DULUTH – Charm has added to the popularity of Grandma's Marathon for more than 40 years. Lake Superior, touristy Duluth, the Aerial Lift Bridge and Superior Street bricks.
But the bricks, they are a-changin'. A three-year, $31.5 million road reconstruction project, which began in April, is replacing the paving stones on downtown sidewalks and streets, including a concluding stretch of the 26.2-mile race.
Concrete will be the new surface.
And as Superior Street, and aging underground utilities, are dug up and replaced, Grandma's Marathon is going off course for less than a mile the next three years, starting with Saturday's 42nd race and accompanying 28th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.
Just past Fourth Avenue East, on Superior Street, runners will turn left, down to Michigan Street for nine blocks (also designated in 2006 as Bob Dylan Way for the Duluth-born musician). The traditional course resumes at Fifth Avenue West, just past the 25-mile mark.
"Of the three years of construction, this will be the most challenging for our races," said Grandma's Marathon executive director Shane Bauer. "Fifth Avenue West isn't available to us, and it's such an important hub street for so many of our activities."
Barno seeks 4th title
Training partners Elisha Barno and Dominic Ondoro live in Eldoret, Kenya, but have become runners of stature in Minnesota.
In Grandma's Marathon and the Twin Cities Marathon, since 2014, Barno and Ondoro have combined for seven men's titles in seven races entered. They have four runner-up finishes and two course records, both by Ondoro.
Barno, 32, has won three straight Grandma's titles in his only three races in Duluth, a record for men. He goes for a fourth Saturday.
Ondoro, 30, is not racing Saturday but has won three straight Twin Cities titles in his only three races from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Barno has been second each time.
"When we train together, we push each other," Barno said Friday. "We are almost the same in [ability], but [Ondoro] is a better hill runner. Last [October], at Twin Cities, I thought, 'Maybe I can beat him,' but because of the hills, he pulled away with about 3 miles left."
When Ondoro set the Grandma's course mark of 2:09:06 in 2014, Barno wasn't entered. The next year, Barno won in 2:10:36, the fourth-fastest time in race history, and Ondoro was second in 2:11:17.
Barno is in good shape, having run a personal best of 2:09:32 to place third Jan. 14 in the Houston Marathon.
Sarah Kiptoo, 28, of Kenya, set the Grandma's women's course mark of 2:26:32 in 2013 and won again in 2016. She didn't return last year after contracting malaria.
"This is my target race this year. This is what I've been training for," said Kiptoo, who won the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 20 and is in her fifth Grandma's. Defending Grandma's champion Hellen Jepkurgat, 37, of Kenya is also entered.
• Grandma's Marathon has 8,232 entries, down from 8,740 in 2017 (there were 6,444 timed finishers). The accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon has 9,284, up from 8,890.
• Saturday's forecast is for a 60 percent chance of rain and a high of 74.
• Duluth-raised Kara Goucher of Boulder, Colo., is home for a second straight year to run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. The two-time U.S. Olympian, who holds the Bjorklund women's course record (1:09:45), turns 40 on July 9, reaching the masters division. "I'm going to run hard, but I'm not totally sure what I'll be able to do" Saturday, said Goucher. "I love being in Duluth and I know I'm going to leave emotionally better and my spirits will be lifted."