HOUSTON –Ã‚Â Ethiopian runners turned Houston into their own personal showcases on Sunday, sweeping the full and half marathons in record times.
Tariku Jufar won the men’s marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 51 seconds, eclipsing the previous best time of 2:07.04 set last year by Ethiopia’s Bekana Daba. Jufar is the fourth straight men’s champion from the African nation, and the fourth straight runner to win in a record time.
The 27-year-old Jufar shaved almost two minutes off his previous personal best, less than three years after he was seriously injured in a car accident while training. He earned his first victory in a marathon last November, winning in Beirut, following a second-place finish in Istanbul in October.
“I’m very glad to run this course,” Jufar said through an interpreter. “I’m also comfortable with the weather, as well. I’m glad I could achieve what I achieved.”
Alemitu Abera won the women’s race in 2:23.14. The previous record was 2:23.53, set by Ethiopia’s Teyba Erkesso in 2010.
“I am also feeling joyful for the race and the time that I made,” Abera said through an interpreter.
In the men’s half marathon, Feyisa Lelisa won in a personal-best 59:22. That eclipsed the course and American record set by Ryan Hall in the 2007 U.S. Half Marathon championship (59:43).
Belaynesh Oljira won the women’s half marathon in 1:08.26, breaking Shalane Flanagan’s record time of 1:09.41, set in 2010.
The races were held one day after the city hosted the U.S. Marathon trials, run on a different route. Meb Keflezighi won the men’s trial and Flanagan was the first woman across the finish line, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
The weather on Sunday morning was ideal, with a clear sky and a temperature of 52 degrees. A total of 8,249 runners started the marathon, and another 9,409 started the half-marathon.
Thousands of spectators lined the downtown streets, and hundreds cheered the runners along the route, which snaked through the west side of the city.
“I was very much encouraged by the people on the side of the street,” Jufar said.
The early lead pack, made up of three Kenyans and four Ethiopians, reached the 5-kilometer mark in just under 15 minutes. The group was down to five runners after eight miles and each of the splits were under five minutes to that point.
Jufar and fellow countrymen Demessew Tsega Debebe Tolossa broke away from the rest of the field and steadily widened their margin with each mile. They covered Mile 20 in 5:05, and Jufar moved in front by himself by Mile 24.
Abera kept pace with the men for a while, opening an early 11-second lead on the rest of the women’s field.
Running stride for stride with a male pacer, Abera was more than a minute ahead of her closest competitor at the 10-kilometer mark. The 26-year-old Abera had three top-three finishes in marathons in 2011, winning in Istanbul last September.
Lelisa set the tone for the Ethiopians, breaking away from the pack early in the half marathon. He rounded the final turn and finished in a full sprint.
Oljira, racing in the U.S. for the first time, fought off a challenge from 2011 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Kilel in the final strides to win by two seconds.
“I knew I would have to sprint very fast the last 100 meters or so,” Oljira said through an interpreter.
Tolossa finished the men’s marathon in 2:07.41 and Tsega was third in 2:11.13.