Kenyan easily breaks course mark set 33 years ago.
DULUTH – When on Friday evening Dick Beardsley, the elder statesman of Grandma's Marathon, surveyed the forecast for Saturday's race, he had one thought: Perfect.
Would this be the year that someone finally broke his course record, achieved more than three decades ago?
One man — donning bib No. 1 — had the same inkling. And on a chilly, misty morning, Dominic Ondoro seized that perfection, crushing the previous mark by 31 seconds with a 2:09:06 finish while the 58-year-old Beardsley, contributing color commentary for a local radio station, watched him from the lead car.
After breaking away from a pack that held through most of the race, Ondoro sprinted down the stretch. He glanced at his watch for one last time with 400 meters to go as the crowd, piled along the metal barriers, swelled with cheers.
"I was so happy," the 26-year-old Kenyan said afterward. "[The crowd] got me excited to go."
For 32 years, Beardsley, who posted a 2:09:37 race in 1981, watched talented runners aim for his mark on the course that runs from Two Harbors to Duluth. He saw runners try and fail on cold, drenching mornings and on warm, sunny days and in conditions nearly as perfect as he deemed this Saturday — sporting light tailwinds and a 45-degree start time — to be.
What he saw this time around, though, was different.
After a pack of about 11 runners yo-yoed for the first 19 miles, Ondoro, running at Grandma's for the first time, broke free as the group was crossing the Lester River. Betram Keter (2:11:57), who finished second, tried to take off with him, but couldn't hold Ondoro's pace, which had dipped well below the 5-minute per mile mark.
"I tried to follow him, but he was so very fast," Keter said.
Early on, the record appeared to be in jeopardy when the lead pack ran at a pace of 4:59 to start the race and then posted several more sub 5-minute miles together along Larmont, Knife River and the bends and curves that follow up to mile 8. After the midway point, however, the group's stride relaxed. Around mile 16, Beardsley began to do the math in his head. If they didn't exceed five minutes per mile it would be close, he knew.
Once Ondoro made his move, he made the equation look easy, creating a gap of 8 seconds at mile 20 before pushing that advantage to 2:13 at the 25-mile mark. Around that time, the Catholic crossed himself, asking from help from above.
Ondoro's stride was one of the best he had ever seen, Beardsley said.
Running on the balls of his feet, Ondoro's form stayed true throughout, his arm carriage pulsing to the center of his body but never crossing over. As the lean competitor made the climb up Lemon Drop Hill at the 22-mile mark, he looked as though he was running down an incline, Beardsley said.
"That record," he said on the air, "is gone."
Later, Beardsley admitted he was surprised the record stood as long as it did, thinking in 1981 he might have a shot to beat it himself some day.
"I tell you, it was a pretty sight to see," said Beardsley of Ondoro's performance after congratulating the runner in person. "If I didn't say it was a little bittersweet, I'd be lying but … he pretty much smoked it."
Ondoro earned $10,000 in cash for the victory along with a 2014 Toyota (model to be determined), which he could turn in for $16,000 if he so chooses, and he'll get $5,000 for finishing faster than 2:10. Ondoro said he wants to use the money to help build schools in his native town of Kisii, Kenya.