2018 Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Puskedra, Estrada, Adola Make Their 2018 Debut in Houston Half

Puskedra, Estrada, Adola Make Their 2018 Debut in Houston Half

In the Houston Half Marathon, Americans Diego Estrada and Luke Puskedra will face off against six men who have broken 60 minutes.

Jan 10, 2018 by Kevin Sully
Puskedra, Estrada, Adola Make Their 2018 Debut in Houston Half

The men’s races this weekend at the Houston Half Marathon may not offer a Jordan Hasay vs Molly Huddle matchup quite like the women's race, but it does trot out an extremely deep field with a mixture of top Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Americans. 

As with many elite half marathons, Sunday’s competition functions on two levels: as an enticing race in itself, and as a prelude for the spring marathon season. Fast half marathons aren’t always indicative of marathon success, but they can provide a general sense of the trajectory a runner is taking — not to mention providing plenty of fodder for speculation about who is capable of what. 

The course, conditions, and field for the men’s half marathon hint that Feyisa Lelisa’s course record of 59:22 is vulnerable. Lelisa is entered in Sunday’s race, but there are five other men with personal bests faster than one hour, three of whom have run faster than 59:22. Houston is a hotbed for personal bests, and the cool temperatures forecasted for this weekend mean that trend should continue.

Here are a few of the top storylines we're following.

2017 Encores 

Guye Adola’s near upset of Eliud Kipchoge at the 2017 Berlin Marathon vaulted him onto the world scene. His time of 2:03:46 was the fastest debut marathon — and the 13th best mark of all time — but more impressive was his ability to put a scare into Kipchoge late in the race. Sunday’s scene will be Adola's first race since that performance and an opportunity to see what he has in store for 2017. Before moving to the marathon, Adola was an established half marathoner, running under one hour on three separate occasions. 

Daniel Wanjiru also had a breakout 2017. Wanjiru enters the race with a 59:20 personal best and the title of 2017 London Marathon champion. He only finished eighth in the world championships, so Sunday will be a good indicator if he is on track to repeat in London this April. Sunday will also be the first chance to see Alex Korio Oloitiptip since his 58:51 performance in September. That run was a personal best for the 27-year-old and the 11th-best of all time. Unfortunately for Oloitiptip, it was only good enough for third place in Copenhagen that day. Another sub 59-minute run will surely put him atop the podium in Houston. 

Young Stars Emerge

A pair of 23-year-olds should challenge the trio of Adola, Wanjiru, and Oloitiptip

Leonard Barsotan was a revelation in 2017. He won the Kenyan cross country championships, beating Geoffrey Kamworor, and he finished runner-up to Kamworor at the world cross country championships. On the road, Barsotan was also part of that incredibly fast half marathon in Copenhagen last year, finishing fifth in 59:28. Also 23 years old, Justus Kangogo has already run 12 half marathons. His breakthrough came last year when he dropped 1:24 from his previous best to run 59:31.  

Reboots And Debuts

The Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa struggled in his two marathons last year, finishing 12th in London and 14th in Chicago. But he’s back on familiar ground. He’s won this race twice and holds the course record of 59:22. 

Sunday will mark Luke Puskedra’s first race as a member of the Oregon Track Club Elite. Like Lelisa, he’s well-acquainted with Houston. His personal best comes from the 2016 edition of the race, and he has competed in Houston six of the past seven years. 

Levins was a late scratch from his planned half marathon debut in Toronto last fall. The last couple years have been rife with change for the 28-year-old Canadian. He’s battled injuries, switched training groups, and signed with a new sponsor. Though he was strong on the track, his famous high mileage workload seems to make him a natural fit for the roads. 

The Race For The Top American

The American field is headlined by Puskedra, Diego Estrada, Sam Chelanga, Noah Droddy, and Bernard Lagat. Estrada returns to the site of the best race of his career. In 2015, his debut at the half marathon distance, he ran from the front to win in 1:00:51. The time still puts him in the top 10 American performances of all time in the event. Since that race, Estrada has started three marathons and three half marathons with best times of 1:01:54 and 2:13:56.

Noah Droddy also had his breakthrough race at the half marathon distance. After running 1:03:22 in Houston last year, he popped a 1:01:48, elevating him into a new tier of American road racing. Sunday will be Droddy’s first race since his marathon debut last fall — a 2:16:26 effort in Chicago. 

Sam Chelanga (1:01:04) and Bernard Lagat (1:02:33) both set their half marathon personal bests in 2013. Sunday’s race will be Lagat’s third attempt at the distance. He made four appearances on the road last year, his first full year focusing exclusively on road racing.  

What About The Marathoners?

The men’s marathon field features the top three finishers from last year. Dominic Ondoro is the defending champion and comes in with a personal best of 2:08:00. Yitayal Atanfu was second last year, third in 2016, and is just 24 years old.

Bazu Worku enters with the fastest personal best. The marathon veteran is the 2013 and 2014 Houston champion and ran 2:05:25 at the 2010 Berlin Marathon.

Patrick Rizzo is the top American based on entry time — a 2:13:42 that he ran in Houston in 2012. It's also worth noting that in both the marathon and half marathon, American runners will be aiming for Olympic Trials qualifiers, as we we mentioned yesterday in the women's preview