Kenya’s Albert Korir and Ethiopia’s Biruktayit Degefa win the 2019 Houston Marathon. On the other hand, Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata and Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei win the half marathon.

By Dale Robertson (Houston Chronicle) |

Ethiopian women had already created their own Chevron Houston Marathon dynasty. But Biruktayit Degefa has taken this thing a step further, deciding to corner the market herself.

Biruktayit Degefa won Houston for the first time in her third visit in 2016, when she was 25. On Sunday, she won for the third time in four years while becoming the first woman to repeat as champion since 2010. And the one time she hasn’t prevailed of late, in 2017, she crossed second, just 26 seconds back. Nor has she ever finished worse than fourth.

No wonder Biruktayit refers to H-town as “my hometown.”

“When I prepare to come, I really get excited,” she said. “On this occasion, I would like to thank Houston for the hospitality.”

We, in turn, would like to thank her for her consistent excellence, although she expressed disappointment that the personal-best 2:23:28 she posted on a sunny, chilly morning run through the city’s streets from downtown to the Galleria area and back fell 14 seconds short of the course record, something she very much wants to own before she’s done.

“I came prepared to break it,” Biruktayit said, “but it was colder (than I expected), and that made it difficult.”

he temperature was right at freezing when the elites headed out, and it rose only into the high 30s while they were on the course. Biruktayit Degefa specifically mentioned “tightness” in her hamstrings. The new men’s champion, Albert Korir of Kenya, referenced same, but he didn’t give any indication the muscles in his legs were bothering him once he turned on the jets heading east on Lamar and made a bee-line for the finish line at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Left in the proverbial dust — again — would be Ethiopia’s Yitayal Atnafu, who had to mark his 26th birthday with a fourth consecutive runner-up finish, six seconds behind Korir’s 2:10:02. Atnafu’s second-place time of 12 months ago, 2:09:07, would have easily been good for the victory this year.

Now that’s cold.

Korir didn’t threaten the men’s course record, but he’s only 24, and who’s to say he won’t eventually collect a head full of cowboy hats — always awarded to Houston’s winners — as well in the years ahead?

His story is an inspirational one. At 10, Korir lost his right thumb while chopping cow silage, and he soon quit going to school because he was routinely bullied. He wound up laboring for the equivalent of $5 a day to pay for food, never mind his running shoes. He’d never traveled to the United States before this weekend.

“It’s good,” Korir conceded, “to win on my first time.”

In contrast, Houstonians who line the route have come to recognize Biruktayit Degefa both for her running skills and her radiance. One now-former Houstonian, Abinet Adraro, was so taken by Biruktayit following that first triumph that he made it a point to meet her at a dinner hosted by the local Ethiopian community. An email relationship turned into a marriage, and they split their time these days between Albuquerque, N.M., and her training grounds in Ethiopia.

Continue reading this story at Houston Chronicle
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