Yebrqual Melese wins the Houston Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
Near-perfect conditions yielded speedy performances at the 43rd Chevron Houston Marathon as Yebrqual Melese ran the second-fastest time ever by a woman in Houston and Birhanu Gedefa outkicked Gebo Burka to take the men’s title at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race on Sunday (18).
It was the seventh straight sweep of the titles by Ethiopia. In fact, they filled the top five places in the women’s race and the three podium positions in the men’s contest.
An Ethiopian victory in the women’s race came as no surprise as a leading group of five athletes from the East African nation formed early on. Led by former Toronto Marathon runner-up Sechale Dalasa, the quintet passed through 5km in 17:23, 10km in 34:28 and half way in 1:12:43.
Former Los Angeles Marathon winner Fatuma Sado was the first to drop from the pack, slipping behind after 25km. Biruktayit Degefa Eshetu attempted to make a break soon after and at 30km she had a 14-second margin over her three compatriots, but she was soon reeled in by Guteni Shone Imana as the pair passed through 35km in 1:59:43.
Melese, who at 30km was some 17 seconds behind the leaders, then made her move. Having already dropped Dalasa, she closed in on Eshetu and eventually fought off the challenge of Shone on the way to a 2:23:23 victory, taking almost three minutes off her PB.
Shone finished second in 2:23:32, the third-fastest time ever at Houston and a seven-minute improvement on her previous best. Eshetu also dipped under the 2:24 barrier with a 2:23:51 clocking that moved her to fifth on the race’s list of fastest times.
Kellyn Taylor had an impressive debut to place sixth at 2:28:40 as the top US woman, three minutes ahead of 2014 US half-marathon champion Serena Burla, who crossed the line in 2:31:46 in seventh. Lindsay Flanagan and Taylor Ward were the other US women in the top 10, taking ninth (2:33:12) and 10th (2:38:30) respectively.
Gedefa was content to run with the pack for the early part of the race, cruising through the halfway point in 1:03:20. He stayed with the leaders through 30km at 1:31:06 and was six seconds behind Debebe Tolossa with more than four miles to go.
Burka made a strong push and pulled away from the pack, opening up a 14-second lead by 40km, but Gedefa fought back and passed Burka in the final 400 meters to win in 2:08:03, a lifetime best and the eighth-fastest time ever at Houston.
Burka’s 2:08:12 made him the ninth-fastest in race history, while Tolossa was third in 2:09:07. Kenya’s Dominic Ondoro also ran faster than 2:10, taking fourth place in 2:09:40.
Last year’s half marathon runner-up, Aaron Braun, moved up in distance to great effect, finishing as the top US man in 2:12:54 for seventh place, running negative splits to chop almost seven minutes off his personal best. Craig Leon also nabbed a top-10 finish for the US with his ninth-place 2:14:43.
Estrada and Conley win US half-marathon titles
Two different races produced two superb results in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon, which served as the US Championship race for the ninth time for men and seventh time for women.
Diego Estrada shot to the lead after running with the pack for the first 5km at 14:41, opening a 20-second gap by 10km (28:51) and stretching that margin to 45 seconds over Jared Ward at the 15km mark (43:14).
He tacked on five more seconds to his cushion by 20km (57:45) and eased to the finish at 1:00:51, the third-fastest time ever by US man and the third-fastest ever in Houston.
Ward finished well to clock 1:01:42 on his debut at the distance to move to ninth on the all-time Houston list, and Girma Mecheso was third in 1:02:16. Three-time champion Meb Keflezighi was fighting a cold and a sore back as he pursued his fourth US title and third straight, but battled through to take fourth place in 1:02:18.
US 10,000m champion Kim Conley bided her time through 10 miles at a fast pace, running with the leaders through 5km in 16:45 and 10km in 33:27. She shared the lead with 2006 champion Annie Bersagel at 15km (50:08) and then pulled away over the next 5km, running 16:12 for that portion of the race to pass 20km at 1:06:20 with a 22-second lead.
Conley was powerful through the finish, crossing the line in 1:09:44 for the fifth-fastest time ever in Houston and the second-fastest by a US woman in the race. Brianne Nelson trimmed more than two minutes off her lifetime best to take second place in 1:10:16, and Janet Bawcom was third in 1:10:46.
Organisers for the IAAF