Everything's Faster in Texas
The 2014 USA Half Marathon Championships repeated the magic of the 2012 Olympic team trials marathon.
by Jon Gugala
There's magic in Houston. No other excuse.
The 2012 Olympic team trials marathon was record-breaking for its men's and women's results. Never had so many American marathoners run so fast at the same time in the same race. That magic concrete produced again on January 19 for the men in the USA Half Marathon Championships. While Meb Keflezighi proved there's still spark left in his legs, winning in 61:23, the bigger story was that the top 14 men were all faster than 63 minutes. If Houston in 2012 didn't provide the scene for proof of American distance resurgence, it did in 2014.
Old man Meb Keflezighi, 38, never disappeared from the front of the men's pack, controlling the race from start to finish. Just before mile 9, Keflezighi shot out of the 10-man pack, and no one went with him. Alone through 15K in 44:13, he would never be challenged for the final miles. His winning time was just a second off his runner-up time from 2013, giving him in his twenty-second national title.
"My philosophy is just get it down to as few people as possible," Keflezighi said of his aggressive racing.
But behind, in a chase pack with its own infighting, Aaron Braun, RunBlogRun's darkhorse pick, proved once and for all his prospects on the distance road scene, finishing runner-up in a PR 61:38.
Josphat Boit, the 2013 10K champ and runner-up in the 25K and marathon, was third, continuing his streak of excellent performances with a 61:41. Tyler Pennel, a Western State grad who was third in the 2013 12K Championships, was fourth in 61:44, and Matt Llano of Flagstaff was fifth in 61:47. Luke Puskedra, Shadrack Biwott, and Fernando Cabada rounded out the top eight, respectively, and all but Cabada were under 62 minutes. All were personal bests.
"Flat as [bad word]. No wind. 50 degrees. Fast field," Joe Moore, who finished in a PR 63:33 for 19th, says. Moore drove the chase pack through the first nine miles, and says that it felt like they were grouping to pick off stragglers. With the conditions, he says, there weren't any.
All told, seven men ran under 62 minutes. Seven more ran under 63. The final tally for Olympic trials marathon "B" qualifiers--under 65 minutes--was 32 men, an amazing number on an amazing day.
In the women's race, Serena Burla took advantage of the conditions to move early and hard, breaking the pack early. Like Keflezighi, she moved to the front of the race from the start, but in the fourth mile dropped the hammer. Through 10K in 34:07, she had fifteen seconds on eventual runner-up Lauren Kleppin, and the gap would only get bigger.
Running through the tape in 1:10:48, Burla said, "I just decided to go for it and never look back. You only get certain opportunities." Despite her veteran status, this is her first U.S. Championship after several runner-ups, and she now turns her focus to the Boston Marathon on April 21.
Kleppin, another Western States alumna, finished in a PR 1:12:12, just edging Caitlin Comfort of Oiselle in 1:12:16, who was debuting at the distance. Wendy Thomas of American Distance Project was next in a PR 1:12:29, and Clara Santucci (nee Grandt) was fifth in 1:12:58 best. Rounding out the top eight were Mattie Suver, Tera Moody, and Stephanie Dinius, respectively. All were under 74 minutes.
All told, 20 women qualified for the 2016 Olympic team trials marathon, running the "B" standard of 75 minutes.