Who Is Weini Kelati? The Remarkable Journey Of The New American Half Marathon Record Holder

Kelati had success in running from an early age, but overcame many barriers along the way

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Houston, Texas, was the place for all things running this weekend as the Chevron Houston Marathon and the Aramco Houston Half Marathon kicked off the American race calendar as the first major event of 2024 in the country.

With a laundry list of noteworthy performances, one that stands out among them is Weini Kelati, the new owner of the American women’s half marathon record. Not only did Kelati run a new American record over the distance, but she did so in her first-ever half marathon.

In this article, we’ll delve into who Weini Kelati is and the rising star’s journey to her record-setting day.

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Early Life and Asylum in the USA

27-year-old Weini Kelati was born in the small rural village of Tsada Christian, Eritrea, and has emerged as a prominent figure in American long-distance running. However, her journey to where she is now has been nothing short of remarkable.

Her running journey began when a physical education teacher encouraged her to take up the sport. 

At the age of 17, Kelati traveled to Eugene, Oregon, to compete in the 2014 World Junior Championships for track. 

After the competition, she made a life-changing decision, intentionally missing her return flight to Eritrea and seeking asylum in the United States.

A relative in Leesburg, Virginia, became Kelati’s legal guardian, and she enrolled at Heritage High School. 

Overcoming language barriers and culture shock, Kelati swiftly adapted to her new environment, showcasing not just athletic abilities but also her remarkable resilience.

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High School and Collegiate Success

Kelati joined Heritage High School’s cross country and track teams, making an immediate impact. 

In her first season, she finished second in the Virginia State Cross Country Championships and later claimed victory at the Footlocker Cross Country Championship in 2015. Her excellence extended to the track, where she set a national high school girls’ record for the indoor 5000 meters.

Continuing her journey at the University of New Mexico, Kelati achieved numerous All-American finishes in cross-country and track events. 

Notably, she won the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and secured a national title in the 10,000 meters at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

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Professional Career and Citizenship

In December 2020, Kelati made the decision to turn professional, forgoing her remaining NCAA eligibility. She later became a naturalized U.S. citizen in June 2021, officially changing her national sports allegiance. 

Kelati’s professional career saw her achieving notable victories, including the USATF 5K Road Championships and a course record at the Boston 10K for Women.

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Record-Breaking Debut: Houston Half Marathon 2024

Kelati’s career reached new heights on January 14, 2024, at the Aramco Houston Half Marathon

In her debut half marathon, Kelati shattered the American record with a stunning time of 1:06:25, averaging an impressive 5:04 minutes per mile.

This remarkable feat followed the footsteps of the decorated and established Sara Hall and Emily Sisson, who had broken the record in previous years.

Kelati’s strategic and fearless run showcased not only her natural endurance but also her commitment to pushing boundaries. Despite her limited training volume compared to traditional long-distance runners, Kelati’s debut performance left the running community in awe.

Reflecting on her achievement, Kelati expressed her disbelief and joy, emphasizing that she didn’t know what to expect at the start but felt the pace was right. The windy conditions in the latter part of the race did not deter her either.

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This American record marked the fifth time the women’s half marathon record had been broken in just two years, highlighting a trend in the sport fuelled by advancements in training methods and shoe technology.

Weini Kelati’s story, from seeking asylum to breaking records, serves as an inspiration to aspiring athletes worldwide. 

As she continues her journey, eyes are now on her future performances, eagerly anticipating her next triumphs in the longer distances on the roads. 

Kelati’s resilience, dedication, and record-breaking achievements have solidified her place as a rising star in American long-distance running.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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