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Keflezighi, Burla Win U.S. Half Marathon Titles

The 38-year-old Keflezighi made his winning move at 15K.

The 38-year-old Keflezighi made his winning move at 15K. 

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

HOUSTON — Meb Keflezighi and Serena Burla easily overcame deep fields at the USA Half Marathon Championships this morning hosted by the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. The pair cruised through the new course in 1:01:23 and 1:10:48, respectively, under clear skies and in cool conditions. With today’s win, Keflezighi notched his 22nd national title while Burla got her first.

“The crowd was phenomenal,” Keflezighi said immediately after the race. “They were pushing me, ‘Go Meb, go Meb.’ Houston has been a great place for me to compete.”

RELATED: 5 Questions With Meb Keflezighi

Keflezighi, 38, from San Diego, Calif., who won the USA Olympic Marathon Trials here two years ago, put his stamp on the race right from the start. The former UCLA Bruin put himself in the front, and towed a twenty-strong lead pack through the first 3 kilometers in a conservative 9:00. His key rivals — Aaron Braun, Tyler Pennel, Josphat Boit, Luke Puskedra, and Shadrack Biwott — were right behind him. Keflezighi was trying to keep the pace under control.

“When I was 25, 26 year-old I could get away with it, the turnover,” Keflezighi said of his early-race tactics. “Second mile, six mile I could get away and enjoy it, but this time I was waiting patiently.”

The kilometers clicked by, and the pack remained intact. Keflezighi remained in front at 10 kilometers (29:09) and 12K (34:55).  But in the 15th kilometer, the 2009 New York City Marathon Champion decided it was time to strike. He put in a surge, and quickly built up a small lead.

“Just be ready to make one big move, and when I made that I knew I was going to make it count,” Keflezighi said.

By the 10 mile mark (46:47), Keflezighi had an 8-second lead on Braun, Pennel, Puskedra, Biwott and Boit. Braun realized that he wasn’t going to catch the Olympic silver medalist, and began to focus on capturing second.

“Right when he made it, it was like, he’s got it,” Braun told Race Results Weekly. “Basically, he just stayed that distance ahead. The last couple of miles when I passed Tyler and passed Josphat, I started feeling better and was like, maybe I can close. But, I was just stuck in that gear.”

Keflezighi, squinting against the Texas sunrise, cruised to the long finish straight adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center hearing many in the crowd shouting his name. His time was the third fastest of his career, earning him $12,000 in prize money plus a $1,500 time incentive bonus. Braun, who’ll be making his marathon debut in mid-March, ran a personal best 1:01:38 in second, and Boit got third in 1:01:41, also a career best. Nine men ran 1:02:00 or better.

Burla — who sports a long scar on the outside of her right leg where a cancerous tumor was removed in 2010 — was essentially unchallenged today. The 31 year-old mother from Falls Church, Va., broke away just after 5 kilometers and won by nearly a minute and a half.  She had been the runner up at this race twice, in 2010 and 2011.

“I thought it was anyone’s race,” she told Race Results Weekly. “I just made a move and I was like, I can’t second guess. I have to go with it, and that’s what I did.”

Lauren Kleppin, who is coached by Andrew Kastor of the Mammoth Track Club, ran a big personal best in second place (1:12:12). A tearful Kleppin said that today’s success was just beginning to sink in.

“It’s finally hitting me and I don’t want to cry,” she said wiping her eyes. “Andrew set me up to run maybe 5:40 (per mile). He said, ‘don’t be scared if you run 5:30.’ I was running 5:27’s and I was like, don’t be scared. Oh my God.”

Third place went to Caitlin Comfort (1:12:16 PB), and Wendy Thomas (1:12:29) and Clara Santucci (1:12:58) rounded out the top-5. The first 15 women ran 1:14:06 or better.

Like Keflezighi, Burla won $12,000 in prize money, and a $1,500 time bonus.