Weini Kelati (66:25) Breaks American Record at 2024 Houston Half; Galen Rupp 14th in 62:37

Ethiopians Jemal Yimer (60:42) and Sutume Kebede (64:37) won the overall titles

In what is becoming an annual tradition, Weini Kelati ran 66:25 on Sunday to break the American record at the 2024 Aramco Houston Half Marathon. It was the third straight year the record was broken in Houston as the 27-year-old Kelati, making her half marathon debut, followed in the footsteps of Sara Hall (67:15 in 2022) and Emily Sisson (66:52 in 2023) to become a record-breaker in Houston. Sunday marked the third time the record had been broken in the past year as Keira D’Amato lowered Sisson’s record to 66:39 at the Asics Half Marathon in Australia in July.

Kelati finished 4th overall as Ethiopia’s Sutume Kebede, a late addition to the women’s field, upset Hellen Obiri to win in 64:37, a US all-comers record that moves her into a tie for 9th on the all-time list. The time was a pb of more than three minutes for Kebede, who was previously best known for finishing 3rd at the 2020 Tokyo Marathon and running 2:18:12 at the 2022 Seoul Marathon. Obiri, who was with Kebede through 10k (30:28) faded over the second half and wound up a distant 2nd in 66:07.

The men’s race came down to a five-man sprint finish with Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer, who won in Houston in 2020 and was 4th at the World Half Marathon Championships in October, prevailing in 60:42. Wesley Kiptoo of NAZ Elite and Kenya was 2nd for the second straight year in 60:43 with 2022 champ Milkesa Mengesha of Ethiopia 3rd in 60:45.

Biya Simbassa was the top American man in 60:45 in 4th, just ahead of a resurgent Diego Estrada, who led for the first 20 minutes and finished 5th in a pb of 60:49. Galen Rupp, tuning up for the Olympic Marathon Trials three weeks from now, hung back from the leaders and finished 14th in 62:37.

In the Chevron Houston Marathon, contested simultaneously, former NAIA star Zouhair Talbi of Morocco won the men’s race in 2:06:39 to boost his chances of Olympic selection. 2016 NCAA XC champion Patrick Tiernan, now training as part of Alistair and Amy Cragg’s Puma Elite Running team in North Carolina, was 4th in 2:07:45, hitting the Olympic standard and moving to #2 on the all-time Australian marathon list.

Ethiopia’s Rahma Tusa, the runner-up behind American Betsy Saina in September’s Sydney Marathon, won the women’s marathon in Houston in 2:19:33.

The races featured temperatures in the low 40s with 10 mph winds and gusts up to 17 mph, which made for a challenging end to the half marathon as miles 9, 10, and 11 were run directly into the teeth of the wind.

Below, six takeaways from the day’s racing in Houston.

2024 Houston Half Marathon men’s top 5
1. 60:42 Jemal Yimer, Ethiopia
2. 60:43 Wesley Kiptoo, Kenya
3. 60:45 Milkesa Mengesha, Ethiopia
4. 60:45 Biya Simbassa, USA
5. 60:49 Diego Estrada, USA
14. 62:37 Galen Rupp, USA

2024 Houston Half Marathon women’s top 5
1. 64:37 Sutume Kebede, Ethiopia
2. 66:07 Hellen Obiri, Kenya
3. 66:24 Buze Diriba, Ethiopia
4. 66:25 AR Weini Kelati, USA
5. 67:36 Mestawut Fikir, Ethiopia

*Full results

What a run for Weini Kelati

Kevin Morris photo

Kelati has terrific natural endurance and her accomplishments both in college (2019 NCAA 10,000 and cross country champ) and as a pro (US road champ in the 5k/10k, three-time Manchester Road Race champ) suggested she had the makings of a terrific half marathoner. But it was a surprise to see her run this fast, this quickly.

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Until this most recent training segment, Kelati, who does not train on Sundays, had rarely run more than 60 miles per week. Her workout volume was typically 4-5 miles of quality and her long runs were usually 12-13 miles. All of that is on the low end for a professional 5k/10k runner, but Kelati had experienced success on the track (she was 4th in the 5,000 at USAs in 2022 and 4th in the 10,000 in 2023) and was hesitant to increase her volume since she has always been a lower-mileage runner.

But with the encouragement of her coach Stephen Haas, Kelati built her volume as she prepared for Houston, consistently logging 70+ mile weeks (still in six days), hitting 8-10 miles of quality in her longer workouts and a longest long run of 18 miles.

Kelati, who had a personal pacer (Abrham Tesfamariam) ran fearlessly, hitting 5k in 15:48 (66:40 pace). She picked it up for the next 10k (15:38, 15:42) before slowing at the end due to the wind (15:57 from 15k to 20k). 

“When I was at the start line, I didn’t know what to expect,” Kelati said on the ABC13 broadcast. “I [hit] halfway and I saw the pace and said this feels pretty good, I can keep going…This is very special. I don’t even have words to explain what it means to me and how I feel right now.”

Kelati is running the US cross country championships next weekend in Richmond with the hopes of qualifying March’s World Cross Country Championships in Serbia and improving upon her 21st-place finish from last year. Then she’ll run the Olympic Trials in the 5,000 or 10,000. But it is clear that her future lies in the longer distances on the roads. And based on today’s run, that future is very bright.

The American record goes down for the fifth time in two years

On January 14, 2022, the American record in the women’s half marathon was 67:25 by Molly Huddle, which she ran at the 2018 Houston Half.

In the two years since that day, the record has been lowered by a full minute as three athletes have combined to break it on five separate occasions. That’s quite a change from the pre-super shoe era. Prior to Huddle, Deena Kastor held the record for almost 12 years after running 67:34 at the 2006 Berlin Half. Here’s the full progression of the record over the last 24 months:

Time Athlete Date Location
67:15 Sara Hall 1/16/22 Houston
67:11 Emily Sisson 5/7/22 Indianapolis
66:52 Emily Sisson 1/15/23 Houston
66:39 Keira D’Amato 7/1/23 Gold Coast
66:25 Weini Kelati 1/14/24 Houston

The AR progression reflects a broader trend in the sport, where distance records have been smashed with regularity in recent years thanks to ever-improving shoe technology. We remain in a liminal period, and it may take another few years for the distance records to reflect the new shoe reality.

While there have been five ARs in the women’s half and two in the women’s marathon since the start of 2022, the men’s American records remain untouched. Ryan Hall’s 59:43 half from 2007 and Khalid Khannouchi’s 2:05:38 marathon from 2002 remain the fastest Americans have ever run for those distances.

Kebede stuns Obiri

29-year-old Sutume Kebede of Ethiopia is a 2:18 marathoner and has some decent results on her resume, but with a half marathon pb of 67:54, she entered today’s race as a decided underdog to Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who won eight of her nine races in 2023, including the Boston and NYC Marathons. Obiri, who faded dramatically in the windy final miles (she split 16:44 – or 70:36 pace – from 15k to 20k), was not at her best in Houston. But even if she was, it would have taken a big effort to beat Kebede, whose 64:37 moved her into the top 10 on the all-time list.

A pb of 3:17 this deep into your career isn’t common, but it should be noted that Kebede’s previous pb dated from 2018, when she was 2:24 marathoner. Since then, Kebede has focused more on the marathon, lowering her pb to 2:18, and has largely avoided the half – this was her first race at 13.1 miles since September 2019.

Galen Rupp runs 62:37 in Trials tuneup

Rupp was grimacing as he crossed the finish line

Rupp said ahead of the race that he was not in the best half marathon shape with his focus on the Olympic Trials in Orlando three weeks from now. And he made it clear early on he had no intention of trying to run in the low-60:00s in an attempt to perhaps unlock the third US Olympic marathon spot – he went through 5k in 14:41 (61:57 pace) with the second pack.

When the chase pack splintered over the second half, Rupp fell farther back and wound up 14th in 62:37. Rupp ran much slower in the second half than the first (his 5k splits were 14:41-14:30-15:07-15:17), though much of the final 5k was into a 10 mph wind.

It’s hard to read too much into this result given we don’t know how hard Rupp was going or how much (if at all) he backed off training for this race. Rupp was barely on the race broadcast and when he was shown at the end, he was grimacing as he crossed the finish line. But the fact that Rupp lined up for this race shows training must have been going pretty well.

MB: Rupp 1:02:37 at Houston half

Diego Estrada is back?

In 2015, Diego Estrada announced his presence on the US road scene with an impressive 60:51 solo effort to win the Houston Half Marathon in his 13.1-mile debut. Nine years later, that time remained Estrada’s pb – until today, when he ran 60:49 to finish 5th, just four seconds behind top American Biya Simbassa. Obviously Estrada has access to better shoes than he did in 2015, but it was impressive to see a 34-year-old Estrada pushing the pace early in this one and holding on to finish well after he was caught at 4.5 miles.

It was a surprise to see Estrada run this fast, but reviewing his 2023 results, there were a few signs that showed he was making progress. In June, he ran a 10k road pb of 28:19 in steamy conditions at the BAA 10K. He also won two low-key half marathons in Stockholm, running 63:42 and 63:03, before clocking 62:11 at the Copenhagen Half in September – his fastest time in more than five years.

Estrada, who hasn’t run a marathon since DNFing at the 2020 Olympic Trials, is qualified for the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials but not entered.

MB: Diego Estrada is BACK!!!!!

Australia’s Patrick Tiernan and Chile’s Hugo Catrileo move Americans farther down Road to Paris list

There was some hope that with a fast run in the half marathon, either Galen Rupp or Sam Chelanga might be able to improve the Americans’ chances of unlocking a third Olympic spot before the Trials on February 3. Instead, today’s results in Houston (Chelanga was 20th in 63:43) almost guaranteed the US will have to wait until May to unlock the third spot – and in the process made that third spot a little harder to get.

Entering Sunday, Scott Fauble was the third American on the Road to Paris list in 67th place (it’s worth noting that World Athletics has removed Rwanda’s John Hakizimana, who is serving a doping ban, from the Road to Paris list). When the new rankings come out, Fauble will be no higher than 69th as two more athletes passed him on Sunday. The first was Australia’s Patrick Tiernan, who ran 2:07:45 to earn the Olympic auto standard of 2:08:10. And the second was Chile’s Hugo Catrileo. Catrileo entered the day ranked 72nd but ran 2:08:44 to finish 5th. That earned him 1211 points (1181 for the time plus 30 bonus points for finishing 5th in a Gold Label marathon) and boosted his overall ranking score to 1198, moving him to 65th on the Road to Paris list.

Both Tiernan and Cantrileo ran huge pbs today. Tiernan’s only previous marathon was 2:11:02 at 2022 Chicago while Cantrileo’s previous pb was 2:12:07 from the Pan American Games in October.

With just two weeks until the first 64 spots in the 2024 Olympic marathon are awarded, 63 of those spots are now accounted for by athletes with the auto standard (either sub-2:08:10 or top five in a Platinum Label marathon). The US has two of those spots and is still in good shape to receive a third when the final 16 spots are awarded on May 5, particularly because whoever finishes top-3 at the Olympic Trials next month will likely improve their own ranking with that race. But with Tiernan and Catrileo pushing Fauble down to 69th, the US is in a worse spot than it started the day.

Discuss this race on the LetsRun messageboard:

MB: Rupp 1:02:37 at Houston half
Diego Estrada is BACK!!!!! 
MB: Official 2024 Houston Half Discussion Thread: Galen Rupp Tunes Up & Weini Kelati Debuts

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