Aliphine Tuliamuk in action during a road race

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(26-Feb) — Jacob Thomson and Aliphine Tuliamuk were crowned national half-marathon champions this morning at the USATF Half-Marathon Championships hosted by the Cowtown Marathon & Half-Marathon in Fort Worth, Texas. Thomson, 28, who represents Under Armour, won his first-ever national title with an explosive sprint finish in 1:02:38.

Tuliamuk, 33, who runs for Hoka Northern Arizona Elite, won easily in 1:09:37 after running most of the course with her teammate, Lauren Paquette, who finished second in 1:09:51.  Today’s victory was Tuliamuk’s 12th national road running title.  Both winners earned $12,000 in prize money.

The men and women ran separate races, and the men went off first.  The early pace was slow, just 15:23 through 5-K, and some 15 men were running in the lead pack.  Thomson was among them and felt that the pace was too slow.  So, he decided to inject a surge just to shake up the race.

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“We were just kind of trotting that first four miles,” Thomson told Chris Nickinson in his post-race broadcast interview. “I don’t need it to be a time trial, but I want it to be an honest race.  I think I can suffer pretty good, so I wanted to make sure that everyone else suffers just as much, if not more.”

Thompson built, perhaps, a 10 second gap, but his lead slowly evaporated as the chase group, led by defending champion Leonard Korir, caught him just past the 10-K mark (30:16). 

The pace was still modest and 13 men remained in contention for the podium: Thomson, Korir, Brian Shrader, Biya Simbassa, Scott Fauble, Futsum Zienasellassie, Matt McDonald, Colin Bennie, Colin Mickow, Jared Ward, Kevin Koski, and Shadrack Biwott.

In the second half, Thomson was careful about his positioning.  He stayed off the lead, but always close to the front.  When Shrader surged after the 15-K mark (45:06) Thomson covered the move and was part of a five-man breakaway with Shrader, Korir, Zienasellassie, and Simbassa.

He stayed patient and waited for final meters before making his bid for victory.  Shrader had faded, and Korir and Simbassa pushed to the front with about 400m to go.  Zienasellassie was on their heels and still in contention.  Thomson was a few steps back, but he wasn’t worried.

“I just kept waiting for that last turn,” Thomson said about the 90-degree left-hander before the final finish straight.  “Right before we took the turn I was like, I kept waiting for it to get really fast and very hard and then to take off. 

“They never really did, so I was like, with 300 to go I was like, I’m pretty sure I’m going to win this at this point.”

Thomson swept past Korir and Simbassa on the outside and powered away for the win.  He shot his arm to the sky as he broke the tape.  Korir won the sprint for second over Zienasellassie, although both men were given the same time of 1:02:39. 

Simbassa, who won the national 10-K title last September at the Great Cow Harbor 10-K on Long Island, got fourth in 1:02:41.

Thompson, who plans to run the USATF 15-K Championships in Jacksonville next Saturday, was clearly pleased with his win today. He said that his transition from the track to the roads has been good for his career, and that he loves running USATF Running Circuit events.

“I love this circuit,” he said. “I heard it might be going away, so I wanted to make it a good year on the road circuit and hopefully encourage the leaders of this sport to make it stick around because people say these road races don’t matter all the time, but for a lot of athletes this is our championship, this is what we love to do.  So, I’m going to hit as many of the road circuit races as I can this year.”

Among the top men, only Biya Simbassa newly qualified for the USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon by running sub-1:03:00 (they other top finishers had already qualified).

For Tuliamuk there was far less drama today.  Paquette took off right from the gun, and Tuliamuk happily hitched a ride with her teammate. They split 5-K in 16:31 and it was already hard to see the chase pack which included Olympic bronze medalist, Molly Seidel.

With each passing kilometer, their lead grew, and through 10-K (32:45) they were 52 seconds up on the main pack.

Tuliamuk, who is preparing for the Boston Marathon, wasn’t completely confident of her fitness and she knew Paquette was fit from a 31:53 10-K she had run two weeks ago in Cardiff, Calif.

“I’m just getting started with my training for Boston,” Tuliamuk said in her post-race broadcast interview. She continued: “My teammate Lauren, she’s been on fire so I was scared the whole time because I felt like I was running way ahead of my fitness.”

Tuliamuk stayed tucked behind Paquette through 15-K (49:16), then around the 10 mile point she began to pull away from her teammate.  By the 20-K mark (1:04:03) Tuliamuk had a 12-second lead and simply cruised alone to the finish.  She was clearly satisfied with her win.

“I knew I could run, like, high 69’s,” Tuliamuk said.  “But at the same time, I really wanted to win so I didn’t really care about the time.  I just really wanted to win.”

Paquette was a clear second in 1:09:51, and it would take more than a minute before Nell Rojas came across the line to take third in 1:11:08.  Behind Rojas, Molly Grabill, Jessa Hanson, and Paige Wood filled out the rest of the top-6 in 1:11:17, 1:11:26, and 1:11:32, respectively.

Paquette, Grabill, and Hanson all qualified for the 2024 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon by breaking 1:12:00 (the other top finishers had already qualified).

Seidel, who is preparing for the Nagoya Women’s Marathon on March 12, finished eighth in 1:13:08, marathon pace for her.

Like Thomson, Tuliamuk expressed her support for the USATF Running Circuit which includes the national cross country championships plus road running championships at one mile, 5-K, 6-K (for women), 10-K, 15-K, 10 miles, 20-K, 25-K, half-marathon and marathon in 2023.

Rumors have swirled that USATF leaders had contemplated discontinuing the series where independent race organizers bid on, and host, national championships in various cities, providing nearly all the funding for the events, including prize money.

“The Circuit is what made me who I am today,” said Tuliamuk.  “So I really do like it when I get to come back.  It’s an honor.”

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