DULUTH – As a first-time entrant at Grandma’s Marathon, Bazu Worku had no idea how many runners had tried — and failed — to beat Dick Beardsley’s course record. So when the Ethiopian said Friday he believed he could finish Saturday’s race in 2 hours, 3 minutes, he appeared a bit startled when Beardsley hollered, “Holy cow!”
Beardsley, now 57, set the mark of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 38 seconds in 1981. This year, he believes an exceptionally strong men’s field finally will take it down. A number of elite runners said they felt fit and fast Friday, and the expected cool weather and competitive field led Beardsley to predict that the 37th Grandma’s Marathon could be the fastest 26.2-mile race in Minnesota history.
Worku, a late entrant, ran a personal best of 2:05:25 in the 2010 Berlin Marathon and won the Houston Marathon in January in 2:10:17. Other top times in the field include his countryman Wegayehu Tefera (2:08:25), Weldon Kirui of Kenya (2:09:06), Ethiopian Dereje Yadete (2:09:51) and Kenyan Abraham Chelanga (2:08:43).
More than 15,000 runners are registered for Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon, the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and the USA Half Marathon Championships. The forecast for the marathon, which begins in Two Harbors at 7:45 a.m., calls for a temperature of 52 degrees and a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.
“I’ve been here since Monday, and all week long, I’ve just had this feeling in my bones that the course record is going to go this year,’’ Beardsley said. “The weather and everything is setting up just ideally. It reminds me a lot of 1981.
“With the caliber of runners we have this year, I really think if they work it together, I really feel it’s going to go.’’
Beardsley recalled that when he set the record, he was pushed by Bjorklund on a foggy, misty and windless 50-degree morning. He also remembered a similar scenario a few years ago, when he was certain the record would fall — and it held. On a cool, damp day in 2002, a group of six runners was on pace for a 2:09 finish at the 20-mile mark, but they slowed late as Elly Rono won in 2:10:57.
If Beardsley’s mark falls, he hopes to be among the first to offer congratulations. “It’s been a nice run,” he said. “It’s gone 31 years longer than I thought it was going to go.”
Marathon officials have instituted a host of new security measures for Saturday’s race, held two months after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Runners had to show identification when they picked up their race packets Friday, and they can use only race-issued clear plastic bags for gear they carry on the shuttle to the start line.
Marathon spokesman Bob Gustafson said spectators will be able to access most areas they have in the past, but they will see more Grandma’s security personnel and Duluth police along the route. “April 15 was a sad day that affected everyone deeply,’’ said Gustafson, who added that Grandma’s officials began discussing enhanced security immediately after Boston. “We hope people have patience and understand why we’re doing it. It’s a sign of the times.’’
Drawn to Duluth
Everlyne Lagat has progressed steadily up the Grandma’s Marathon ladder, finishing third in 2010, second in 2011 and winning in 2012. The native of Kenya said her victory last year filled her with confidence, but her affection for the race runs deeper than that.
“Nothing can top that,’’ Lagat said of last year’s race, which she won in 2:33:14. “But it isn’t just about winning. The organization here is great. When you come [to Grandma’s], you want to keep coming back.’’
Lagat enters this year’s race off second-place finishes in the Indy Half Marathon and Carlsbad Half Marathon and she ran fifth in the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer. She ran a personal best of 2:31:32 at Grandma’s in 2011.