By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HOUSTON (12-Jan) — Three American records could fall here on Sunday when Jordan Hasay and Molly Huddle do battle at the 17th Aramco Houston Half-Marathon, the first important road race in the United States this year.  Both Hasay, 26, and Huddle, 33, will use Sunday’s race primarily to test the progress of their training for the upcoming Boston Marathon on April 16, but they also hope to run fast.

“That’s the signature duel, the signature event for me,” race director Brant Kotch told Race Results Weekly.  He added: “They’re both great and they’re going at it.”

Both women are capable of breaking Deena Kastor’s American half-marathon record of 1:07:34 set in Berlin, Germany, in 2002.  Huddle’s personal best is nearly as fast, 1:07:41, set at the United Airlines NYC Half in March, 2016.  Indeed, Huddle’s mark is the USA Track & Field-ratified American record for an all-women’s race.  Hasay’s best is 1:07:55, a mark she set in Prague last April in a traditional, mixed-gender race.

PHOTO: Jordan Hasay and Molly Huddle in advance of the 2018 Aramco Houston Half-Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)

But on the way to Sunday’s finish line near the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown, either woman could also break Kastor’s USA 10-mile and 20-K USA records of 51:31 and 1:04:07, respectively, which were set in Berlin en route to her half-marathon record.  Kotch confirmed to Race Results Weekly that both the 10-mile and 20-K marks in Houston are certified and record-eligible, and that his timing team will capture official times at those points in conjunction with USATF officials.  Huddle, who has never been to Houston before, likes the set-up.

“The competition at this race is really deep,” Huddle, who lives in Providence, R.I., said in an interview here today.  “We have a sub-66 woman (Edith Chelimo of Kenya, 1:05:52 PB), and another woman who’s not too far off that (Eunice Chumba of Kenya, 1:06:11 PB), and sub-2:20 marathoners.  So, just trying to stay with that lead pack will be hard enough.  But, I always run my best when I’m pushed, or dragged, I guess I should say.  So, I’m hoping that the time will just come from that.”

Huddle hasn’t run many half-marathons but they’ve all been excellent.  She made her debut at the distance in New York in 2014, running 1:09:04 and taking third place.  She’s run four more since then: 1:09:23 (Boston, 2014), 1:08:31 (New York, 2015), 1:07:41 (New York, 2016), and 1:08:19 (New York, 2017).  She’s won her last three half-marathons.

Hasay has run the half-marathon distance three times.  She made her debut here last January in very humid conditions, clocking 1:08:40.  Besides her effort in Prague last April (1:07:55), she also ran 1:10:42 in Philadelphia last September as a tune-up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon where she ran a blistering 2:20:57, the second-fastest ever by an American woman.

“I’m excited,” Hasay, who lives in Beaverton, Ore., told Race Results Weekly.  “We’ve had about eight, nine good weeks of training.  We’ve kind of gone back to more of the speedwork, the flexibility, that stuff that’s really geared towards the half-marathon.  I’ve been really focused on that, not killing my long runs which I love to do.”  She continued: “It’s all geared towards Boston.”

While both women have the records on their minds, they know that it is a race, first.  According to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, Hasay and Huddle have raced each other 11 times during their careers since they first met at the Mt. SAC Relays in the 5000m in April, 2011.  The result?  Huddle is 11-0 against Hasay (see attached graphic).  To beat the more experienced Huddle, Hasay said, would be a significant achievement.

“I don’t like that record,” Hasay said with a smile when a reporter told her that Huddle was 11-0 against her.  “She is just someone that I’ve looked up to for years.  She’s incredibly gritty, incredibly tough, talented.  That said, I’m glad it’s a road and not a track.  I think I have a legitimate shot.  So, we’ll see.”

Interestingly, Huddle has never done a long, hard race so early in the year. She normally spends December through early March doing base training in Phoenix, Ariz., after a robust fall road racing season.  For 2018, she has slid her entire training schedule forward so that she will be in peak shape for Boston in April.

“The way we focused on this race, pretty much at the end of track season last year I took a break right away,” Huddle explained.  “So, I’ve been building up for about three months.  I should be ready to go for the half, and then that kick-starts our training for the Boston Marathon.”

Both women said that the best way for them to set a record is to be fully engaged in the head-to-head battle, then just let a fast time follow from that.

“You know, records are nice, they’re great, that’s my goal,” said Huddle.  “But they really can’t be forced.  So many circumstances come into play.  We have pacers, so it probably won’t be tactical.  Then there’s weather, and how you feel that day.  You just hope it all comes together.”

The current forecast for Sunday morning when the race begins at 7:00 is for cold and dry conditions, just 2C/36F.

“That should be OK,” said Huddle of the weather.  “I’ve done that before.”

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The half-marathon winners will earn $20,000 in prize money, plus the chance to earn significant time bonuses.  Breaking the women’s course record of 1:06:29 (Mary Wacera, Kenya, 2016) is worth $15,000, and any woman running sub-1:09 will earn a $10,000 bonus.

GRAPHIC: The head-to-head record of Jordan Hasay and Molly Huddle from the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (data used with permission)