Jordan Hasay Impresses With 68:40 Half-Marathon Debut In Houston

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By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, used with permission

HOUSTON -- Despite soaking humidity and fog that shrouded the tops of this city's tallest buildings, Jordan Hasay of Portland, Ore., made an impressive half-marathon debut here today at the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon, clocking 1:08:40 on a record-standard course.  That mark, good for fourth place here, made Hasay, 25, the sixth-fastest American of all time.

"I feel really good," a smiling Hasay told Race Results Weekly right after the race.  "Everyone was saying, 'It's your first half, it's really far.'"  She continued: "We rested really well, so I was really confident.  I think this is going to be my distance."

Hasay ran with the race leaders in the early kilometers, including defending champion Mary Wacera and eventual winner Veronicah Nyaruai Wanjiru, both of Kenya.  She felt strong right from the gun, and was trying to settle in at a 5:10 per mile (3:13 per kilometer) pace.  She and coach Alberto Salazar thought 68 minutes was a realistic goal after long tempo runs at a similar pace.

"It takes a little bit to get the pace down," Hasay explained.  "I just wanted to stay inside of my comfort zone.  The first mile I was right with the top girls.  I felt really, really good, so it was kind of a decision: What do I do?  Do I just go with them?"

Hasay went through 5 km in 16:06, almost exactly on her goal pace.  While she was also thinking about her competitors (she was 14 seconds behind first place), she was more focused on maintaining her tempo and sticking with her race plan.  She grew more confident with every stride.

"Then I just settled in to my own pace, by myself for a while," said Hasay, who split the 10-K mark in 32:20.  "I'm really confident; I've done long tempos by myself."

Hasay's race nearly got derailed in the early stages at a fluid station.  She tripped on a carpet edge, threw her arms forward to maintain her balance, and just barely managed to stay on her feet.

"I tried to practice bottles," Hasay explained, looking slightly embarrassed.  "I got the first one OK.  The second one I almost fell. The carpet (under) the table came up and tripped me.  I did a Superman!  That mile was a little bit slow.  So, I skipped the last bottle station because I was scared."

Hasay's pace slipped in the second half, but only slightly.  She went through 15-K in 48:46 --a time which would have won eight of the last ten USA 15-K Championships-- and 20-K in 1:05:09 --a time which would have won the last 15 USA 20-K Championships.

"Then we were catching people and I caught up to Mary (Wacera)," Hasay said.  "She kind of stayed with me.  If I wanted to race more, I probably would have sat.  I really wanted a fast time, and just kind of pushed it."

Hasay ended up only two seconds behind Wacera (1:08:38), whose personal best is 1:06:29.  Wanjiru won in 1:07:58 with Ethiopia's Dera Dida Yami in second (1:08:06).  Wanjiru picked up $20,000 in prize money, and all of the top-4 women earned a $10,000 time bonus for breaking 1:09:00.

Despite her excellent performance, Hasay was still just a little disappointed.  She was clearly fresh after the race, and part of her felt she could have gone faster.

"We're not disappointed, but we had high expectations coming in," Hasay said at the post-race press conference.  She added earlier: "I'm upset; I wanted to run 68 minutes."

The men's half-marathon came down to a sprint finish between two Olympians: Leonard Korir of the USA and Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia.  Coming around the final bend before the finish, Feyisa had the inside line on the right with Korir on his left.  Pumping their arms furiously, there was some arm contact between them in the final meters until Korir got past Olympic Marathon silver medalist, who relented.  Before crossing the line, Feyisa raised his arms and crossed his wrists, the protest gesture he made famous at the Rio Olympics in support of Ethiopia's Oromo minority.  Both men were clocked in 1:01:14.

"You know what today?  It didn't go as planned," Korir told the media after the race.  "We expected to run fast times.  With 200 to go, 100 to go, it was a battle for the win."  He added: "I was telling myself, I have to get to the finish line first."

In the accompanying Chevron Houston Marathon, victory went to Kenya's Dominic Ondoro (2:12:05) and Ethiopia's Meskerem Assefa (2:30:18), both first-time race champions.  Ondoro became the first Kenyan man to win here since three-time champion David Cheruiyot in 2008, breaking away from the field at the 39-K mark.

"I know the guys were very strong," Ondoro said of Ethiopia's Yitayal Atanfu Zerihun, Abayneh Ayele Woldegiorgis and Andualem Shiferaw who were with him at the 30-K mark.  Ondoro had run the race before in 2015, finishing third, so he knew where to strike "I waited from 30-K," he said.  "The other years I did not know the course well."

Assefa, a former 1500m runner, had an easier path to victory than Ondoro.  She ran most of the last third of the race only with her male pacemaker.  Even though defending champion Biruktayit Degefa was closing in the final kilometers, Assefa's cushion was solid; she won by 26 seconds.  It was her first-ever marathon win.

"I kept on running the best I can to finish; I was so confident that I could finish," Assefa said through a translator.  She added: "I was determined to make first place this time."

Becky Wade, who lives here in Houston, got the third podium spot in the women's race in 2:35:57.  For her, it was an emotional day.  She had run poorly 11 months ago at the USA Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles, finishing 85th, which shook her confidence.

"It was very difficult," Wade said of rebounding from the Trials.  "Houston was like the perfect place to make a comeback from that."  She added: "It was a blast."

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