For the first time in five years, the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon has instituted a prize money and bonus structure which will draw several top-ranked runners from around the country to the February 16th races. Approximately, $40,000 will go to runners in the elite field in the 23rd running of this event.
In the marathon, the prize money goes three deep with $3000 going to the two winners. In the half, runners will vie for the $1000 first-place prize. There is additional $5000 bonus money available in the marathon to the man and woman who breaks either course record in the marathon—2:14:02 by Jynocel Basweti and 2:26:26 by Lucy Hassell. If those records go unbroken next Sunday, the bonus will roll over to next year, making the course record bonuses worth $10,000.
The top woman in this year’s marathon appears to be Lyudmila Stepanova of Russia who has a PR of 2:39:18. Top American is Marnie Staehly from Houston who has a best of 2:55:30 from Las Vegas in 2011. The best Austin hope is Jennifer Harney who won the Decker Half Marathon in December and though inexperienced in the marathon, has the potential to dip below three hours.
The men’s field is much deeper with several sub-2:15 marathoners entered. Fastest man in the field is Kimutai Cheruiyot of Kenya who has a 2:11:30 to his credit and was sixth last year in the Houston Marathon. Three other Kenyans—Abraham Rutto (2:14:32), Geoffrey Kiprotich (2:14:56) and Edward Kiptum (2:14:46 who won Austin in 2012)–are sure to contend.
Two top Japanese men are also certain to be in the running. Toyoyuki Abe has a PR of 2:15 and Masakai Hori who is making his marathon debut will be factors.
The two Americans in the elite field are Brent Martin (2:23) and Chris Erichsen (2:16:31). The leading local runner in the marathon is Erik Stanley who has a best of 2:27:36 in his only attempt at the marathon. Stanley has been on a roll and has won every race but one in the 2013-14 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series. Strong and intimately familiar with the tricky Austin hills, Stanley could be a threat.
Most of the top runners are in the accompanying half marathon. Nicole Aish of Arvada, Colorado has the fastest PR in the field (1:12:30), but that was several years ago. A former Twin Cities Marathon champion, Aish and her husband, Michael, a two-time Olympic marathoner from New Zealand are the fastest couple in the field. Kristen Fryburg-Zaitz appears to be the favorite with a more recent best of 1:12:57.
Fastest man in the half field is Sammy Kiplagat Cheptoo of Kenya who has run 1:03:14. But Craig Leon with a half best of 1:04:01 is coming to Austin for the first time and committed to going for the victory. Leon of Eugene, Oregon was ninth in last year’s Boston Marathon and he’s using the Austin hills as a simulator for the Boston course.
Top runners in the half with local ties are Rory Tunningley and Zac Ornelas. Tunningley, the former Lockhart HS and UT star, is only running his second half marathon, but has shown great promise in this his first season of road running. Ornelas, who is originally from Cedar Park, now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan (he’s a Michigan grad), and won his only attempt at the marathon (2:20) last fall at the Detroit Free Press Marathon. Both Tunningley and Ornelas have the speed to be at the front of the half.
Find complete coverage of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon at http://texasrunningpost.com/race-coverage/2014-austin-marathon-guide/