Even after a weekend of icy, wet and generally miserable weather, thousands braved the cold and participated in the 37th Annual Cowtown Half Marathon in Downtown Fort Worth Sunday.
"It was cold," runner Alexa Gonce said of the event. "It was very cold."
The starting gun fired at 8 a.m. at The Will Rogers Memorial Center, but officials were forced to cancel all Saturday races, the 10K, Adults 5K, and Cook Children's 5K, as temperatures hovered in the high 20s and snow continued. The Marathon and 50K courses could not be cleared in time for a race start Sunday, event officials said.
Those who participated in the half marathon said road conditions remained slick before the event, but it wasn't enough to deter the runners and their cheer sections.
"The roads were a little slick on the way up here," Karen Goff said, in support of her Denton family who ran in the half marathon. "That's the least we can do when they've been running in this kind of weather."
The decision to cancel the Cowtown Marathon and the Ultra Marathon was made on Saturday as a winter storm brought several inches of snow to North Texas. Organizing officials said they worked with the National Weather Service (NOAA) and felt confident in their decision.
“We were disappointed that the other distances had to be canceled, but there was little that could be done on the sections of the course that went over park paths and more remote streets," said Heidi Swartz, Cowtown executive director.
Professional athletes and others who were registered to run in the Marathon or 50K were added to the Half Marathon field. The prize money that was originally slated for the Marathon race was added to the Half Marathon purse, which came to more than $30,000.
Bonuses were offered to the 12 athletes who shot for and surpassed the record Half Marathon times of 1:09:27 for men, and 1:18:05 for women.
Three Kenyan runners (Hillary Too, Kipkoech Ruto and Peter Chebii) surged at Mile 3 to break away from the other runners and from the start were on pace to finish well below the existing record. By Mile 10, Too began to build a lead on his compatriots and American Tyler McCandless was catching the stragglers and moving up in the ranks of the race.
Through the final miles, Too continued strong to win in a new course record of 1:06:00 with McCandless nearly closing the gap to finish second in 1:06:17. Peter Chebii held on for the third spot in 1:06:52.
Two other men finished faster than the previous course record: Kipkoech Ruto in fourth place in 1:07:00 and Al Escalera, of Terra Haute IN, finishing fifth in 1:09:14.
It was a race between three women nearly from the beginning. Hirut Guangul (Ethiopia), Lilian Mariita (Kenya) and Susan Jerotich (Kenya) broke away from the others by the third mile with Guangul and Mariita trading the lead until the final mile.
Susan Jerotich stated after the race that she knew that if the race came down to a sprint finish she would win - and that was indeed the case as Jerotich pushed away from the others in the final mile to win in a new course record of 1:15:22.
Lilian Maritta held on for second place in 1:15:25 and Hirut Guangul -- originally planning to run the marathon -- took third place in the Half Marathon in 1:15:31.
Four other women ran times faster than the previous course record: Juliane Masciana of Austin, TX, fourth in 1:17:22; Zipporah Chebet fifth in 1:17:28; Nuta Olaru of Longmont, CO, sixth in 1:17:43; and Grace Kahura seventh in 1:17:47.
"The first year the Cowtown happened in 1979 there was an ice storm the night before the race and it took place," Swartz said. "There were only 600 runners that year. So, it was easier to take place with 600 runners versus 28,000 or 30,000. We made it through a tough year and look forward to running all of the races again in 2016."
As for other marathon events around the Metroplex, Cowtown entrants in the canceled events can email proof of registration with the subject line "Cowtown Transfer" to receive a complimentary entry to the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on March 20-22 in Dallas.