DULUTH – Elisha Barno and Dominic Ondoro train together, as many as 130 miles per week, at home in Eldoret, Kenya, and the past three months in Santa Fe, N.M.
On Saturday they ran side-by-side along the North Shore in the 39th Grandma’s Marathon. Barno was on his first trip to Duluth, while Ondoro turned heads a year ago by breaking the 33-year-old men’s course record.
Ondoro, 27, had hopes of running faster this year but was felled by a sideache at 20 miles. Barno, 29, won in 2 hours, 10 minutes 36 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in race history. Ondoro was second in 2:11:17, eighth-fastest.
“Dominic told me the course was very fast and my goal was to run 2:11 or 2:10, but I thought he was in better shape than I was,” said Barno, who has a personal best of 2:09:45. “When I finished I was surprised, I was happy. Dominic said he was happy for me and hugged me.”
Dire predictions of heavy rain and lightning were proven wrong, although there was a downpour at the 7:45 a.m. marathon start along North Shore Drive just south of Two Harbors. Much of the race had some light rain with temperatures in the mid-50s with mostly calm conditions. It was a fourth consecutive year of cool running for the state’s oldest marathon.
Barno had a step on the registered field of 7,794 for nearly the entire 26.2 miles — leading through 10 kilometers in 30:34 and the half marathon in 1:04:50, with Ondoro just two seconds back.
Ondoro briefly dropped to third before rallying in the final kilometer to edge Jordan Chipangama, 26, of Zambia, who ran 2:11:35.
“It was too wet, too cold,” said Ondoro, who won last year in 2:09:06. “At 20 miles I got a side stitch and I told [Barno] ‘You go ahead. Don’t wait for me.’ But I’m not disappointed, my record is still there.”
Barno and Ondoro compete for the AmeriKenyan Running Club in Santa Fe, training with 12 elite runners. However, Barno hadn’t beaten his friend in a race until April 12, at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, D.C. Barno was third and Ondoro sixth.
Now, he has two victories in a row. The pair returns to Eldoret on Sunday. East African runners have won six consecutive men’s titles at Grandma’s and 16 of the last 20.
Barno collected $12,500, including incentives, from a prize money purse of $100,000. Ondoro made $9,500.
The top American was Luke Puskedra, 25, of Eugene, Ore., sixth in 2:15:27, and the top Minnesota native was Eric Loeffler, 38, from Fergus Falls and now living in Fargo, N.D., 14th in 2:16:48.
Women’s race close
The race began in the final mile of the women’s division Saturday. Course record holder Sarah Kiptoo of Kenya sped away at the start and built an advantage of two minutes or more.
While Jane Kibii, a native of Kenya living near Sacramento, Calif., wasn’t sure she could pursue what she couldn’t see, she methodically tracked down the leader and passed her in the last mile on Canal Park Drive. She won her Grandma’s debut in 2:32:06, a personal best. Kiptoo, 25, who trains in Santa Fe, fell to third in 2:32:51 as American Lindsey Scherf rallied for second in 2:32:19.
“I had some hamstring pain by Mile 12, but I tried to keep pushing, pushing, pushing,” said Kibii. “Even though I knew [Kiptoo] was far, far away, I thought there was a chance. When I finally saw her, she was fading a lot and I was closing.”
Kibii, 30, won by 13 seconds and earned $11,500. Scherf, 28, made $9,000 and Kiptoo, 25, made $6,500.
Scherf, who grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., was also in her first Grandma’s and just her second marathon, running 2:37:26 in Chicago last October. She lowered her best by a whopping five minutes.
“One thing I’m learning is to be patient because when you’re not patient you’re not confident,” said Scherf, a former NCAA All-America who ran at Harvard and Oregon. “[Saturday] I went from third to second, and even thought about first. I ran pretty intelligently, set a PR and exceeded my expectations.”
Kiptoo had set the course mark of 2:26:32 in winning in 2013 and was third last year.
The first Minnesotan was Katie McGregor, 37, of Savage, 23rd in 2:45:01.