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Houseworth Is Surprise Winner at RNR Las Vegas Half-Marathon

More than two dozen American men took the gamble that the Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half-Marathon would bring them an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying time (1:05:00). Remarkably, all of them failed except for the man who crossed the finish line first, 24 year-old Sean Houseworth of Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Houseworth, who trains under Air Force Academy coach Juli Benson, the woman who coached Jenny Simpson to a world 1500m title, wasn't even thinking about next month's Trials in Houston. He was running for his own reasons.

"I just wanted to focus on beating as many people as I could," said Houseworth as he ate a banana after winning the race in 1:03:12 in only his second half-marathon. "I didn't know that would mean that I could win."

Houseworth ran the first half of the race in a big pack which was mostly concerned with catching early front runner, Craig Curley. Curley, 23, from Tucson, Ariz., spurted away from the field early as he made his way north on Las Vegas's famous Strip. With a gray watch cap pulled low on his head against the early evening chill, Curley hit 5-K in 14:29 with a big lead.

But that lead wouldn't last. As the field reached 8 kilometers (23:18), Curley was caught by the half dozen favorites, including Jason Lehmkuhle, Jason Hartmann, James Carney, Sean Quigley, Matt Gabrielson and Patrick Smyth. At that point, Houseworth was just trying to maintain control over his pace.

"I knew that I couldn't get too crazy," Houseworth explained. "If I felt like the pace was getting too crazy, I couldn't take too much of a risk."

At the northern end of the course, where there were few spectators, Houseworth decided to make his move. He ran with Lehmkuhle and Carney through 10-K (29:21), and those three opened a gap over the others in the next kilometer. Houseworth wasn't bothered by the slight uphill in the second part of the course, and by 15-K (44:00), he had left the others behind and had the entire Strip to himself.

"My confidence is at a place that it's never been based on the training I've done this fall," Houseworth said as he recalled the moment when he knew that he would win the race. "I wasn't intimidated at all."

Running alone through the series of turns which would take him to the finish straight behind the mammoth Mandalay Bay Hotel, Houseworth backed off his pace and acknowledged the cheers of the crowd. He raised both arms in triumph as he broke the tape, Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier in hand. However, Houseworth said he would probably not do the Trials.

"You know, I've never done a marathon, I've never touched marathon training," Houseworth said. "So, maybe, maybe not."

Hartmann, from Boulder, Colo., finished second in 1:03:34, Lehmkuhle of Minneapolis got third in 1:03:37, and Quigley finished fourth in 1:04:14. Curley, the early leader, finished seventh.

WILLIS SHOWS OLD FORM IN WINNING WOMEN'S RACE

Australia's Benita Willis, the 2004 IAAF World Cross Country Championships gold medalist, showed some of her old form, cruising to a wire-to-wire victory in the women's half-marathon in a new course record of 1:10:40, bettering Werknesh Kidane's 1:10:55 from 2009. It was her first road running victory since she won the low-key Stragglers Wedding Day 7-K in London in July, 2009.

"It's probably the best race I've done since 2006," said Willis, 32, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., under coach Brad Hudson. "It makes me feel like I can be a world class runner, maybe sometime in the future. I've had a lot of really hard years." She continued: "To run like I did, personally, it was a big step forward."

Willis plans to run the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 15 to qualify for the Olympic Games. She said last night at dinner with friends that she needs to run at least 2:32 under Athletics Australia guidelines to be considered for the team. She is the Australian record holder with a 2:22:36 personal best.

"The next goal is to try to make the Olympics and run well in Houston," Willis said.

Behind Willis, American Amy Hastings completed a successful tune-up run for the Marathon Trials, clocking 1:11:22, just three seconds off of her personal best despite the relatively high altitude here of 620m (2030 ft.)

"The goal was to finish and just feel strong," said a smiling Hastings, who lives and trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "I don't know. I feel like I could go for another 13 (miles)."

Katie McGregor of Savage, Minn. (1:11:45), Addie Bracy of Carrboro, N.C. (1:14:09) and Kathy Newberry of Ann Arbor, Mich. (1:14:53) finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively. All three were tuning up for the Trials.

USA 1500m champion Morgan Uceny, a Mammoth Track Club teammate of Hastings, ran the race as a training run, finishing in about one hour and 20 minutes. She clearly enjoyed the experience of running through Las Vegas at night.

"I love Vegas," said the smiling Uceny who enjoys playing blackjack. "I ran a half-marathon because of it. That says something."

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In the less competitive Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, Peter Omae of Kenya (2:29:13) and Szofia Erdelyi of Hungary (2:48:59) got the victories. For Erdelyi, who ran track for USC, the race was her marathon debut. Like Houseworth and Willis, both Omae and Erdelyi won $1000 in prize money. No athletes qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials.

Some 44,000 runners entered the two events, most of them in the half-marathon. Complete finisher statistics were not available at the time of this report.

By David Monti (c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved; Used with permission