HOUSTON, TEXAS, January 16 — The American half-marathon record is now a family affair, as Sara Hall ran 67:15 to join her husband/coach as holder of the fastest U.S. time ever. Ryan’s 59:43 standard was set on the same course back in ’07.
The 38-year-old Californian finished 2nd to Kenyan Vicoty Chepngeno’s course record 65:03, but pared 10 seconds off Molly Huddle’s ’18 AR, also run in Houston.
“It’s incredible,” Hall exuded. “I’m kind of emotional now, it’s something I dreamed about doing, and I thought it would be really special to do it today with it being 15 years since Ryan set the AR here and that date changed our lives forever. It launched his career, and our lives were never the same after that day. So, it is always a special memory here in Houston.”
She noted that the two records “show the story of our careers. He just knocked it out of the park from the beginning, and for me it’s taken 15 years of grinding and persevering and overcoming so many disappointments along the way to get to this point, and so it’s really special. Ryan has been my No. 1 supporter and the reason that I am still doing this so I’m getting to enjoy these moments now, it’s incredible.”
Hall started cautiously in deference to a cold front that blew into Houston. Despite an early 10-12mph headwind Chepngeno cut loose with a 15:15 opening 5K followed by fellow Kenyan Caren Maiyo in 15:49. Hall was content with a 16:03 beginning that left her ensconced in a 5-woman chase pack and a tad behind Huddle’s record at 67:44 pace.
“The wind was tough out there at times,” she admitted, “but not as hard as I expected it to be. Yesterday there were times that it was literally stopping me on my run. When it was at your back it was the inverse of that, so I just tried to ride the wave.”
Heading south and picking up the tailwind, Hall brought the record into her sight covering the second 5K in 15:51, splitting 31:54 at 10K, 67:18 pace.
Hitting her stride she began to feel that the record was in her grasp. “When I was getting to halfway and we were on pace and that was still feeling pretty controlled, that was really encouraging because as a marathoner you know you have that strength to just keep going as long as you are within yourself. At about that point I was able to keep notching it down a little bit more.”
Hall led the chase pack past Maiyo to cross 15K in 47:51, a 15:57 split to remain on 67:18 pace. Flanked by South African Dominique Scott and British debutante Jessica Judd, remarkably Hall was still accompanied by fellow Americans Emily Durgin and Fiona O’Keeffe, the 23-year-old Stanford grad running under AR pace in her half-marathon debut.
Hall’s strength was evident tacking back into the wind, moving away from the pack and forging a 12-second advantage at 20K (63:52 for 67:23 pace after a 16:01 split). “I actually felt better as the race went on. I think that’s the case when you’re coming from the marathon as half pace feels kind of fast at first.”
While only 2 seconds under Huddle’s record pace at 20K, Hall saved her best running for the finish and put the record away covering the final 1097m in 3:23 — a 4:58 mile clip.
Giving context to her steady rise over a long career, Hall confessed, “I didn’t really dream of being able to do something like this 5 years ago. It was just chipping away, chipping away, getting a little stronger, a little faster each year, and the natural next step to go for this.”
This was the second consecutive race that Hall had targeted an American Record. After running a 2:20:32 marathon PR in ’20, second-fastest on the all-time U.S. list, Hall set her sights on Deena Kastor’s longstanding marathon standard in Chicago only to be done in by heat and humidity.
Toeing the line here with a 68:58 half PR run two years ago in Houston, Hall knew she was ready for a breakthrough and took aim at Huddle’s record; “I felt like I had the fitness to run that time for a little over a year now, I just haven’t had the opportunity to race a half-marathon. I definitely had some glimpses of being able to run this, like being able to run 5:01 miles in tempo runs was really encouraging. You never quite know, so I was just hopeful that I would be able to put it together and I was really excited about how I felt out there, and excited for the marathon now.”
Asked if this was the best moment of her long career, she said, “Definitely. It makes me think of how much I’ve overcome just to get to this point and there are so many people that have supported me. I have the best coach in the world, and seeing Ryan after the race, it was a really special moment. There were some tears but it was a moment that I dreamed of having here.
“You have moments like Chicago, my last race, where it is not at all what you dreamed it’s going to be. So, it just makes it that more special when it comes together and it is what you dreamed it would be.”
Next up for Hall is this April’s stacked Boston Marathon. “This really encourages me for the marathon because I felt that I couldn’t really go out faster. Look at Keira [D’Amato] she ran 1:07 in her last half and what she did today. It’s great that we’re inspiring each other and feeding off each other — if she can do it, I can do it — and so I’m excited.”
So was Chepngeno, who took more than 2:00 off her PR to crush Brigid Kosgei’s 65:50 course record by 47 seconds. The 28-year-old Kenyan has found success on the roads after a modest track career: “My best time was 67:22, so I said, ‘Maybe I can run under 66:30,’ but I was worried that with the cold and wind that I would not be able to run a high pace. I wanted to run my best time, so I said to the pacers to push me as I wanted try a fast pace.”
A fast pace indeed, as Chepngeno charged through 10K in 30:32 (64:25 pace) and held on to finish in 65:03, good for No. 11 on the all-time list, one spot behind her Iten neighbor Mary Keitany. “I am so happy now to know that I’m now No. 11,” Chepngeno exclaimed. “I couldn’t imagine that I could run like that. I’m thankful that I had the strength and power to win the race and run a course record.”
More fast times followed as former NCAA double track champ Scott finished 3rd in 67:32. O’Keeffe (4th in 67:42) and Durgin (6th in 67:54) also bettered 68:00 with Judd finishing 5th in 67:52.
After putting 9 men under an hour in ’20, hopes for a sub-60 effort were dashed over the wind-chilled opening 4K, run over 62-minute pace. The tempo increased and a lead pack of nine runners ducked under 61:00 pace at 15K. Ethiopian Milkesa Tolosa went to the front at 18K and blitzed the closing 3000 in 8:11 to claim a 60:24 win.
Oklahoma State grad Kirubel Erassa made a fine 60:44 debut, finishing as the top American in 4th, moving to No. 6 on the all-time U.S. list.
1. Vicoty Chepngeno (Ken) 65:03 cr (11, x W);
2. Sara Hall (Asics) 67:15 AR (old AR 67:25 Molly Huddle [Sauc] ’18) (16:03, 15:51 [31:54], 15:57 [47:51], 16:01 [63:52], 3:23);
3. Dominique Scott (SA) 67:32 PR;
4. Fiona O’Keeffe (US) 67:42 (5, 7 A);
5. Jess Judd (GB) 67:52 PR;
6. Emily Durgin (US) 67:54 (6, 9 A);
7. Caren Maiyo (Ken) 68:41 PR;
8. Dakotah Lindwurm (US) 69:36 PR;
9. Nell Rojas (US) 69:42 PR;
10. Annie Frisbie (US) 70:27 PR.
1. Milkesa Mengesha (Eth) 60:24;
2. John Korir (Ken) 60:27 PR;
3. Wilfred Kimitei (Ken) 60:44;
4. Kirubel Erassa (US) 60:44 (6, 8 A);
5. Shadrack Korir (Ken) 60:53;
6. Patrick Tiernan (Aus) 60:55 PR;
7. Biya Simbassa (US) 61:03 PR;
8. Rory Linkletter (Can) 61:08 NR;
9. Sydney Gidabuday (US) 61:09 PR;
10. Scott Fauble (US) 61:11 PR.