HOUSTON (13-Jan) -- In a repeat from last year, athletes from Ethiopia swept all four titles at the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half-Marathon, successfully battling cold temperatures, sometimes heavy rain, standing water, and strong winds.
Despite the harsh conditions, Merima Mohammed ran the second-fastest time ever for a woman here, breaking away from compatriot Buzunesh Deba at 33 kilometers and winning in 2:23:37. The 20 year-old, who previously won marathons in Düsseldorf and Ottawa, finished only 31 seconds off of her personal best, despite dealing with a painful injury during the race.
"I had a problem with my leg," she told reporters through a translator while massaging her left calf. "It was hurting badly. It was a very painful situation."
She knew that Deba, the runner-up at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon, was her top rival, and keyed off of her. She, Deba and compatriot Meskerem Assefa ran closely together, hitting the halfway point in an aggressive 1:10:56. Mohammed decided to wait to make her move.
"After 33 kilometers I went by myself because I wanted to have a good record and also to win," she explained.
Deba, who was scheduled to run the ING New York City Marathon last November before it was cancelled in the wake of super storm Sandy, finished nearly a minute back in 2:24:26. Assefa, a two-time Olympian and former middle distance track star, ran a solid debut time of 2:25:17.
The top American was Tera Moody, 32, of Boulder, Colo., who finished sixth in 2:39:10. She said that after running 1:16:11 for the first half, she struggled to finish as she slowed badly battling the weather.
"That second half was really, really rough," she lamented. She continued: "I am very proud of myself for finishing. I've never had so many problems in a marathon before."
Men's marathon champion Bazu Worku came into today's race as the fastest marathoner of all-time who had never won a marathon. That changed today as he waxed the field by more than two and one-half minutes, breaking the finish tape next to the George R. Brown Convention Center in 2:10:17.
"The weather was very bad," said Worku whose left eye is glass. "I'm very happy I won. The weather was not cooperating with us."
Ethiopian men took the first six places: Teferi Balcha was second in 2:12:50 and Solomon Molla was third in 2:14:37. The top American was Andrew Carlson, 30, of St. Paul, Minn. He finished seventh in 2:17:16.
"Clearly, it wasn't the time I was looking for," Carlson told Race Results Weekly. "Based on how I felt, I'm not sure I had a personal best in me today. Certainly. it was rough day. There's so many excuses you could make on a day like today, but I don't want to make them."
Carlson, who a year ago ran 2:11:24 at the USA Olympic Trials Marathon here to finish sixth, said he got some satisfaction from finishing.
"The thing I will take away from it is that I got done," he said. "The one positive is I got to the finish line. I had to keep it together mentally."
Both Mohammed and Worku won $40,000 in prize money; Moody and Carlson earned special USA bonuses of $5000 each in addition to $3000 in open prize money for Moody, and $2000 in open prize money for Carlson.
In the half-marathon, defending champion and reigning IAAF World Championships Marathon bronze medalist Feyisa Lelisa won a two-way battle with Ethiopian compatriot Deriba Merga, who was the marathon champion here in 2009. The pair splashed through Houston's streets together, matching strides through 5-K (14:34), 10-K (29:03), 15-K (43:36) and 20-K (58:44). Although the organizers had put up a $50,000 world record bonus, Lilesa knew that even the $7500 course record bonus for sub-59:22 was out of the question.
"Since the weather was so bad, I just wanted to win," Lilesa said through a translator.
Lilesa decided to wait until the final kilometer to drop Merga, and he easily pulled away from his rival to win comfortably in 1:01:54. Merga got second (1:02:00) and Kenya's Wilson Erupe, who made up a lot of ground in the second half, got third (1:02:12).
"I'm very happy I overcame this difficult weather to win," said Lilesa.
Finishing fourth and taking top honors amongst Americans was former Oregon Duck Shadrack Biwott, 27, of Eugene, Ore., who acquired his USA citizenship last June. He had hoped to run faster than his 1:02:23, but was satisfied given the conditions.
"It was tough out there being too windy; everybody was struggling anyway," said Biwott, a younger brother of marathoner Duncan Kibet. "That gave me the motivation to keep trying because everybody was crying out there." He continued: "I was ready to run fast today, but that wind was tough."
In winning the women's half-marathon, Mamitu Daska became the first woman to win both the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half-Marathon during a career. She won the marathon in 2011 in 2:26:33, then completely dominated the half-marathon here today in 1:09:53, beating second place Caroline Kilel of Kenya by more than two minutes (1:11:58). Kenya's Hellen Jemutai was third (1:12:54).
"No one was with me so I didn't get that competitive situation to improve my time," Daska said through a translator during her post-race interview. She added later: "At a point the rain was so bad we couldn't see."
Olympian Lisa Uhl, 25, of Des Moines, Iowa, was the top American, finishing sixth in a personal best 1:13:28, despite falling in the first part of the race.
"I went out a little to slow, and definitely ended up in a pack which was further back than I wanted," Uhl told Race Results Weekly. She continued: "At 5-K I took a little spill. I was just in a pack of people and somebody clipped my heel, and my shoe came off and I fell down. I had to stop, put my shoe back on, re-tie it, so that took a little bit of time."
Both Lilesa and Daska earned $15,000 in prize money.
About three and one-half hours after the start of the marathon, organizers had already filled four buses with athletes who had dropped out, said race director Brant Kotch. He said he was expecting more.
"It's hard enough just to run the distance," he said.
PHOTO: Mamitu Daska wins the 2013 Armamco Houston Half-Marathon in 1:09:53 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)