DULUTH - She was laughing while she said it, but Everlyne Lagat wasn't really joking. After finishing third at Grandma's Marathon in 2010 and second last year, the Kenyan runner declared she was going to keep coming back to Duluth until she won.
It didn't take long. Lagat, 31, ascended to the top step of the podium Saturday, running the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 14 seconds despite an aching hamstring and bothersome stomach. She strode into the lead with less than 3 miles to go and finished comfortably ahead of Mulu Seboka, who ran 2:34:54 to take second.
Defending champ Yihunlish Delelecha finished third in 2:35:42. Jenna Boren of Minneapolis (eighth, 2:40:48) was the top Minnesota finisher.
Lagat has trained in New Mexico for the past seven years and loves coming to Grandma's. She got more reasons to love it Saturday, earning $11,250 and soaking up hearty encouragement all along the course, which helped keep her going through her discomfort.
"I didn't want that [pain] in my mind,'' Lagat said. "My focus was on winning. I didn't want to think of anything that was going to take away from that.''
Seboka, of Ethiopia, entered the race with a personal-best time of 2:25:45, the fastest in the field. She opened up an early lead on a pack that included Lagat.
With 3 miles to go, Lagat estimated she was about a minute behind. She also noticed that Seboka seemed to be slowing down. "She was far, far away, but I kept closing,'' said Lagat, who set her personal best of 2:31:32 at Grandma's last year. "I felt like I didn't have much time to do it, so I gave it a shot and really started pushing. Then the crowd kept me going. As long as I kept focusing on her, I could catch her.''
Three Americans finished in the top 10, led by Ariana Hilborn of Scottsdale, Ariz., in sixth place. Nichole Porath of Northfield also finished well, taking 11th place in 2:47:10.