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Keflezighi Set to Defend at USATF Half Marathon Championships


HOUSTON -- Defending champion and reigning Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi leads a talented men’s field, while Olympians Janet Bawcom and Kim Conley headline a strong women’s field Sunday morning at the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Houston, hosted by the Aramco Houston Half Marathon.


The USATF Marathon Championships are the first stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit, which concludes with the .US National 12K in historic Alexandria, Virginia. The top 15 finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the .US National 12K.


Last year, Keflezighi used a strong second half of the race to pull away from runner-up Aaron Braun, on his way to a win in 61:23, 15 seconds ahead of Braun and a time that would ultimately land him the top time by an American in the event in 2014. The race led as a momentum builder heading into his memorable Boston Marathon performance and looks to do much the same this time around. He’ll be the favorite but have plenty of veteran and young talent on his heels from the gun.


Behind Keflezighi, five returning top ten finishers from last year’s race look to contend for the win. Josphat Boit, who finished third overall, has shown time and again over the past few seasons he’s a contender whenever the race jumps over 15 km.


Shadrack Biwott, who finished seventh last season, looks to regain his overall circuit winning form of 2013, while Matthew Llano, who finished fifth in a breakthrough race of 61:47, eyes another big race in Houston. Gabe Proctor, who placed tenth in last year’s edition, ended the season with the fifth fastest half marathon performance in the country and should work with Mammoth Track Club teammate Boit throughout much of the race.


The fifth returning top ten athlete, Fernando Cabada, finished eighth last year and ended up with a top ten U.S. seasonal best. Along with his marathon best of 2:11:36, the fifth best U.S. time in 2014, Cabada seeks to continue building on his success this year.


Diego Estrada and Jeffrey Eggleston are two other challengers for the title. Estrada, who is the reigning USATF 5 km champion and placed second at the .US National 12K, takes a stab at the 13.1-mile distance, making his debut in Houston. Eggleston enters at the opposite end of the spectrum in distance success. He enters Sunday’s race with a 63:00 best and finished ranked second in the U.S. in the marathon with his 2:10:52 best.


Meanwhile, reigning USATF 20 km champion Girma Mecheso, USATF Marathon Championship runner-up Jared Ward and USATF Marathon Championship fourth place finisher Ian Burrell, each look to make their mark in Houston and start their 2015 seasons off on the right foot.


Adding to the intrigue, Jonathan Peterson and Jeff See each make their debut over the half marathon distance after finding success on the track, while Aron Rono, who ran 28:03:51 for 10,000m, which ranked him third in the U.S. in 2014, seeks to make his mark on the roads. Add in veterans Sergio Reyes, Patrick Rizzo, Scott MacPherson and young talent Andrew Wacker, and the makings of the men’s half marathon field shows both plenty of talent and depth.


In the women’s race, Olympian Janet Bawcom, 2014 runner-up Lauren Kleppin, Sara Hall and Brianne Nelson all enter as pre-race favorites. Bawcom, who is the reigning USATF 10 Mile champion and has a history of dominating the USATF Running Circuit, is coming off a challenging past season of injuries. She returns to action in Houston healthy and ready to compete.


For Kleppin, who finished her past season ranked U.S. top five in both the half marathon and marathon events, seems set to take another big step forward this season. Similarly, Hall, who finished second in three separate USATF Running Circuit events in 2014, seeks to make an even greater mark on the roads, while Nelson hopes to build off her fourth place finish at last weekend’s Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country meet, where she led all U.S. finishers.


Two other highly notable athletes, Olympian Kim Conley and Annie Bersagel, each own times fully capable of finishing in the top spot Sunday. Conley, who finished third at the .US National 12K in November, put up impressive marks in 2014. Top five U.S. rankings over the mile, 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m on the track capped a successful campaign, but she’s eyeing even bigger accomplishments this season, starting on Sunday in Houston.  


For Bersagel, she looks to continue to push herself into the discussion of top three recognition in the U.S. over the marathon distance. She finished a spot above Kleppin at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last year in thirteenth, while ranking U.S. top five in the half marathon and marathon at seasons end, including a top ten finish at the TCS New York City Marathon.


Mattie Suver, Alisha Williams and Clara Santucci each possess some serious talent to contend for top three, too. Suver, who finished sixth in Houston last year, finished top three two times in USATF Running Circuit races, while Santucci finished fifth in Houston and concluded her season with a marathon best of 2:32:21, the seventh-best performance in the U.S. in 2014. For Williams, a switch in coaches and fully healthy, she’s poised to push the success she claimed in 2013.


Talented, youthful teammates, Elaina Balouris and Juliet Bottorff, take on the half marathon distance for the first time, as does Chelsea Reilly. Balouris and Bottorff come off successful first years as professionals, including fifth and seventh place finishes at the .US National 12K. For Reilly, she seeks to build off her big win at the NYRR Midnight Run on New Year’s.


Not to be overlooked, veterans Lindsey Scherf, Sarah Crouch, Becky Wade and Meghan Peyton all are fully capable of top five finishes. Similar to the men’s race, the women’s race features plenty of up-front talent and depth to craft some fantastic drama on Sunday in Houston.


Live Coverage

The USATF Half Marathon Championships will be broadcast live beginning at 7:50 a.m. ET at Race video, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the race. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #USARC.


About the USATF Running Circuit

The USATF Running Circuit is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $65,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF Half Marathon Championships.


The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF Half Marathon Championships, scoring is set as 22.5 for first, 18 for second, 15 for third, 10.5, 9, 7.5, 6, 4.5, 3 and 1.5, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.


The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $9 million to U.S. distance runners.


Contributed by Scott Bush

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