HOUSTON, Texas — Two different race strategies led to the same result Sunday morning in Houston, Texas, as Olympian Meb Keflezighi (San Diego, Calif.) and marathon standout Serena Burla (Falls Church, Va.) captured titles at the USA Half Marathon Championships, hosted by the Aramco Houston Half Marathon.
The USA Half Marathon Championships are the first stop on the USA Running Circuit, which will conclude this fall with the .US National Road Racing Championships. The top ten finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the .US National Road Racing Championships.
A strong contingent of runners paced the men’s race early on. Through the first few miles, a pack of 14-16 men sized each other up, content to let Keflezighi, Tyler Pennel (Blowing Rock, N.C.) and Fernando Cabada (Boulder, Colo.) do much of the pacing.
Passing through the 5k split in 14:38, Keflezighi led, as experienced veterans Aaron Braun(Englewood, Colo.), Shadrack Biwott (Folsom, Calif.) and Josphat Boit (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.) sat on his shoulder. The pack remained largely intact for the next half dozen miles, passing through the halfway point on sub-63 minute pace with nearly a dozen athletes still in contention.
As the ninth mile marker approached, Keflezighi made a small move, as he started to feel out the field. With the majority of the pack responding, Keflezighi sat back and waited.
At mile 10, Keflezighi put in another move, pushing the pace, this time breaking free from the competition for good. As the two-time Olympian made his decisive move, he looked relaxed and in complete command, surging ahead and running to a 13 second lead as he passed the 20k split.
Into the final homestretch, with fans cheering wildly, Keflezighi looked around, giving a few fans thumbs up, as he crossed the finish line victorious in 1:01:23.
Behind Keflezighi, Braun broke free from the chase pack, surging ahead in the final stages of the race to cross second in 1:01:38 and leading a total of seven men to sub-1:02:00 performances. Boit placed third in 1:01:41, while Pennel and Matthew Llano rounded out the top five in 1:01:44 and 1:01:47.
Puskedra, who’s twice finished top five in Houston the past two years, finished sixth overall in 1:01:48, while 2013 USARC overall champion Biwott finished seventh in a respectable 1:01:56. Both Cabada and Timothy Ritchie charged home trying their best to break the 1:02 barrier, with both hitting the exact time of 1:02:00. Gabriel Proctor rounded out the top ten in 1:02:22.
In the women’s race, Burla led a pack of 8-10 women early on, but instead of waiting until well past the halfway point to make her move, decided to test the field early and put in a surge before the four mile mark, quickly extinguishing much of the pack. With a few runners in tow, Burla continued a torrid pace, shifting to another gear. By the 10k mark it was all but over, as Burla was the class of the field, with a 15 second lead. By 15k her lead built up to 40 seconds and by 20k it was well over a minute.
The race for second wasn’t as clear cut. As Burla made her move at mile four, Lauren Kleppin(Mammoth Lakes, Calif.) and Sara Hall (Flagstaff, Ariz.) maintained contact, and worked hard to remain within striking distance. While the tactic didn’t ultimately work, it did clearly establish the two in second and third place as they moved through 10k.
The early pace took a toll on Hall, who would end up finishing eleventh overall, but Kleppin continued to charge forward, setting herself up for what would become her biggest breakthrough race of her young career. The 25-year old stayed steady with her pace and finished in second overall in a mighty 1:12:12.
Coming up quickly behind Kleppin, Caitlin Comfort (Madison, Wisc.) nearly closed the 27 second gap that separated the two at 10k, finishing third overall in 1:12:16. Experienced pro Wendy Thomas(Windsor, Colo.) finished fourth overall in 1:12:29, while Clara Santucci (Dilliner, Pa.) finished fifth in 1:12:58, giving five runners on the day under 1:13:00.
2013 USARC overall third place finish Mattie Suver placed sixth overall in 1:13:06, while fellow Colorado-based runner Tera Moody finished seventh in 1:13:25. Stephanie Dinius crossed in eighth in 1:13:28, while Alia Gray and Kara Lubieniecki rounded out the top ten in 1:13:34 and 1:13:38.
The victories by Keflezighi and Burla place them atop the 2014 USARC standings, as runners now shift their focus to the USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder, Colorado on February 15.


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