Keflezighi and Burla runaway winners at USA Half Marathon Championships

Two returning champions claimed their second Houston wins and a pair of first-time victors were convincing winners Sunday at the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon. 25,000 runners enjoyed superb weather conditions and a brand new course in front of raucous fans in a festival atmosphere to produce some of the best races in event history.

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 the Chevron Houston Marathon 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. The top American finisher was former Georgia star Ian Burrell, who was seventh with a lifetime best 2:13:26.

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 in the women’s Chevron Houston Marathon, taking a group of seven women 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 summons enough speed at the end but still claimed the No. 10 all-time list spot at 2:26:03.

Heather Tanner ran a personal best 2:42:19 to claim the top U.S. spot, finishing ninth overall.

Meb Keflezighi broke away from the field after the eight-mile mark and won the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in 61:23, his second USA title and the second-fastest time in race history by an American. It was Keflezighi’s 22nd U.S. title at all distances, and he earned $12,000 for the win plus $1,500 for running under 62:00.

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 61:38 and 61:41.

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. She collected $13,500 in prize money that included $1,500 for going under 1:11.

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.