Coach of American marathoner predicts he’ll run 2:07:30 in Houston on Sunday

Could we witness the emergence of America’s next great marathoner on Sunday in Houston?

by Jonathan Gault
January 12, 2023

Editor’s note: This piece appeared in a longer piece we’ve published as one of 5 big things to look for at the 2023 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon, but we felt it was so newsworthy that it also should appear as its own article. 

Teshome Mekonen, who finished 11th at the 2016 World Half for Ethiopia, became an American citizen in August (I wrote here about his journey to the US from Ethiopia’s Tigray region) and will be running the full marathon in Houston on Sunday. Mekonen’s 60:02 half marathon pb immediately places him among America’s best in that event — when he raced Mantz at the 2022 NYC Half, Mekonen finished a minute ahead in 60:40. Mekonen’s big aim, however, is to become a top marathoner, and so far he has struggled in two attempts at the 26.2-mile distance. In his debut at 2021 New York, Mekonen was 20th in 2:22:16. In Ottawa in May 2022, he improved to 2:13:27 — but that’s still a disappointment from a 60-minute half marathoner.

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Both Mekonen and his coach Haron Lagat are feeling optimistic ahead of Houston. Lagat, an 8:15 steepler best known as an ace pacemaker on the Diamond League circuit during the 2010s, established his own Colorado Springs-based training group, Peak Running Elite, in 2021. Its members include 2:09 marathoner Elkanah Kibet and 13:00 5,000m man Emmanuel Bor, both former members of the US Army WCAP team (both remain in the Army but have left the WCAP). Mekonen trained with the group intermittently upon moving to Colorado last year and has been coached formally by Lagat since October 2022.

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After getting the opportunity to work with Mekonen up close, Lagat has been incredibly impressed. He says Mekonen can crush marathon workouts while still being able to hang with Bor during track sessions.

“His talent is not questionable at all,” Lagat says. “He works hard…He handles everything brilliantly. He handles 400s like a 5k guy, then he handles mile repeats like a 10k guy then he handles the long runs and the tempos like a marathoner.”

Lagat says he thinks he knows what went wrong in Mekonen’s first two marathons. Ahead of New York in 2021, Mekonen trained with Kibet, who would go on to have an excellent race, finishing 4th. But Mekonen was overeager and pushed too hard in practice. By race day, he had nothing left.

“A week before New York, he did a 20k, running a 59,” Lagat says. “It was crazy to me. When he showed up at the track on Tuesday, I was kind of mad at him, like, What did you do? You kind of blew up your chances with a week to go.”

Then, in Ottawa, Lagat says Mekonen’s hydration suffered because other athletes repeatedly took his drinks from the aid tables before Mekonen could reach them.

Lagat says he’s been working with Mekonen to mentally prepare for the pain for the marathon and how to endure the rough patches that inevitably arise. But he believes, based on his pedigree and training, that a fast time is possible in Houston.

“[2:07], that is reasonable,” Lagat says. “2:09 maybe for him is going to be underperformance. I feel like he’s 2:07:30, if he can squeeze it a bit, we’ll see if he can squeeze it at the end.”

That sort of time would put Mekonen in elite company — only five Americans have ever broken 2:08 — and perhaps convince a shoe company to take the plunge and sign the unsponsored Mekonen to an endorsement contract.

Related: 2023 Houston: Emily Sisson Is Aiming for an AR, Conner Mantz Is Focused on Racing, What Can Tirunesh Dibaba Do & Might an American Run 2:07? Sisson is trying to become the first American woman ever under 67:00 while Dibaba returns to racing for the first time in 4+ years. 60:02 American Teshome Mekonen is lining up in the full marathon.

Talk about 2023 Houston on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard.

MB: Official 2023 Houston discussion thread: Will an American run 2:07 in the full marathon? Will Sisson break 67 in the half?

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