January 14, 2018
HOUSTON — Jake Robertson did not break 60 minutes on Sunday in Houston, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell based on his reaction. After crossing the finish line to win the 2018 Aramco Houston Half Marathon, the 28-year-old New Zealander pumped his fist and began gyrating his body excitedly, a fitting celebration based on the quality of field he had just defeated.
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) January 14, 2018
In a field that contained six sub-60 half marathoners — making it one of the strongest half marathons ever contested on U.S. soil — it was Robertson, who has now run 60:12 or better in his last three half marathons — who earned the biggest victory of his career by throwing down a big move just before the 11-mile mark. Guye Adola of Ethiopia, who was coming off the fastest debut marathon in history (2:03:46 in Berlin in September), was the only one to go with him but even Adola could not hold on in the end as Robertson had a 10-second lead by 20k and ran 4:28 mile pace over the final 1.1 km. Adola wound up second in 60:15.
A little further back, Sam Chelanga snagged top American honors in sixth place with a 27-second personal best of 60:37. He’s now #4 on the all-time U.S. list, behind only Ryan Hall, Leonard Korir, and Dathan Ritzenhein. Chelanga’s training partner Haron Lagat made an even bigger breakthrough to finish 10th in 61:01. Running in his first half marathon in 10 years, the 34-year-old Lagat, who was previously best known as a steeplechase pacer on the Diamond League circuit, ran 61:01 for 10th, a four-minute PR good for #9 on the all-time U.S. list — just one second behind Meb Keflezighi.
Speaking of Keflezighi, he lost a record this morning as 43-year-old Bernard Lagat smashed Keflezighi’s U.S. masters record 63:02 by clocking 62:00 for 15th place. Other notable performances by runners with U.S. ties included former Louisville star/NCAA steeple champ Edwin Kibichiy (13th in 61:46), Diego Estrada (14th in 61:46), and 2016 Olympian Jared Ward (16th in 62:10). Luke Puskedra ran 63:40 for 34th in his Oregon Track Club Elite debut.
Though a lot of men will walk away from today’s race happy with their time — with 26 men under 63:00, it was one of the deepest half marathons ever contested on U.S. soil — Daniel Wanjiru will not be one of them. The London Marathon champion, a 59:20 half marathoner, could only manage 62:55, finishing in 25th place.
The race itself was fairly uneventful until Robertson’s big move. Through 15k (9.3 miles), 12 men were still in the lead pack on a slightly chilly (temps in the high 30s) day in Houston. Chelanga and Haron Lagat were among the leaders at that point, but, like everyone else, they could not respond to Robertson’s move as the Kiwi dropped a 14:08 split from 15k to 20k to drop the field.
While Robertson’s win may have come as a surprise to some — he was a late addition to the race — the man himself went into the race with big expectations.
“I’m as cool as Ice, yet I’ve got a fire burning inside & ready to light it up tomorrow in Houston half marathon,” Robertson wrote on Instagram (with some emojis thrown in) yesterday.
I’m as cool as Ice❄, yet I’ve got a fire burning inside & ready to light it up tomorrow???in Houston half marathon #lightitup #striveforgreatness? . . . . . #itstime #readyforit #houstonhalf #lit #cominginhot?#motivated #runhou #now #runhouston #2018goals #start #houston #runnerslife #runnersofinstagram #batterup #goingforgold #thetimehascome #running #justdoit #maurten #whynot #run @chevronhoustonmarathon @nikerunning @maurten_official
Robertson was so confident he’d run well he upgraded himself to business class
At the post-race press conference, Jake said he had been wanting to run this race since December after he pulled out of the Fukuoka Marathon. However he did not get confirmed entry into the race until this past Sunday.
Jake, who runs his own training group in Kenya and now is self-coached, knew he was ready to run fast so he paid his own money to get upgraded to business class on the flight over so he could sleep.
“I was hoping for a course record (Feyisa Lilesa‘s 59:22 from 2012). When we dropped some slow k[ilometer]s I knew the time wasn’t going to be what we thought,” he said of the chilly temps, which he said caused his hamstrings to be tighter than normal.
But once Jake made his move for glory he was surprised more guys couldn’t stay with him. However, one of the ones who did was Guye Adola. “I knew Guye was breathing down my neck and I had to keep the peddle down and do my best…When Guye slid off the back I knew ‘this was it’,” Jake said afterwards.
Jake’s brother Zane trains with Adola when in Ethiopia, so Jake is well aware of Adola’s fitness. Zane told Jake before Berlin in the fall that Adola was in great shape and training to go for the world record.
Jake knew what an accomplishment it was to come out on top of this field.
“Wow,” he said. “Guye is one of the best in the world. The whole caliber of the field. I’m speechless. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Jake will skip both Commonwealth Games and the World Half and make his marathon debut at Lake Biwa. Then he’ll run a series of road races in the US.
Jake likely was happier after his last half marathon
As happy as the Kenyan-based Robertson was today, we doubt he reached the same emotional high as he did upon finishing his last half marathon, when he proposed to girlfriend Magdalyne Masai (she said yes).
This is a flash recap. We have our initial analysis below but will update it with on-site interviews and more analysis later. Top 30 results appear at the bottom of this article.
Quick Take #1: Sub-60 is coming for Jake Robertson, but he doesn’t need it to prove his quality
Robertson has now run three half marathons in his life and almost broken 60:00 in all of them. He ran 60:01 in Lisbon to win his debut in March 2017, then 60:12 at the Great North Run in September to finish second to Mo Farah. Today was his best result of all as he clocked 60:01 again to destroy a field of studs over the final two miles in Houston. His list of scalps included Adola, Olympic marathon silver medalist/59:22 guy Feyisa Lilesa, Shura Kitata (2017 Rome and Frankfurt Marathon champ), and Alex Korio, who ran 58:51 in Copenhagen in September.
Robertson took home $20,000 for the win and $5,000 for breaking 60:30 (though he would have won an extra $5,000 for breaking 60:00).
It is curious that, with so many studs in the field, no one was able to break 60 minutes — especially considering how fast the women ran in Houston. One big difference: the women had both pacers and men’s racers to chase. The men’s race did not appear to have any pacers, leaving it to Korio to do most of the work in the race’s early stages.
Post-Race Interview with Robertson
Quick Take #2: Another big day for Scott Simmons’ American Distance Project/WCAP
Chelanga and Lagat, like many athletes, have made large strides since moving to Colorado Springs to join coach Scott Simmons’ group. Chelanga was a stud at Liberty, winning two NCAA XC titles and running 27:08 on the track for 10,000, but had struggled few a through uneven years as a pro prior to moving to joining the group in late 2016. But last year, he finished 11th at World Cross (top non-African) and today he ran a big PR in the half marathon.
The bigger surprise, however, was Lagat. While Chelanga had run fast over 13.1 miles before (he ran 61:04 in Boston in 2013), Lagat hadn’t raced a half in almost 10 years but still looked terrific, running confidently with the leaders before falling off late. Lagat can still steeple some (he was 5th at USAs last year) but it looks like he may have a future on the roads.
Afterwards Lagat said he wants to run another steeplechase at Prefontaine this year, but his desire is to transition to the roads and make the 2020 US Olympic marathon team. He said he exceeded his expectations in this race, but that maybe he got a little carried away as he took the lead in this race. He said he paid the price for it the last mile, running a 5:00, but he still walked away with an impressive 61:01 “debut.”
Now he waits to see if made the US team for the World Half.
Chelanga struggled in his marathon debut in Chicago (2:15 after dropping out at Olympic Trials) but had a very nice run today and he knew it, putting up his arms at the finish. Chelanga said his PR was a big surprise. “I wasn’t expecting it. I just came here trying to qualify for the World half (Championships).”
Ageless Bernard Lagat goes out a little bit hard
With his 62:00 Lagat crushed the master’s American record for the half, but at 10k he was on 60:35 pace. The master’s world record is Haile Gebrselassie‘s 1:01:14. Lagat paid the pace as by 15k he was on 61:13 pace and had to “settle” for 62:00. Lagat turned 43 last month. Not too shabby.
Jared Ward will not do a spring marathon
2016 Olympic marathoner Jared Ward said his coach Ed Eyestone only let him do this race because he showed enough spark in training to give it a go. Ward said he will not do a spring marathon this year.
Training partners William Milam and Noah Droddy
Ben Rosaio on why guys aren’t running sub 2:10
Luke Puskedra says he ignored Coach Rowland’s advice
The depth at Houston is amazing Luis Orta runs 1:03:35 Venezuelan national record and finishes 30th.
He’s coached by Brad Hudson
More: Top 30 results appear below. Women’s Recap: Molly Huddle Breaks American Record at 2018 Aramco Houston Half Marathon