The Winners, Losers and Most Confused from the Houston Marathon: Leonard Korir, Jordan Hasay, Kiya Dandena, Becky Wade, & the US Cross Country Team

by Weldon Johnson,
January 17, 2017

I hope everyone had a good Martin Luther King Day. Now that I’ve personally had time to recover from the Cowboys’ loss to the Packers, I’ve found time to give you more insight from the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon by presenting the winners, losers, and most confused from the race.

Our race recap is here in case you missed it.


Leonard Korir After His Win in Houston Leonard Korir After His Win in Houston

1. The Race Winner: Leonard Korir

The ultimate goal of the race is to win, so the biggest winner of all is the United States Army’s Leonard Korir, who won the half in a sprint finish. For the second week in a row, Korir won a big race where he looked to be beaten in the final 100m, but he just kept driving to the finish line and got the win. No offense to Callum Hawkins (1:00:24 half marathoner), but Korir’s win here over Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lelisa was the more impressive of the two. Take a look at the finish if you haven’t seen it.

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Korir’s wins the last two weeks and his win at the 2015 NYC Half marathon show never to count him out at the end of a race, especially when he looks beaten. He is a tenacious competitor. At the Olympic Trials in the 10,00m, he was 50m behind the final Olympic spot last year but managed to make the team. The word quit does not exist in his vocabulary.

Perhaps as impressive as the win on Sunday was what Korir and his coach Scott Simmons said after the race – that was Korir was nowhere near his peak fitness in 2016 when he made the Olympic team. Korir wasn’t in peak fitness because he started the year coming off of basic training for the military which caused him to miss five months of training.

Korir said, “Going into the Olympics I was not that fit yet. I was like 80%… This year we’ve done a lot of work. The success is coming now.”

Simmons said that after the Olympics Korir did not even take a break as they wanted to keep the trajectory going. “He’s probably in the best shape of his life now but we want to make that next step,” Simmons said.

What that next step is, time will tell but the aim is high. Simmons said of Korir’s plan in Houston coming in, “Obviously if it was good weather it was going to be on American record pace (59:43 for the half marathon)…. [and if the weather wasn’t good the plan would be to] stay, stay, stay and race to win.”

Korir’s Army WCAP program is fast emerging as one of the top men’s distance groups in the United States (more on that below under World Cross Country).

*Post-race press conference with Korir here *Interview with coach Simmons here.

Jordan Hasay in Her Half Debut in Houston Jordan Hasay in Her Half Debut in Houston

2. Jordan Hasay Is Now Officially a Very Good Half Marathoner, But Will She Be An Even Better Marathoner?

Before Houston, there was a thread on Is Jordan Hasay still going for AR in Houston Sunday?. We’re pretty sure the person was trolling. That discussion is no longer in the troll realm after Hasay hit her debut out of the park running 68:40 (the American record is 67:34). Afterwards, Hasay told LetsRun her goal was to run 68:00 in Houston. She thus actually was a bit disappointed with her time. She shouldn’t be. The times in all four races were slow for Houston (the men across the board in the half were at least 1:00 off what they’d want to run), yet Hasay ran a time (68:40) that equivalency charts put as much faster than anything she’s run in her life. The VDOT projector puts it at 31:09 for 10k, where Hasay’s best is 31:49, and projects out to 2:23:48 for the marathon.

“I’m very excited it went well because I hoped this would be my distance. I just really enjoy the training for it. The race was a lot of fun. I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to go out and straight-out run 5:10 pace. We were hoping for 68 minutes,” Hasay said.

The fact coach Alberto Salazar thought Hasay could run 68:00 in her debut when the American record is 67:34 shows she clearly is a half marathoner. The even more exciting thing for American distance fans is the possibility that she very well could be a better marathoner than half marathoner. Hasay said the full marathon training has gone better than the half marathon training, plus she’s already done 20-mile tempo runs.

“I’m excited [about the full marathon]. I think I’ve got the 5:20, 5:30 pace (2:20, 2:24 marathon) down even better than that [the 5:10s for the half marathon]. To be honest I was a little more scared of the half because the longer 20-mile tempos have gone so well. I’m a little bit more used to that rhythm actually,” she said when asked about whether the full marathon scared her.

Hasay is the former American high school record holder at 1500m. Many thus assumed her future would be on the track. It’s not – it’s clearly on the roads.

The longer Hasay runs, the better she seems to get. According to McMillan, her 1500-5000 track PRs all convert to a 2:30 marathon. However, her 10k pb equates to a 2:28 marathon and her half-marathon converts to a 2:24. American fans will be very interested in seeing how she does in the actual marathon.

Event PR McMillan Marathon Proj.
1500 4:07.70 2:30:52
3000 8:47.89 2:30:36
5000 15:28.56 2:30:48
10k 31:49 2:28:30
Half 68:40 2:24:31
Marathon ??? ???

Might Hasay end up being America’s version of Paula Radcliffe – way better at the marathon than any other distance?

Post-race video with Jordan from Houston:

3. The USA World XC Team

The World Cross Country Championships are in Uganda in March, and US distance fans might want to consider making the trip. (World XC in Kenya was the coolest event I’ve ever  been to). The US may have a very good team (and it’s a great opportunity to make a side trip to Kenya) thanks to the fact that most of the Army WCAP (World Class Athlete Program) track runners are going to try and qualify at the USA Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon, in three weeks according to Coach Simmons.

Korir and his Army training partner Shadrack Kipchirchir made up two-thirds of the U.S. Olympic 10,000-meter squad last summer. US Olympic steeplechaser Hillary Bor is also in WCAP. All of them are now based in Colorado Springs. At the start of last year, Korir was not in the WCAP program and some of the team was in Beaverton, Oregon. Now former Olympian Dan Browne oversees the entire track and field program (sprinters and race walkers included) and Scott Simmons is the daily coach in Colorado Springs for the distance runners.

Americans Sam Chelanga (US club cross champion) and Stanley Kebenei (US 15k champion and near Olympian in the steeple) also train in Colorado Springs under Simmons (they aren’t in WCAP, although Kebenei is in the Army reserves). Korir, Kipchirchir, Bor, Chelanga and Kebenei will all be running USA XC, though the best guy in Simmons’ group, Olympic 5k silver medallist Paul Chelimo, won’t be (he’s running an indoor track season instead). The former NCAA XC champ Chelanga for sure can be expected to be a force at USAs, and the US team is looking very strong thanks to the Kenyan-born Colorado Springs contingent which is now one of the top groups in the country. Former NCAA star Lawi Lalang, who isn’t American, is also in Simmons’ American Distance Project group.

Becky Wade in Houston Becky Wade in Houston

4. Hometown Hero: Becky Wade

American Becky Wade did not PR in the Chevron Houston Marathon (her PR is 2:30:41 on the downhill California International Marathon course) but she finished a very respectable third place (2:35:57) to pick up $10,000 in what was her running hometown (she went to Rice University and lived in Houston for nine years, but now lives in Boulder). Wade said it was nice to put the pressure of the Olympic year behind her (85th at the marathon trials and out of the steeple prelims) and start having fun again with racing. This was one of the more enjoyable races of her career and in our opinion one of her best.

*Interview with Wade here

5. Kiya Dandena… Who The Hell Is That?

Don’t feel bad if you had never heard of this guy until now. Neither had we. Dandena was the second American in the half, outkicking Luke Puskedra in 1:03:13. Dandena, 27, trains in Flagstaff and is sponsored by Team Run Flagstaff Pro and Skechers. He went to Division II Texas A&M-Kingsville, has modest PRs, (14:38/29:59) never even made the NCAA DII meet on the track. Talk about stepping up big-time.


1. Anyone Going for a Fast Time

Houston is known for producing fast times in the marathon and the half marathon. Thanks to Chevron and Aramco the four races have $278,000 in prize money, plus rabbits in the marathon and half marathon. Thus, many come to Houston not only to compete but to run fast. That went out the door due to high humidity. The temps weren’t too bad (65 degrees) but the humidity was high (97%) and it caused just about everyone to struggle in relation to their goal pace.

After the race, Parker Stinson, who looked like he had just taken a shower despite the fact that it didn’t rain during the race, had this to say about the conditions, “It was just weird… no one could keep it going. Everyone just kind of struggled.” He was pleased with how he competed but “a little disappointed” he didn’t run the time he wanted. He said when in Houston, part of the goal is not to just race, but to run fast.

I heard another American so disappointed with their performance say it was a “shitshow.” I remind everyone first and foremost it’s a foot race, not a time trial.

Leonard Korir Edges Feyisa Lilesa Leonard Korir Edges Feyisa Lilesa

2. The Ethiopian People

Feyisa Lilesa made some major headlines at the Olympics when he threw up an “X” at the finish line of his silver-medal performance in the marathon in support of his Oromo people in Ethiopia. Since then he has had to seek asylum in the United States because he says he would be killed or detained if he returned home.

Now he lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, while his family is still in Ethiopia. He spoke again after the race in Houston about how he cannot return to Ethiopia. We called him the “Bravest Olympian” in Rio, and still believe that to be the case. In Houston, what impressed us the most was that in a super, super tight finish with Leonard Korir, Lilesa still managed to throw up the Oromo “X” at the finish.

The Ethiopian people are the ones who suffer the most when the government does not even allow peaceful protest.

The Most Confused: Fans Trying to Watch All Four Races on TV

Houston has established itself as the next closest thing to a marathon major in the United States. As noted above thanks to Chevron and Aramco it has big prize money, and usually attracts the top Americans as well. The one thing it does that virtually no other race in the world does is try to hold four super-competitive races at once, with all four starting at the same time. It’s a noble feat, but makes comprehending nearly all four races simultaneously on the TV broadcast nearly impossible.

We have long criticized the World Marathon Majors for not spacing their men’s and women’s races far enough apart (ideally one race would finish when the other was at halfway) as watching two races at once is hard enough but four is a whole other level of difficulty.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Perhaps someone could come up with a proposed solution (not really covering the competitive part of the marathon until the half marathons are over, staggering the races somehow, or having the half marathons on Saturday and the full on Sunday are ideas we can quickly think of). At the very least, on the internet they should broadcast the camera feeds of all the races so fans can always see whatever action they are most interested in.

I’ve started a thread on this to get your input: Best way for Houston to cover 4 races going on simultaneously.

One thing I am certain of: Houston should host the World Half Marathon champs. With its $20,000 first-place prize, it already has one of the richest half marathons in the world. Houston’s an international city, and we’d like to see it one year just focus on the World Half Champs.

Or it could easily have the best half marathon in the world apart for the World Half Champs.

Other Notes

An Update on Galen Rupp’s Injury

When I asked how serious Galen Rupp’s plantar fasciitis injury was, Nike Oregon Project assistant coach Pete Julian said it was serious enough to keep Rupp out of Houston, and acknowledged what anyone who has dealt with plantar deep down knows, that plantar is one of those injuries that can linger and you don’t want to linger. Julian also noted that one of Rupp’s greatest qualities as a runner is his ability to handle the consistent training necessary to be a great, yet not get injured.

Paul Chelimo May Be Ready to Challenge the American 3000m Record in Boston

American Olympic silver medallist at 5,000m Paul Chelimo will be running the 3,000m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on January 28 in Boston. Coach Simmons said Chelimo is very fit and may be in 7:30 shape (the American record is 7:30.16 by Galen Rupp).

Luke Puskedra Said He’s 12 Pounds Over His Ideal Racing Weight

Puskedra has run very fast in Houston in the past (1:01:29 pb from last year), and this year clocked a 1:03:14. It wasn’t the time he wanted but was a solid competitive performance after a disappointing Chicago Marathon (2:20:18) in the fall. Puskedra said he went out hard in Houston, but not hard enough with the leaders, then faded back to the American chase pack and rallied to outkick all of them except for Kiya Dandena.

He also said he’s 12 pounds over his ideal racing weight – that’s a ton. He’s a big guy (6’4″) and not at his ideal weight but still ran very well. The other good news is Puskedra’s daughter is cancer-free.

Another Great Thing With Houston is the Cowboy Hats the Winners Get Another Great Thing With Houston is the Cowboy Hat the Winners Get
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