January 12, 2017
The half marathons in Houston are the more exciting races this weekend, but there will be marathons as well, starting at the same time. Two-time defending champ Birhanu Gedefa (2:08:03 pb) is back looking to make it three in a row in the men’s race and should be challenged by fellow Ethiopian Abayneh Ayele, a 2:06 performer who was 6th in Dubai and Chicago last year and 4th at the World Half Champs. Kenya’s Dominic Ondoro, who broke the 31-year-old Twin Cities Marathon course record last year, running 2:08:51, is also entered.
Gedefa won 2015 Houston in impressive fashion as his 2:08:03 was by far the best time of his career (2:11:30 is next best). Last year, he only crossed the finish line third (2:11:53) but the top two were both removed from the results for a doping violation so he’s technically the two-time champ.
As far as Americans go, Elkanah Kibet is the man to watch. Kibet, who was 7th at Chicago in 2015, didn’t run his best in Chicago last year (2:16:37 for 10th), struggling after a slow first half gave way to a fartlek-style race over the second half. However, because of the slow first half, Kibet was able to resume training quickly and lock in on Houston. Kibet, who has a 2:11:31 PR, has his sights set on the 2017 World Championships, and his coach, Scott Simmons, estimates Kibet will need to run 2:10 or 2:11 to make the team (the criteria is the three fastest Americans from 1/1/16 through 4/24/17 who make themselves eligible for selection; right now, 2:11:23 is third on the list). Simmons said that Kibet’s buildup has gone better than his Chicago prep last fall. Simmons isn’t worried about the temperature (60s and 70s) or rain in the forecast, though he said the wind could be a concern on race day.
27:54 10k man Jason Witt is also in the field, as is former University of Arizona star Robert Cheseret, Bernard Lagat’s brother, who will be running his first serious marathon (he ran 2:27 at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012 but went in unprepared).
In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s Biruktayit Degefa returns to defend her title against two-time Olympian Meskerem Assefa (3rd in ’13, 2nd in ’14) and another Ethiopian, Sechale Dalasa (4th in ’15, 3rd in ’16). Native Texan Becky Wade (2:30:41 pb), who went to school in Houston at Rice, and Sarah Crouch (11th Boston, 9th Chicago in 2016) are the top Americans.
More: 2017 Aramco Houston Half Marathon Preview: Leonard Korir Takes on Olympic Silver Medallist Feyisa Lilesa & 59:48 Man Yigrem Demelash
*2017 Aramco Houston Half Marathon Women’s Preview: World Half Bronze Medallist Mary Wacera takes on Fellow Sub-67:00 Woman Mamitu Daska