Despite unseasonably warm conditions -- 56 degrees and 85 percent humidity when the race started at 7:01 a.m. -- and strong headwinds on parts of the course, the women’s half marathon was a race for records. Hiwot Gebrekiden of Ethiopia said she was aiming for the course record of 1:05:03 while American Emily Sisson was looking to win and lower her own American record of 1:07:11.
Gebrekiden attacked the course early and alone, going through the five-mile mark well under record pace while Sisson stayed 30 seconds back, sharing the opening miles with South Africa’s Dominique Scott. However, by 10K both women were on their own. Gebrekiden’s pace slowed and the record fell out of reach, but the gap she had opened up secured her the victory in 1:06:28. Sisson came through the finish chute seconds later as a roaring crowd cheered her to a second place finish in 1:06:52, shattering the record she set just nine months ago.
Jessica Warner-Judd of Great Britain finished third in 1:07:19, a new personal best. Jenny Simpson of the United States, 1500m World Champion, finished 9th in 1:10:35 in her half marathon debut.
While no records were set in the men’s half marathon, the finish was one of the closest and most exciting in race history. With one mile to go, Leul Gebresilase of Ethiopia and Wesley Kiptoo of Kenya had turned the race into a duel, trading surges going into the final turn. Kiptoo, a standout while at Iowa State, looked to have the advantage. But, just meters before the finish, Gebresilase slipped by to break the tape by less than a second 1:00:34 to 1:00:35.
“Today the competition was very good,” said Gebresilase, who told reporters he was aiming for the course record of 59:22. “I pushed at the end and my hamstring started cramping, but I am happy to be the winner.”
Conner Mantz stayed with the leaders through 15K, but couldn’t hold on as the pace quickened. He finished sixth as the top American man in 1:01:12.
In the women’s marathon, Hitomi Niiya set out to break the Japanese women’s marathon record of 2:19:12, a time that is also the Chevron Houston Marathon course record. With the aid of a pacer, Niiya waited patiently as early leader Muliye Dekebo of Ehtiopia set a blistering early pace well below 2:17 through 15K. Niiya caught Dekebo at the halfway point and the pair ran side-by-side for the next five miles before Dekebo’s ambitious start caught up to her. From there, it was all Niiya and her pacer clicking off 5:20 per mile and inching dangerously close to the record. After the pacer stepped off the course, Niiya struggled and crossed the line in 2:19:24. Despite missing the Japanese record by 12 seconds, it was still a nearly two-minute personal best and the second fastest time in race history.
“Running by myself was a very powerful feeling,” said Niiya who set the Japanese Half Marathon record here in 2020, but with cheering and support I was able to it.”
Dekebo held on to second, finishing nearly six minutes back in 2:25:35. The top American was Tristan Van Ord of Blowing Rock, NC in a new personal best time of 2:27:07.
“I feel like I am just getting started I was very confident that on the perfect weather day I would run 2:25-2:26,” said Van Ord who missed the Paris Olympic standard by just 17 seconds. “It was a little warmer than would be ideal, so I held back for the first ten miles then caught up at the half.”
The men’s marathon played out differently. Despite recruiting a pacer to run 2:07, a pack of seven men ran stride for stride through 30K at 2:10 pace. By 35K, it was down to five and just after 40K, it was a two-man race between Dominic Ondoro of Kenya and Tsedat Ayana of Ethiopia. Ayana looked to have the advantage as the marathon turned into a sprint with 400 meters to go. But, in a repeat of the half marathon just an hour earlier, Ondoro had one last surge, passing a flailing and visibly tired Ayana in the final seconds of the race. The winning time of 2:10:36 was just one second faster than second place and the closest finish since 1996.
“The last 100 meters I felt strong,” said Ondoro who also won this race in 2017. “About the finish line I can’t explain what happened but thank God I finished.”
Teshome Mekonen who became a U.S. citizen in August of last year, was the top American finisher in third place (2:11:05.) Behind him, two more American men, Parker Stinson and Tyler Pennel, rounded out the top five.
Winners in the Chevron Houston Marathon earned $30,000 each for their victories. The Aramco Houston Half Marathoners each went home with $10,000 with Sisson earning an additional $5,000 for her record.