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Flanagan, Vega Win US Half Marathon Titles

Records Tumble, Vega Surprises In Houston

Written By: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, used with permission.

HOUSTON (17-Jan) — Three of the four open course records of the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half-Marathon fell here today, made possible by strong fields, beautifully cool and sunny weather and a more than $200,000 prize money purse.

Shalane Flanagan captures half marathon win in her debut. Photo:
Shalane Flanagan captures half marathon win in her debut. Photo:

Shalane Flanagan of Portland, Ore., bagged the first of the three records in women’s 21.1 km contest, which also served as the USA Half-Marathon Championships.  Joined by Serena Burla of Ellisville, Mo., the two women were running under Colleen De Reuck’s 1:10:55 course record pace from the gun.  They passed through 4 miles (6.4 km) in 21:26, and 6 miles (9.7 km) in 32:05.  Making her half-marathon debut, Flanagan was actually running a little faster than she had agreed with coach Jerry Schumacher.

“As soon as I finished I saw my husband and I asked if Jerry was mad at me because I didn’t exactly follow the race plan,” Flanagan told reporters.  “I have a tendency to not be very patient.”

Burla, who was the second American finisher in last year’s IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships, showed surprising tenacity, staying so close to Flanagan that she clipped her heels a few times.

“I mean to apologize for that,” Burla said in an interview after the race.

The half-marathon course here has a 180-degree turnaround just before the 15 km mark, and it took that long for Flanagan, the reigning Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, to finally shake Burla.

“I could hear the pitter-patter of her feet; she has a nice little shuffle,” Flanagan said of Burla.  She added: “I think right about the turnaround I didn’t hear her feet anymore.”

Flanagan rolled to the finish adjacent to the massive George R. Brown Convention Center on her own, clocking 1:09:41, more than a minute faster than De Reuck’s record.  Burla was not far behind, also breaking De Reuck’s record and her own career best in 1:10:08.  Burla said she was inspired to push hard today by memories of her grandfather who passed away earlier this month.

“He was a huge fan,” said Burla.  “To get me through those last miles I was thinking about him.  At his funeral I was a complete mess.  My grandmother said, ‘Don’t worry.  Just think of him while you’re running.'”

Amy Hastings (1:11:19) and Renee Metivier Baillie (1:11:51) and defending champion Magdalena Lewy Boulet (1:12:22) rounded out the top-5.  Both Hastings and Baillie set career best times.

Unheralded Teshome Gelana of Ethiopia got the next course record, winning the men’s marathon in an improbable 2:07:37.  During the 2009 season, Gelana ran 2:14:32 at Barcelona, 2:21:23 at Hannover and 2:12:03 at Warsaw (his personal best was 2:11:58 set in Israel in 2008).  After winning the low-key, high altitude Addis Ababa Marathon last December, Gelana said he was pointing specifically for Houston, then potentially even bigger races later.

“As soon as I did the marathon in Addis, I was ready and working for my next marathon,” he said through a translator.  “With the help of God I might do better in the future.”

His teammate and compatriot Zembaba Yigeze got second, also setting a personal best (2:08:27).  The fastest man in the field coming into the race, Kenya’s Jason Mbote who has a personal best time of 2:07:37, finished third in 2:08:58.  American Brett Gotcher made a very solid debut in 2:10:36, finishing seventh.

Teyba Erkesso got the third and final course record, easily defending her title in the marathon and breaking her own course and personal best in 2:23:53, with a little pacing assistance from Kafime Adillo, her husband, who was also entered in the race.

“Everything went according to plan,” said a smiling Erkesso through a translator sporting the Stetson hat organizers present to the race winners here.

Russia’s Magarita Plaksina (2:28:44) and Ethiopia’s Alemitu Abera (2:31:01) rounded out the podium.  Paige Higgins, who like Gotcher runs for coach Greg McMillan in the Team USA Arizona program in Flagstaff, finished fourth in 2:33:22, just shy of her personal best.

Antonio Vega takes his first national title in the half marathon. Photo:
Antonio Vega takes his first national title in the half marathon. Photo:

Although he didn’t set a course record, Antonio Vega’s win in the men’s half-marathon, his first national title, may have been the most noteworthy performance of the day.  Since Vega lives in cold and snowy St. Paul, Minn., he did all of his training for this race (except for three sessions) on a treadmill.

“Yeah, 120 miles a week,” he said, commenting on how refreshing it was to be able to run outside.

Running against two debutants at the distance, his Team USA Minnesota teammate Patrick Smyth and University of Colorado alum Brent Vaughn, Vega surged just after the turnaround, setting unofficial personal best times for 15-K (43:45) and 10 miles (46:55).

“When we hit the turnaround, I was in the lead,” Vega said just after finishing.  “I decided that was the time to go.  I tried to hang on as long as I could.”

Vega slowed to a 4:52 in the 11th mile, and Smyth and Vaughn worked together to catch him.

“I thought I was going to catch Antonio downtown,” said Smyth, who won last month’s Emerald Nuts Midnight Run in New York City.

But Vega had enough in the tank to hold them off and get the win in 1:01:54, a personal best by a full minute.  Smyth, who just signed with a management company but doesn’t yet have a sponsor, got second in 1:02:01.  Vaughn finished third three seconds back, greeted by his wife Sara at the finish line who is expecting their second child.  Tim Nelson, who also made his half-marathon debut, finished fourth in 1:02:11, and Stephan Shay, a younger brother of the late Ryan Shay, set a personal best 1:02:26 in fifth.  Pre-race favorite Josh Rohatinsky ran with the leaders early, but faded to finish 12th.

This edition of the Chevron Houston Marathon was the 38th, and managing director Steve Karpas said that the event counted over 30,000 entrants in the marathon, half-marathon, 5-K and children’s races for the first time.  Newly elected mayor Annise Parker called the event the “best and most anticipated event in all of Houston” which raised nearly $1.5 million for charity.