USA Half Marathon Champs Preview: Yeah, Keflezighi and Burla, but, forget Braun and Suver at your peril, by Jon Gugula

Meb Keflizighi, center, photo by

Serena Burla, photo by

Aaron Braun, photo by

Mattie Suver, photo by

We asked Jon Gugula to write this preview of the 2014 U.S.A. Half Marathon Championships, held at the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in Houston, Texas on January 19, 2014. We think that you will enjoy this piece on the top American prospects and some surprises...

USA Half Marathon Championships Preview

Yeah, Keflezighi and Burla. But forget Braun and Suver at your peril.

by Jon Gugala

HOUSTON, Tex. -- It was an overcast day in Houston for the USA Half Marathon Championships in 2007. The runners started in the dark, and as the light grew brighter, Ryan Hall found himself alone, the only athlete ready to attempt an American record. His 59:43, arguably the best performance of his career, has made Houston a special place for the half marathon, and perennially the race committee recruits the best half-marathoners in the world to compete on its fast, flat course. This Sunday, January 19, they again host the Half Marathon Championships, and the fields this year are bigger than ever. 

For the men in the USARC, you can't discount 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi. Third in Hall's American Record race, Keflezighi's accomplishments are too long to go in depth. The three-time Olympian and silver medalist in the marathon is also a former USA Half Marathon champ in 2009, and was the runner-up in 2013. He rarely has poor races, and in an interview with Competitor Magazine ( leading up to Sunday, said, "I feel healthy and in decent shape and I'm looking forward to being competitive with the field that they have assembled.

"[But] you know, U.S. distance running has elevated to another level so it's a strong field." 

Part of that strength has come from the two new Americans Josphat Boit and Shadrack Biwott. Biwott, a former All-American at the University of Oregon, won the USARC series in 2013 with an amazing five top-three placings, including third in the 2013 Half Marathon Championships and a runner-up in 12K. Boit, who ran for Arkansas, has had an equally impressive last year, with a win in the 2013 10K Championships and runner-up finishes in the 25K and Marathon.

But if there is a dark horse for the men, it has to be Aaron Braun, who has traditionally been a shorter-distance competitor. In 2013 Braun relocated from Flagstaff, Ariz., after the disbanding of McMillan Elite, to Alamosa, Colo., and made a late push on the road circuit, finishing runner-up at the 5K and winning the 12K. Further aiding him on Sunday is a 62:52 half marathon best set in Houston last year in inclement weather.

Returning to the Adams State community where he spent five years as a collegian was strange at first, Braun says, but he's gotten used to it. "The training, like always, has been really good," he says. "It's kind of like the Kenyan lifestyle--except a lot colder."

Former Oregon Duck and Salazar protégé Luke Puskedra is also in the field, running the same course where he set his 61:36 debut in 2012.

On the women's side, road newcomer Renee Metivier-Baillie is ready to clash with Serena Burla of Riadha, but American Distance Project's Mattie Suver is waiting in the wings. 

Burla has the best half marathon performance in the field, with a 70:08 set in 2010 on the same course she races on Sunday. Metivier-Baillie ran 71:51 in that same race to set her mark, but since then, both have moved up to the marathon, and Metivier-Baillie gets the nod with her 2:27:17 in Chicago in 2012 to Burla's 2:28:01, set in Seoul in October. 

Burla has a slew of runner-ups on the Championship series since 2008, including two runner-ups in the half marathon (2010-11). Metivier-Baillie, while only transitioning to the roads full-time in 2012, won the USA 20K Championships that year. 

The reason Suver is even in the conversation is because of her rapid improvement as a pro. The 26-year-old eats up this middle road distance, and in 2013 finished top-four in the Half Marathon, 15K, 20K, and 25K. While her 71:56 half marathon best may not win the race outright, it will at least keep her in the frame for most of the time. 

Sara Hall, wife of Ryan Hall, will be debuting at the distance (Sara Hall was known as a middle distance runner/steeplechase and cross country racer in the past).

Check in with post-race to get in-depth thoughts and analysis of the 2014 USA Half Marathon Championships.

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