The 47th Chevron Houston Marathon and 17th Aramco Houston Half Marathon again lived up to their reputation for being flat and fast, with Brigid Kosgei running the fastest half marathon ever on U.S. soil and 44 American athletes running times that qualify them to compete in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.
A total of 6,930 runners finished the marathon, while 12,986 completed the half marathon on a day that saw runners brave an unseasonable start temperature of 33 degrees with a 12 mph wind.
In winning the women’s half marathon in 1:05:50, Kosgei shattered the previous course record of 1:06:29, set by Mary Wacera at this race in 2016. Although pleased with her 45-second personal best, the 24-year-old Kenyan, winner of the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, said she had been hoping to clock an even-faster time.
“If not for the coldness, I would have run 64 (minutes, or 1:04),” she said. The world record is 1:04:51.
By 15K, Kosgei and compatriot Fancy Chemutai had a 17-second lead over defending champion Ruti Aga of Ethiopia and Kosgei soon pulled ahead for good. Chemutai, who owns the second-fastest half marathon time in history, would finish second in 1:06:48, the fifth-fastest time ever run in the U.S., and Aga third in 1:06:56, the eighth-fastest – giving the Aramco Houston Half Marathon the eight fastest times ever run on U.S. soil.
It almost saw another American record, as well, with Emily Sisson just missing the mark of 1:07:25 set here last year by her training partner, Molly Huddle. Nonetheless, Sisson’s 1:07:30, good for fifth place, makes her the second-fastest American woman in history.
“I’ve got some mixed feelings,” said Sisson, who ran without a watch. “I was a little disappointed at first, just to come so close to Molly’s record. But I think tomorrow I’ll be pretty happy with it.”
In the men’s half marathon, Shura Kitata of Ethiopia outlasted Jemal Yimer, the third-fastest half marathoner in history, surging ahead in the final kilometer to win by three seconds, in 1:00:11. Behind Yimer (1:00:14) was Bedan Karoki of Kenya in 1:00:18.
“The weather was not friendly,” said Kitata, of an early slow pace. “I couldn’t relax. But later on … I was very confident that I would finish it well.”
The top American finisher was Reed Fischer, 10th in a personal best of 1:02:06.
“When you come to run Houston, you come to run fast,” said Fischer, 23, of Boulder.
For the win, Kosgei and Kitata each earned $20,000. Kosgei also took home a bonus of $10,000 for running faster than 1:09, while Kitata nabbed an extra $5,000 for running under 1:00:30.
Winning the Chevron Houston Marathon in opposite fashion were newcomer Albert Korir, racing in America for the first time, and Biruktayit Degefa, who became the third woman in Houston history to win the marathon three times.
In a resounding three-minute victory, Degefa set a personal best of 2:23:28, the second-fastest winning time in race history, only 14 seconds shy of Alemitu Abera’s 2012 record of 2:23:14.
“When I prepare to come here to Houston, I really get excited,” said Degefa, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. but trained for this race in Ethiopia. “I come to win.”
It was her sixth-consecutive appearance here, and she became only the third woman to win three times.
Degefa, was challenged through 30K by Meseret Belete, the 19-year-old world junior record-holder in the half marathon who was making her debut at the distance. But Belete couldn’t respond when Degefa picked up the pace just after 30K, and would be passed near the finish by Belaynesh Fikadu, who finished as runner-up in 2:26:41. Belete was third in 2:26:51, for an Ethiopian sweep of the podium.
Korir, meanwhile, had never been to this country before and had to battle until the final kilometer, when he slowly pulled ahead of Ethiopia’s Yitayal Atnafu to win in 2:10:02, six seconds ahead of the man who would become runner-up here for an astonishing fourth year in a row – on his 26th birthday, no less. Finishing third was Justus Kimutai of Kenya in 2:10:25.
Korir, a 24-year-old Kenyan who worked cutting down trees early in his career to supplement his meager race earnings, said: “I am grateful to win this race for the first time in America.”
The victors each took home $45,000 for the win, with Degefa earning an extra $10,000 in time bonuses for running sub-2:24.
Leading the Americans in the marathon were Tyler Jermann of St. Paul, Minnesota, ninth in 2:13:29, and Kelsey Bruce of Dallas, sixth in 2:31:53.