Thousands of runners hit streets for Chevron Houston Marathon and the Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Even with a route change, spectators were out in full force, cheering on the marathon and half marathon runners
January 19, 2014 4:39:32 PM PST
Ethiopians swept the Houston Marathon again Sunday.

Bazu Worku successfully defended his Houston title, breaking away in the last mile to win with the third fastest time in the marathon's history and a $40,000 payday. Abebech Bekele held off a furious late challenge by Meskerem Assefa to win her first marathon in 2:25:52.

This was the sixth straight year an Ethiopian man won in Houston and the eighth straight year an Ethiopian woman did so.

Worku and countryman Getachew Terfa were running side by side approaching the last mile when Worku pulled away to finish in 2 hours, 7 seven minutes, 32 seconds. The race record is 2:06:51, by Ethiopia's Tariku Jufar in 2012.

Worku said through an interpreter he wanted to break the race record but was slowed by wind near the end.

"The course is very good," Worku said. "I'm really happy to win this time. Last year it was very difficult because of the wind and the rain."

Terfa crossed the line 22 seconds later at 2:07:54, and unheralded Mexican Jose Antonio Uribe shattered his personal best with a 2:08:54 to place third. The top American finisher was former Georgia star Ian Burrell, who was seventh with a lifetime best 2:13:26.

"I knew that he would be major competitor," Worku said, referring to Terfa. "When I looked back and saw that he was further away, I thought I would win the race."

Bekele and countrywoman Biruktait Degefa were together through 22 miles before Bekele broke away and won. Bekele's best finish before this was runner-up in Rotterdam last year in 2:23:59.

"Winning here has given that energy and love for Houston," Bekele said through an interpreter. "Houston is one of the highest places among the Ethiopian runners at this time."

Bekele finished seven seconds ahead of Assefa. Gelete Burka, also of Ethiopia, was third.

"I realized from my knowledge of the other runners that they are middle distance runners, and they can sprint at the finish line," Bekele said. "That is my weakness, so I have to start earlier. That is why I pushed earlier."

The top U.S. man was Ian Burrell in seventh place at 2:13:26. American women were led by Heather Tanner in ninth at 2:42:19.

In the U.S. half marathon, Meb Keflezighi (1:01:23) won the race for the second time -- his second USA title and the second-fastest time in race history by an American. It was Keflezighi's 22nd U.S. title at all distances, and he earned $12,000 for the win plus $1,500 for running under 62:00.

Keflezighi's time was the second best in the event, bettered only by Ryan Hall's 59:43 in 2007, also in Houston. Aaron Braun finished 15 seconds behind Keflezighi while Josphat Boit was third.

"Once the gun goes off, it's all about the mental game," Keflezighi said. "For me, we started good. We were consistent. I tested the water to see if I could go away, but I couldn't go away. ... I felt I would just give it a shot. Eventually, I made that move and got some gaps and more gaps."

Serena Burla mounted the podium for the first time, winning the women's title in 1:10:48 as she ran almost unchallenged for the majority of the race. She collected $13,500 in prize money that included $1,500 for going under 1:11.

Burla finished second in Houston in 2010 and 2011. Lauren Kleppin was the runner-up, 84 seconds behind.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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