Houston Half-Marathon — Kelati Debuts With AR

Weini Kelati authored the third straight recast of the American Record in Houston. The mark has come down a minute from what it was before ’22. (KEVIN MORRIS)

HOUSTON, TEXAS, January 14 — Weini Kelati made quick work of jump-starting her Olympic year as she placed 4th in the Houston Half-Marathon and took the American Record down to 66:25. The 27-year-old’s debut at the distance pared 14 seconds from Keira D’Amato’s 6-month old standard.

Ahead of Kelati, 29-year-old Ethiopian Sutume Asefa followed a hot early pace set by Hellen Obiri (15:16/30:28) and then when the Kenyan star’s tempo dropped pushed away to win in 64:37 — equal to the No. 8 all-time clocking and a U.S. soil all-comers record. Obiri (66:07) and Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba (66:24) followed ahead of Kelati.

“This is my first half-marathon and I didn’t know what to expect, and to get the American Record is amazing because I know we have some amazing distance women for many years. So, to run that fast and get the record and now I feel like, ‘Oh, I am there.’”

Amazing yes, surprising not, as this is the third straight year that the American half record has been bettered in Houston. Sara Hall ran 67:15 in 2022, and Emily Sisson 66:52 last year.

Indeed, the race and associated marathon (see box) has been a production venue to kick-off the domestic road racing year for over three decades. Every year seems to produce a cracker of a race — or two.

This year it was the women’s half. Asefa, a 2:18:12 marathoner, hadn’t raced the distance since 2019, but came to Houston chock full of confidence after setting a 25K world best, 1:18:25, last month in Kolkata, India.

“I have been doing some speed work and prepared to run a very fast race, maybe under 64,” she said. “I was thinking about 63, I knew that I had that in me.”

Asefa also relished the opportunity to race two-time 5000 world champion Obiri — also the reigning champion of the Boston and New York City marathons and owner of the No. 5 all-time half time, 64:22. “I am very happy that she was there,” Kebede professed, “I have seen her race many times and I know she is very tenacious and I love her for that.”

After the 5K mark, Kebede and Obiri ran amid a gaggle of men and strung together 3:02 kilos to pass 10K on schedule for a 64:16 finish. A 3:00 12th K pushed the pace down to 64:06 — before they turned back into a cold wind.

As the pace lagged, Kebede made her break at 14K. Later she confessed to “one thing that I was a little bit concerned about. Because Obiri is a track athlete, I started my attack early as her kick might be tough to match.”

Clear of her rival, Kebede had only the wind to battle.

As for Kelati, “It is unbelievable,” the American proclaimed after taking on her first competition beyond 10,000m. “I didn’t know what to expect when I was standing on the starting line, thinking I’m going to run for an hour at a very fast pace.

“I felt pretty good when we started and at 5 miles I said, ‘We need to go, we need to push a little bit more.’ When I went halfway, I said this feels to be a pretty good pace and I can keep going. But the last half was pretty windy and I was like, ‘Well, let’s just get to the finish.’ I was very happy when I saw the time; I am glad I got it.” (Continued below)

Eritrean-born Kelati sought asylum in the US after finishing 8th in the 3000 at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene. Landing at the home of an uncle, she went on to prep school in Virginia where she won the 2015 Footlocker Cross Country. Kelati then headed west to New Mexico. As a Lobo she won the ’19 NCAA 10,000 and Cross titles, and in 2021 she became a naturalized U.S. citizen after joining Stephen Haas’s Dark Sky Distance team based in Flagstaff.

Achieving her first American Record proved to be a very emotional moment for an athlete who at 17 made the life-changing decision to ditch the homeward-bound Eritrean U20 team at the airport. Kelati’s father was a casualty of the violent conflict that has long plagued her Horn of Africa birth nation.

“This is very special, I don’t even have words to explain what it means to me now and how I feel,” she said. Pausing a moment in reflection, Kelati added, “Let me just say it is an honor.”

Kelati’s compact and efficient stride is best suited for covering ground in out-of-stadium cross country and road races, yet she has also fared well on the oval.

“For now, I’m just going to focus on cross country,” she said. “I am racing next week [at the USA World Cross Trials] then I’m going back to the track and work on some speed to get the time standard and hopefully I will make the team this year.”

Kelati also recognizes the value of track racing at this point in her career, noting, “I love the road racing, but I want to focus on track first because you have to work on what you don’t like, so that is why I wanted to stay on the track and run some fast times.”

While the current timing is not right for jumping into the Olympic Marathon Trials via her half qualifier, that most likely won’t be the case in four years.

“I know road racing will be easy for me,” Kelati said, “because I was always very comfortable on the road. I love the tempo workouts, threshold and all of the long runs in training. I just want to get faster and faster in the half-marathon and then move up to marathon.”


1. Sutume Asefa (Eth) 64:37 PR (betters U.S. all-comers record 65:03 Vicoty Chepngeno [Ken] ‘22) (15:16, 15:12 [30:28], 15:14 [45:42], 15:36 [61:18], 3:19); 2. Hellen Obiri (Ken) 66:07; 3. Buze Diriba (Eth) 66:24 PR;

4. Weini Kelati (US) 66:25 AR (old AR 66:38 Keira D’Amato [Nike] ’23) (15:48, 15:38 [31:26], 15:42 [47:08], 15:57 [63:05], 3:20);

5. Mestawot Fikir (Eth) 67:36; 6. Edna Kiplagat (Ken) 67:52 PR; 7. Calli Thackery (GB) 68:20 PR; 8. Makenna Myler (US) 68:28 PR; 9. Nell Rojas (US) 68:52 PR; 10. Mercy Chelangat (Ken) 68:58 PR; 11. Erika Kemp (US) 69:10 PR; 12. Maggie Montoya (US) 69:41; 13. Jacqueline Gaughan (US) 70:01 PR; 14. Selam Fente (Eth) 70:07; 15. Susanna Sullivan (US) 70:53.


1. Rahma Tusa (Eth) 2:19:33 PR; 2. Vicoty Chepngeno (Ken) 2:19:55 PR; 3. Melesech Tsegaye (Eth) 2:24:50; 4. Deborah Schöneborn (Ger) 2:24:54 PR; 5. Jovana de_la_Cruz (Per) 2:26:49 PR; 6. Bosena Mulate (Eth) 2:26:59 PR.


1. Jemal Yimer (Eth) 60:42; 2. Wesley Kiptoo (Ken) 60:43; 3. Milkesa Mengesha (Eth) 60:45; 4. Abbabiya Simbassa (US) 60:45; 5. Diego Estrada (US) 60:49 PR; 6. Rory Linkletter (Can) 662 PR; 7. Peter Njeru (Ken) 61:13; 8. Yemane Hailesilassie (Eri) 61:34 PR; 9. Andrew Colley (US) 61:39 PR; 10. Fearghal Curtin (Ire) 61:45 PR;… 13. Ryan Johnson (US) 62:31 PR; 14. Galen Rupp (US) 62:37;… 17. Joel Reichow (US) 63:16; 18. Josh Izewski (US) 63:22;… 20. Sam Chelanga (US) 63:43.


1. Zouhair Talbi (Mor) 2:06:39 PR; 2. Ayana Tsedat (Eth) 2:07:00; 3. Hendrik Pfeiffer (Ger) 2:07:14 PR; 4. Patrick Tiernan (Aus) 2:07:45 PR; 5. Hugo Catrileo (Chl) 2:08:44 NR; 6. Tristan Woodfine (Can) 2:10:39 PR.

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