Organizers of the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 18, hope that Richard Kaitany's 1989 event record of 2:10:04 does not make it to it's 20th anniversary later this month. Instead, they hope that Ethiopian star Deribe Merga, fourth at the Olympic Marathon, will shatter it by a significant margin.
Merga, 28, will come to Houston with a 2:06:38 personal best under his belt, a time he ran at the Flora London Marathon last April where he finished sixth. He'll get the benefit of two pacemakers which elite athlete coordinator Dave Chester has contracted, including junior star and compatriot Tilahun Regassa, who broke the one-hour barrier over the half-marathon distance in Lille last September.
Both Merga and Regassa have the same manager, Hussein Makke, whose top female marathoner, Dire Tune, set the Houston women's record a year ago (2:24:40) before winning the Boston Marathon last April.
"We witnessed a sensational, record-setting run from one of the best runners in the world at the 2008 Chevron Houston Marathon, and we could see a repeat performance in 2009," said race director Brant Kotch through a media release. "Ethiopia's Dire Tune set a women's course record by more than three minutes last January, and Merga possesses the ability to do the same to the men's mark."
Breaking the race record would mean a $45,000 payday for Merga ($35,000 to win plus $10,000 for the race record), not including his appearance fee and any private bonuses from either the race or his shoe company sponsor, Nike. It's possible that Merga, like Tune last year, could rally back and run a Spring marathon, too.
Despite his big personal best time, Merga won't wear bib #1. That goes to three-time and defending Houston champion David Cheruiyot of Kenya. The 36 year-old veteran has a career best time of 2:10:36 set in Istanbul in 2007. Another of Makke's Ethiopian's athletes, Kasime Adilo, the 2008 Istanbul champion, is also entered. He has a 2:10:20 personal best.
The women's race has four very solid athletes up front, and two are marathon debutantes. Russian Yulia Gromova, 36, the winner of the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon last June, will wear bib #1, and Romanian Nuta Olaru, 38, with a career best time of 2:24:33 has been given bib #3. The two debutantes are Ethiopians Teyiba Erkesso and Amane Gobena. Both 26, they will wear bibs #2 and #4, respectively. Erkesso has run 31:13.67 for 10,000m and 70 minutes for the half-marathon, and Gobena has a 72:16 half-marathon to her credit.
Like Merga and Adilo, both Erkesso and Gobena are managed by Makke.
The Chevron Houston Marathon is part of a three-race festival, which also includes the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon and the EP 5-K. The half-marathon is the USA championships race for men and women. Last year, the three races had a combined 16,143 finishers (5519 in the marathon).