Year by Year Half Marathon History

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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