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Trafeh, Nelson Win USA Half-Marathon Titles - RRW

By Charlie Mahler
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved - Used with permission.

DULUTH, MINN (22-Jun) -- Mo Trafeh and Adriana Nelson won titles at the USA Half-Marathon Championships here today with race plans that put pressure on their challengers from the first strides of the contest.

Trafeh, now an eight-time USA champion, greeted the starting gun with a 4:20 opening mile that winnowed the field immediately, leaving only Meb Keflezighi as a challenger after the 10-K mark. Nelson's opening mile of 5:15 made for a solitary journey from the start line on the shore of Lake Superior to downtown Duluth and her first USA title.

Trafeh, who shook Keflezighi in the final 800-meters, clocked 1:01:17, setting a new course record on Grandma's Marathon's Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon course and breaking Derese Deniboba’s 1:02:19 mark from 2011. Nelson ran 1:11:19. Weather conditions were ideal for fast racing: temperatures in the low fifties (about 11C) with cloudy skies and tailwinds off Lake Superior.

"I took the lead from the gun; I went out really fast; I pushed really hard," Trafeh said. "I planned to run a4:20 first mile, and I was hoping that nobody follows, but those guys were on my neck for the first 10-K."

The guys following the Moroccan-born Trafeh were a trio of fellow naturalized American citizens:  Olympic silver medalist Keflezighi, an Eritrean by birth, USA 25-K runner-up Josphat Boit, and former University of Oregon All-American Shadrack Biwott, both Kenyan-born. The quartet held together for roughly six miles, splitting 28:33 for 10-K --faster than Galen Rupp's 10,000m winning time at the USA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines Thursday night-- after a bold 13:58 5-K.

As the race progressed, the contest for the win whittled down to only Trafeh and Keflezighi, with the 28-year-old leading the 2009 New York City Marathon champion throughout.

"I never broke him until 800-meters to go," said Trafeh, who set an American record for 25-K in May.  "He was behind me the whole time.  I was surging 99% of the race and he was right there on my heels, even when I was dropping really fast surges. Meb was struggling behind me, to be honest."

Keflezighi took the lead briefly in the thirteenth mile, surging three times trying to shake Trafeh, but without effect.

"I knew he was not going to beat me in a kick," said Trafeh, who currently holds USA titles at 10 miles, 25-K and the half marathon.  "With 2-K to go, I moved behind him, let him lead so I could relax.  I recovered, and with 600 to 800 to go I surged."

Once Trafeh made his final bid, he separated himself from Keflezighi sharply and cruised to the finish.

In the women’s race, Nelson built nearly a 50-second lead in her solitary race to the finish line.

"I just ran imagining that my husband or coach were there," Nelson said.

At 11 miles, Nelson, who, as Adriana Pirtea, competed for UTEP as a collegian, was nearly joined by Desiree Davila who closed to within striking distance of the Romanian-born athlete who finished 18th at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships last year.

"I did hear the guys on the bike saying that Desi was five seconds behind," Nelson said.  "We have a real hard course in Boulder where we train, I just pictured myself following my husband on the bike and pushing the last two miles as I always do."

Unable to close the gap, Davila, the 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up, finished second in 1:11:26.  Unheralded Minnesotan Kelly Brinkman, a former Iowa State Cyclone, finished third in 1:11:33, a huge personal best.

In the 37th annual Grandma's Marathon which was also held here today, Sarah Kiptoo ran 2:26:32 to break Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova's 2003 course record of 2:27:05.  Kiptoo's was a brave solo effort that took her through 13.1 miles in 1:11:33: a split that would have placed her 5th in the USA Championship pecking order.

"I felt very comfortable," commented Kiptoo, who won this year's Cleveland Marathon in 2:33:42 only last month.  "When I cross the half-way, I could see I could make a good time. I say it was too fast, but I say I don’t care, go!"

Ahead of the race, the Grandma’s record buzz surrounded Ethiopia's Bazu Worku, a 2:05:25 marathoner who was targeting Dick Beardsley’s 1981 course record of 2:09:37.  But Worku, who finished third in Berlin in 2010 and won this year's Chevron Houston Marathon, was content running in a lead pack that crossed the half-way mat in 1:06:13.

"I wanted to separate from the pack from the beginning, but the wind made that very difficult," Worku said through an interpreter.  "So I decided to wait until 30 kilometers and make my move."

Worku's move eventually turned out to be a successful one, as the 22 year-old won the men's race in 2:11:14. His time ranks as the fifth-fastest in race history, and netted him a check for $12,000.

The 2013 event marked the final Grandma’s Marathon under the direction of Executive Director Scott Keenan, who has led the race since its inception.  The Duluth native announced his retirement from the event in the weeks leading up to today's event.

PHOTO: Adrian Nelson celebrates after winning the 2013 USA Half-Marathon title (uncredited photo)

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