of Argentina, Tune ran easily. She and Camargo dropped Sultanova after three miles and by eight miles Tune was basically alone, stretching her lead and impressing the crowds with her rapid pace on the way to a win by more than three minutes over Hungary’s Beata Rakonczai.

Another Ethiopian, Feyisa Tusse, won the men’s race and shared something in common with Tune, the women’s champion — they both slept on cots at DFW airport two nights previously after missing the last flight to Houston. Neither athlete appeared to suffer from the rigors of their lengthy journey from Addis Ababa, and Tusse’s only complaint was the pacesetters were too slow. Running pretty much on his own most of the way, Tusse missed the course record with a 2:11:39 but won by more than two minutes.

January 13
Men’s Winner: David Cheruiyot (Kenya) 2:12:32
Women’s Winner: Dire Tune (Ethiopia) 2:24:40 (course record)

One year after breaking a decades-old record, Ethiopia’s Dire Tune lowered her own course best by more than two minutes to crush the field and win her second straight title at 2:24:40. Tune won by almost 11 minutes, one of the largest winning margins ever at Houston. She wasn’t pleased with her time, though, hoping for a 2:21 clocking. Tune and fellow Ethiopian Worknesh Tola ran together in the lead at six miles, and Tune made a small break at the halfway point, putting herself 60 yards up on Tola. By the 19th mile there was no sight of anyone behind Tune, and she pushed through the final miles to take the win.

Winning his third title in four years, David Cheruiyot of Kenya was again unhappy with the pacemaking as he had hopes of breaking the course record and earning the $10,000 bonus that accompanied that feat. As it was, Cheruiyot had plenty to handle in the form of Ethiopia’s Kasime Adilo. After showing his frustration with the pacers by waving his arms in a “let’s go” motion midway through the race, Cheruiyot and Adilo slowed the pace dramatically and then sparked it back up again as they neared the last miles. Cheruiyot was too quick over the final stretch for Adilo, becoming only the second man to thrice win Houston, crossing the line at 2:12:32.

January 19
Men’s Winner: Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) 2:07:52 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Teyba Erkesso (Ethiopia) 2:24:18 (course record)

The era of Ethiopian dominance arrived in full force in ’09, heralded by a pair of wins with superb record-setting performances from Deriba Merga and Teyba Erkesso. Merga not only broke the 20-year-old men’s record, he crushed it. But was he happy? No. Merga had aimed at a 2:05 and appeared to be on pace early in the race as he followed the rabbits, but when the last of the three pacemakers dropped out with more than nine miles left it was left to the diminutive Merga to try and maintain his speed in the teeth of a hefty headwind that pushed back as he ran into downtown. He ended up winning by 3:41 at 2:07:52, the fastest time ever run in the state of Texas.

Erkesso was similarly dominant, winning by more than three minutes with her 2:24:18, but had the advantage of a male pacemaker who helped shield her from the persistent winds that bedeviled Merga. Early on Erkesso ran with countrywoman Amane Gobena and Romania’s Nuta Olaru. The two Ethiopians started to pull away after 15 miles, and Erkesso pushed the pace to gap Gobena over the next couple miles. By 21 miles there were no challengers visible and Erkesso polished off her record run.

January 18
Men’s Winner: Teshome Gelana (Ethiopia) 2:07:37 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Teyba Erkesso (Ethiopia) 2:23:53 (course record)

Two more Ethiopian champions and two more course records were the result of a late entrant and a confident returning winner. Teshome Gelana had not even entered the race by the deadline, but his agent persuaded race officials to let him in and he rewarded that decision with a brilliant late run to shave 15 seconds off the record set last year and lead five other men under 2:10. It was a group affair for the majority of the race, with a lead pack of six or seven through 19 miles. Gelana stayed with that group until 22 miles, when he put the pedal down and burned a 4:40 mile to open up a gap that would never close. He slowed to 4:50s the rest of the way, but the damage was done and he won by 50 seconds at 2:07:37. Brett Gotcher ran the fastest time ever by an American at Houston to take seventh at 2:10:36.

Defending the title she won in ’09, Teyba Erkesso was shadowed by Alemitu Abera for six miles but Erkesso kept the pressure on and extended her lead to almost a minute by the halfway point. Russia’s Margarita Plaksina moved past Abera by 18 miles but couldn’t make a dent in Erkesso’s lead, which had stretched to three minutes. The final margin was almost five minutes as Erkesso cut 25 seconds off her existing record to clock 2:23:53, with Plaksina at a very respectable 2:28:44.

January 30
Men’s Winner: Bekana Daba (Ethiopia) 2:07:04 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) 2:26:33

A marathoning neophyte of sorts, Ethiopia’s Bekana Daba set a men’s course record in only his second race at the distance, even taking time near the finish for a bathroom break. The 22-year-old was safely ensconced in the lead pack for the first 14 miles, showing no signs of trouble despite the rapid mid-race pace. He and Wilfred Murgor of Kenya burst forward at 15 miles and opened up a huge lead. Murgor dropped back eventually and the only challenge left for Daba was whether or not to make a quick stop at the port-a-potty on the way in. He did, just as he entered downtown, but still managed to clock a blistering 2:07:04 and win by more than four minutes over surprising American Nick Arcianaga, who was second at 2:11:30 after originally running as a pacemaker for Brett Gotcher.

Tactics were much the same for Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia in the women’s race. She and Ashu Kasim were together for 24 miles and then she unleashed a withering kick that took her through a 5:17 25th mile and helped her win by 1:14 at 2:26:33. Stephanie Rothstein had a great day, too, finishing third as the top U.S. runner at 2:29:35.

January 15
Men’s Winner: Tariku Jufar (Ethiopia) 2:06:51 (course record)
Women’s Winner: Alemitu Abera (Ethiopia) 2:23:14 (course record)

Much of the attention of marathon fans was on Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Trials races, but a pair of Ethiopians quickly redirected that attention Sunday with course records going to Tariku Jufar and Alemitu Abera in the 40th anniversary race. Jufar was not the pre-race favorite, but with a PR of 2:08:10 coming in he was certainly a capable contender. Debebe Tolossa and Demssew Tsega, also of Ethiopia, had the pace set at sub-2:06 tempo and Jufar kept up with that duo as they passed the halfway point at 1:03:08. Tsega started sliding back at 20 miles, where Jufar made a big move. Tolossa tried to match Jufar’s move but couldn’t keep up that pace and it was all Jufar the rest of the way as he became the first man under 2:07 at Houston, beating Tolossa by 50 seconds at 2:06:51.

Nothing was close in the women’s race, where Abera, the third-placer in 2010, took off at a high and determined pace and opened up a three minute lead by halfway. She was never even remotely challenged as she cropped 39 seconds off the record set by Teyba Erkesso two years previously. Australia’s Benita Willis finished well to earn a respectable second at 2:28:24.

January 13
Men’s Winner: Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) 2:10:17
Women’s Winner: Merima Mohammed (Ethiopia) 2:23:37

Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Merima Mohammed overcame leg problems and cold, wet conditions to run the second-fastest ever women’s race, while countryman Bazu Worku, 22, ran away with the men’s title as youth was served. Mohammed ran the first half of the race with fellow Ethiopians Bizunesh Deba and Meskerem Assefa and that trio stayed together through 33km, when Mohammed made a strong move and broke away. She stretched her lead to 47 seconds over Deba by the 40km mark and crossed the line in 2:23:37, missing the course record by 23 seconds.

Deba, the runner-up of the 2011 New York Marathon, finished second in 2:24:26, which is the fifth-fastest time in race history. Showing great range for an athlete who boasts PRs of 2:02.12 and 4:02.12 for 800m and 1500m, Assefa finished third on her marathon debut in 2:25:17.

Worku, who had been running in a pack of nine early in the race, came through the halfway mark in 65:25 with five others. But by 25km, he had opened up a 50-second lead over countryman Solomon Molla. Worku continued to stretch that lead with every mile and finished in 2:10:17, winning by more than two-and-a-half minutes. Teferi Balcha claimed runner-up honors in 2:12:50, while Molla held on for third in 2:14:37.

January 19
Men’s Winner: Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) 2:07:32
Women’s Winner: Abebech Bekele (Ethiopia) 2:25:52

It took Bazu Worku almost 26 miles to shake fellow Ethiopian Getachew Terfa, but over the final half-mile the defending champion pulled away to win in 2:07:32, the third-fastest time in race history. Terfa crossed the line 22 seconds later at 2:07:54, and unheralded Mexican Jose Antonio Uribe shattered his personal best with a 2:08:54 to place third.

With the pacemakers doing their jobs to near perfection, the lead pack of 10 came through the half-marathon at 63:15, and through the next 5K there were still 10 men within three seconds of each other. Going by the 30K mark at 1:30:04, Worku and Terfa had only Solomon Deksisa for company, and the next 5K segment was crucial as the lead pair surged and put almost a minute between them and Uribe, who had moved ahead of Deksisa. Heading into the heart of the city on the way to the finish, Worku and Terfa fought back and forth for the lead. By the time Worku made the final turn towards home in front of the GRB he had broken Terfa and sealed the victory and a $40,000 payday.

Sarah Kiptoo of Kenya made the early pace for the women, taking a group of seven through 10K in 33:56. She faded over the next 5K, leaving six women in contention and Meskerem Assefa and Gelete Burka with a slight edge. Five runners went past the half-marathon mark in 1:12:13 and Abebech Bekele and Biruktait Degefa looked poised to make a break. No one could make a significant dent, though, and Bekele and Degefa held only a one second margin at 35K.

Bekele eased ahead over the next 5K and had a 10-second gap over Assefa and Burka with two miles to go, and she held off a furious late challenge by Assefa to win her first marathon in 2:25:52. That was the eighth-fastest performance in race history and Assefa climbed to No. 9 with her 2:25:59. Former world indoor 1500 champion Burka couldn’t summon enough speed at the end but still claimed the No. 10 all-time list spot at 2:26:03.