“I decided I was going to do this race a month ago and I decided I was going to win.”
Natosha Rogers, 2017 USATF Half Marathon Champion.
For the second year in a row, some of the top distance runners in the U.S. gathered in Columbus, Ohio to race for a ring, one of the prizes for the country’s new national half marathon champion — along with a nice chunk of change and a pretty sweet title.
This year’s field of women was decidedly young, with only five runners over the age of thirty. As for the conditions, they were definitely a factor. The roads were slick from intermittent showers and the temperatures were hot and humid, particularly for Ohio in April. Nevertheless, Natosha Rogers of Littleton, Colorado and Santa Fe’s Aliphine Tuliamuk dominated early, running side-by-side at a formidable sub-1:09 pace through the first half of the race in identical New Balance kits.
Strung out about a minute behind them were, in order: Neely Spence-Gracey; Stephanie Bruce with Belainesh Gebre on her heels; last year’s champ, Tara Welling shortly behind them; and then Katie Kellner and Bethany Sachtleben (Spearmint) running a few seconds behind Tara. Susanna Sullivan and Anna Weber rounded out the top 10.
Right behind the top-10 included a pack of five: Mara Olson; Joanna Thompson; Lauren Jimison Totten; Sarah Rapp; and Emma Kertesz (Paprika).
Around seven miles, with Aliphine still matching Natosha stride for stride, Bethany noticed Tara ahead and encouragingly told Katie they’d soon add a third runner to their little pack. Bethany upped the effort making a goal to catch Tara by mile nine, but Katie couldn’t match. Sure enough, by mile nine Bethany, who was 11th place in last year’s race, was passing last year’s champion.
As the leading three runners, Aliphine, Natosha and Neely, approached the ten mile mark, the heat and humidity began to take its toll. Aliphine began to struggle a bit and Natosha took off to a commanding lead. Meanwhile, Neely made progress in her strong chase of the two runners in front of her. Her conservative start paid off as she ran down Aliphine and almost managed to chase down Natosha too, but came up nine seconds short. In the end, Natosha’s gutsy racing paid off.
Meanwhile, Belainesh and Steph were fourth and fifth at 10 miles, separated by a few seconds. Bethany, having just passed Tara, now set her sights on one of U.S. women’s distance running’s living legends, Steph Bruce. Within a mile she had surreally passed one of her idols just before overtaking Belainesh and earned a fourth place finish in 1:13:28, a huge personal best.
Behind Bethany, the rest of the top-fifteen finishers in order:
5. Belainesh Gebre, from Ethiopia, but trains in Flagstaff, Arizona
6. Stephanie Bruce, also lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona
7. Mara Olson of Boulder, Colorado
8. Tara Welling, last year’s champ from Portland, Oregon
9. Sarah Rapp of Raleigh, North Carolina
10. Lauren Jimison Totten of El Dorado Hills, California
11. Anna Weber of Indianapolis, Indiana
12. Emma Kertesz of Denver, Colorado
13. Susanna Sullivan of Reston, Virginia
14. Joanna Thompson of Lenoir, North Carolina
15. Kimi Reed of Springfield, Missouri
From left, Natosha, Neely, Aliphine, Bethany, Belainesh, Steph, Tara, and Lauren
After the race, Natosha revealed that she was in it to win and that during the entire race she said “win, win, win” to herself. She was focused and knew that being able to hold-off the other runners in this deep field would be no small feat. But she gave it her all, as evidenced by her post-finish line puke. Nice work!
As for Neely, she likes to go out a little more conservatively and press the back half of a race, which is exactly what she did at Cap City. She seemed to take second in stride:
I ran the best race that I could today. I started pressing from mile 3. I didn’t get lazy out there.
The good sport award goes to third-place, Aliphine, who praised her competitors:
It was very tough out there today. I am very proud of these two ladies. The resilience from this is what matters.
Bethany, coming off an excellent 10k performance on the track at Stanford a few weeks ago, knew the race was going to go well for her by mile four. She said:
I heard a lot of people saying the humidity was rough but I didn’t notice that at all. Could be because it’s like, 90% humidity every day in Northern VA and I love it.
Even so, it was surreal for her to pass some of her running idols along the way. After positioning herself in fourth place, Bethany said, “I just hauled as fast as I could to the finish before anybody woke up and came back after me.” And they didn’t!
You can find the full 2017 USATF Half Marathon Championship Results here.
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