2017 Chevron Houston Marathon & Aramco Half Marathon: Four close races in Humid Houston! Nice performances for U.S. athletes in gritty conditions

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The Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston have 27,000 participants, mostly still out running and walking as I write this. At 7 am, the temperature was 65 degrees and 93 percent humidty. Three hours later, it is 67 degrees, foggy and very humid. Here are my views of the the four major races.

MayorTurnerElites-Houston17.JPGMayor Turner and the elites, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Chevron Houston and Aramco Houston are fascinating race courses. The runners start and run together for eight miles. At the eight mile point, marathoners go to the left and half marathoners go to the right. In considering the weather predictions last night, it was apparent that the humidty would be dangerous. If the temperature went up, then, there could be very difficult conditions. After my interview with race director Brant Kotch, I sent a video out asking runners to "Slow Down."

They did not have much choice, with the wind and the humidity.

In the men's half marathon, the pack of nine went out, hitting the 5k in 14:18. The pack was still nine, with Feyisa Lelisa, Leonard Koech, Hiskel Ghebru, Fikadu Tsadik and Yigrem Endale.

"You have to deal with the weather, it was not good weather, it was humid and it was windy, " noted Leonard Korir. Feyisa Lelisa noted, " I came here to run my best, but it was very hard for me. The weather was not very good for me. I get to position, weather is very bad."

The pack dropped was at nine when the pack hit 10k in 28:51. By 15k, hit in 44:38, the pack was down to half, and by 20k, when the race really started, there were four as they hit 59:18 at 12.4 miles.

Lilesa_FeyisaPC-Houston17.JPGFeyisa Lelisa, photo by PhotoRun.net

There were four guys, all across the street, with Lelisa on one side and Korir on the other. Like the finish of a great bike race, Korir and Lelisa rose above the field and were ready to duel. Lelisa made his move with 500 meters to go, and looked in control. Leonard Korir held his finish until the last 50 meters. It was like watching Bernard Lagat in Osaka in 2007! Korir made his move with 50 meters to go, a huge lunge, and Lelisa tried to respond. The two great athletes battled each other, and they ran for about ten meters, nearly connected, and then, Korir went by.

"I told myself, Feyisa is a full marathon runner. He is doing more mileage and more training. I used that motivation to kick as soon as possible. I was not as strong at the Olympics, but this year, I am very strong, this year, I am hoping to have a very good season. Hopefully, I will stay healthy." commented Leonard Korir.

"With 400 or 500 meters to finishing, I tried to win, after the other guys, I think I thought I would win, I never saw him win. No problem, just very tough athlete. The race was very good for me." noted an enthusiastic Feyisa Lelisa, who was, and is, always very gracious about his competitons. "

Korir_Leonard-Falmouth16.jpgLeonard Korir, photo by PhotoRun.net

For Leonard Korir, this is two important wins so far in 2017, with Great Edinburgh XC last weekend, and now, the Houston Half win!

In the women's race, Veronicah Nyarui Wanjiru took the Aramco Half Marathon today in 67:58. Veronicah went out hard, but barely held off Dera Dida Yami, who ran 1:08:06. Both runners surprised the course record holder, Mary Wacera, who ran 66:58 here in 2016, and 68:38 today.

Hasay_JordanPC-Houston17.JPGJordan Hasay, photo by PhotoRun.net

Running an amazing debut was Jordan Hasay, who ran 68:40 today in finishing fourth. Jordan ran the fastest EVER by an American woman on this course, surpassing the 69:40 of Shalane Flanagan from 2010. Jordan is now the sixth fastest American woman of all time.

"It was kind of confusing. I passed Mary Wacera around 8 miles, so I tried to pass as many men and woman as I could. I wanted to finish strong. I felt good. I have never run a half before, it was more to keeping to my own pace. The lead group wasn't too quick the first mile, but after second mile, I had to back off. I wanted to finish strong and not put myself in a hole the first half. The last half, I wanted to finished strong. It humbles me, I could feel in my legs, the last 400 meters, it was really windy coming into the city. I will work on that in training, trying to kick with tired legs." noted an ebullent Jordan Hasay.

Just fantastic and inspiring races in the half marathon.

In the marathons, it was more of a battle of attrition.

In the womans race, Ethiopian woman runners won their eleven straight marathon in Houston. The race came down to a battle between Meskeram Asafa and Degafu Buruktayit. Buruktayit was the winner from 2016. Assafa wanted to set a course record today. In the wind, Assafa went by Buruktayit at 18 miles, and built up a 26 second lead very quickly.

Degefa_BiruktayitPC-Houston17.JPGBiruktayit Degefa, photo by PhotoRun.net

Over the last two miles, Assafa was running very slow, her last mile was run in 6:05. Degafu Buruktayit tried to come back, but held onto second in 2:30:46. In third was long time Houstonian Becky Wade. Becky is a Rice University graduate. After three tough marathons, Becky Wade told us, " I am glad my new start was here in Houston."

Wade_BeckyBib-Houston17.JPGBecky Wade, photo by PhotoRun.net

In third, Becky Wade was first American. "It was a blast. I think that this was one of the most fun races that I have been a part of. My parents, my coach, my Rice team mates, kind of like a big reunion, this was a really special day for me...I tried to let my race expectations go for time, just decided to go conservative, and that is exactly what happened. I went in with seventh fastest time, fifth was a good goal, and third was a really good race. I was very happy for it. "

"I was in Houston for nine years. I have been in Boulder since August. Growing up in Texas and very respectful of the humidity that you can have here, all went well. This was a really good step and bouncing back and most of all, having fun with event that I love. This was my fourth marathon, three were in very harsh conditions. Just know that I learn something from each race. The more I do, the better I will do."

The men's marathon was a battle of attrition. Dominic Ondoro, who has placed fourth and fifth in the past years, kep his cool and made his move with two miles to go. The pack of five hit the 5k in 65:44. Ondoro moved away form Yitayal Atanfu, taking the win in 2:12:04.

The first American was Elkanah Kibet, who finished sixth in 2:17:25. " Houston had something unique. They can give you a pace maker, that is why I can run fast. "

"The U.S. Army program, for people who speak languages needed for Army. If you passed the background check, you get in." noted Elkanuh, when we asked him abou the U.S. Army program.

The stories of battles won, battles lost and races of redemption are part of the elite race story that we, the media, focus on in major running events. But, as Brant Kotch, the Chevron Houston Race Director and President of the Board told me last night, that there are 33,000 stories of redemption this weekend.

Young_TimPC-Houston17.JPGTim Young, a pithy response and a seventh place finish, photo by PhotoRun.net

Second American was Tim Young, seventh in 2:17:29. Tim had a hilarious comment to a query pre race. When asked if he could run under two hours for the marathon, he said, " Sure I can run under two hours. But, I would have several miles to finish the marathon distance yet."

For this writer, in my first visit since 2012 to the city of Houston, the race has grown even more and shows many improvements. The expo is fun and has the shoes, nutritional products and geek stuff that runners want to see. Skechers Perfomance has developed a nice line of products for the Chevron Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon, and I really enjoyed their 5k presence in the finish area.

The media room was relaxed and informative. The feeds on the TV, for both men's and women's half marathon, and men's and women's marathons worked, and we were able to get accurate mile splits for all races, with leaders distinguised from the crowd.

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