Eritrean Daniel Mesfun breaks men’s half marathon record at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona

Daniel Mesfun shook up the 16th Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona with a record-setting performance in the half marathon on Sunday.

Mesfun, 31, of Eritrea, a small country on the east coast of Africa bordering the Red Sea, laid down a virtuoso performance on the 13.1-mile course in Tempe and Scottsdale. He took the race out alone and had a lead of more than 30 seconds by Mile 2 yet kept pushing to become the first half winner to break 62 minutes.

His 1:01:12 is a personal record by more than two minutes, besting the former race record 1:02:23 set by Scott Baughs in 2016. Mesfun was a staggering 4 1/2 minutes ahead of defending champion Kiya Dandena (1:05:41) of Flagstaff.

Ethiopian star Haile Gebreselassie ran a then-world record 58:55 half marathon in 2006, but that was a special event staged during the back of the RnR Arizona marathon. 

“My plan is 60 flat or under, but without him (Dandena) helping me, just myself, it was a challenge, but I’m proud about the time,” said Mesfun, who also lives in Flagstaff and works with coach Jay Bawcom. “Hopefully in a short time I will run under 60.”

Mesfun doubled down after the race, saying he plans to win the Boston Marathon on April 15. That could require running sub-2:10 on a much tougher course than RnR Arizona. Mesfun’s marathon PR is 2:10.06, good for sixth at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.

“I’m a talented guy, I’m hard-working and I believe in myself,” Mesfun said. “You can do it if you believe. That’s what I did today.”

Mesfun also won the Cleveland Marathon in May 2018 in 2:16:32, a victory that was upheld by race officials even though Mesfun wore a shirt that covered his bib number for most of the race creating confusion about whether he running the marathon or half.

On Sunday, Mesfun left no doubt with a time that would have been good for fifth at the elite Houston Marathon, where he originally planned to run. 

“He told me he was going to run fast,” said Dandena, who formerly trained with Mesfun and now is with Northern Arizona Elite. “I was doing this as more of a workout than a race. I’m happy for him. I wanted to execute my plan. I wanted to defend my title, but he was at a difference fitness level than I was. So you kind of have to respect that and let him do what he was able to do.”