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Trafeh, Rhines take USA Half Marathon titles

USA Half Marathon 2011

USA Half Marathon 2011

HOUSTON – In the first race of the 2011 USA Running Circuit (USARC), Mohamed Trafeh (Duarte, Calif.) and Jen Rhines (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.) outran some of America’s top distance runners to take the respective men’s and women’s titles Saturday at the USA Half Marathon Championships, presented by Aramco Services Company.

Trafeh outran American Record holder Ryan Hall (Big Bear Lake, Calif.) to win the second USA road title of his career in 1:02:17. Rhines ran 1:11:14 to win her first road championship since 2005.

The championship was run on a new course to give Trafeh, Rhines and their fellow competitors a glimpse of the course make-up for when Houston plays host to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon next January.

Shortly after the gun, Brent Vaughn (Black Hawk, Colo.) jumped to the lead to get the men’s field moving. After about a half mile a large pack formed around Vaughn that included Trafeh, Hall, Patrick Smyth (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.), Jason Lehmkuhle (Minneapolis, Minn.), Fasil Bizuneh (Flagstaff, Ariz.) and Ryan Vail (Portland, Ore.).

After completing a short out and back section, as the race joined the eight mile loop that will serve as the main portion of the Olympic Trials course, the pack was down to five, with Vaughn beginning to fall off the pace.

As the leaders passed a fluid station turning on to Allen Parkway, Hall went for water and Smyth took the opportunity to try to make a break, running the seventh mile in 4:39 but the move was quickly covered by Trafeh, Hall and Lehmkuhle as Bizuneh began to fade.

By mile eight, Bizuneh fought his way back to the pack and as the leaders approached the ten mile mark on Memorial Drive, Smyth, Hall and Trafeh opened it up to pull away from Lehmkuhle and Bizuneh.

Shortly after mile 11, Hall began to press the pace on a slight incline while Trafeh stayed on his heels. Going over an overpass back into downtown, Hall and Trafeh gapped Smyth. As the pair raced towards the finish, Hall held a slight lead over Trafeh but just before making the final turn Trafeh found one more gear, passing Hall to take the title by three seconds.

Smyth held on for third in 1:02:32, while Bizuneh rallied to take fourth in 1:02:47. Lehmkuhle rounded out the top-five in 1:02:49.

In the women’s race, Rhines, a three-time Olympian, used a tactical approach as Lyndsey Scherf (San Francisco, Calif.) opened a big lead on the chase pack passing the first mile in 5:20. Rhines, Serena Burla (Ellisville, Mo.), Nan Kennard (Boulder, Colo.), Katie McGregor (Saint Louis Park, Minn.), and Tera Moody (Colorado Springs, Colo.).

The pack began to separate at eight miles with Rhines, Burla and Kennard pulling ahead. The trio ran together for three miles with each woman taking a turn the front; however, the others were never more than a few steps behind.

“When I got to 7 [miles] I was feeling good and I was pretty antsy to push it,” said Rhines. “But I was patient through eleven [miles].”

Her patience paid off as she separated herself from her competitors and continued to extend her lead through the final miles of the course. Rhines bested her 8-year-old personal record by 45 seconds, running 1:11:14 for a 24 second lead over Burla who clocked a time of 1:11:38 to repeat her runner-up status in Houston.

Kennard ran strong to finish third in 1:12:03 while McGregor and Moody ran 1:12:13 and 1:12:30 respectively to complete the top-five.

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