HOUSTON, Tex. (IAAF)―On a cold day when Ethiopian athletes won three of the four elite races, Ruti Aga’s 1:06:39 victory in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon was the most notable, as the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (Jan. 14) proved to be one of the deepest half marathons in history.

Compatriots Biruktayit Degefa and Bazu Worku regained their titles in the Chevron Houston Marathon, winning the IAAF Silver Label road race in 2:24:51 and 2:08:30 respectively, while New Zealand’s Jake Robertson prevented an Ethiopian sweep of the titles by winning the men’s half marathon in 1:00:01.

While Ethiopian athletes have traditionally dominated the marathon in Houston, just two of the previous 16 editions of the Houston Half Marathon had been won by an Ethiopian woman. In a fast-paced and exciting contest, this year’s women’s race went down to the wire.

Paced by Gotytom Gebreslase, a lead pack of eight women passed through the first five kilometers in 15:48, suggesting a finishing time comfortably inside 67 minutes. As the pacemaker hit the 10-kilometre checkpoint in 31:33, she was still joined by seven other women: Ruti Aga and fellow Ethiopian Buze Diriba, Kenya’s Edith Chelimo, Caroline Chepkoech, Eunice Chumba, Mary Wacera, and USA’s Molly Huddle.

Although the pacemaker dropped out after the half-way point, the lead pack continued at much the same pace, passing 15 kilometers in 47:28. With little more than a couple of kilometers left, Ruti Aga began to make her move. At 20 kilometers, reached in 1:03:13, the 23-year-old had a three-second lead over Chepkoech while the rest of the lead pack had fragmented.

Ruti Aga extended her lead in the closing stages, winning in 1:06:39 to come within 10 seconds of the North American all-comers’ record set by Wacera in Houston in 2016. The 2012 world U20 5000m silver medalist took more than a minute off her previous PB, but her 2:20:41 second-place finish at the Berlin Marathon in September had suggested that her half-marathon PB was due for revision.

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