DULUTH – Shadrack Biwott gauged the opposition on the final straightaway of Saturday’s 25th Garry Bjorkund Half Marathon and made a move with 100 meters remaining.
His finishing sprint was enough to hold off two foes in the closest three-person finish in race history — winning in 1 hour, 3 minutes and 9 seconds. In a photo-finish for second, less than a second behind, were Kenyan Macdonald Ondara, 30, in 1:03:09.74 and Ben Payne, 33, of Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1:03:09.82.
Biwott, 30, a naturalized American citizen who grew up in Kenya and lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., said he looked at his opponents’ body language and believed he was in good position on a 50-degree morning with light rain falling.
“We were all sprinting, but they looked maxed out. I gave it all I had,” said Biwott, second in the 2013 U.S. Half Marathon Championships, held on the same course. “The time was irrelevant, winning was the goal.”
Neely Spence Gracey of Boulder, Colo., daughter of Olympic runner Steve Spence, took the lead at the 5-mile mark and carried on to win the Garry Bjorklund women’s division in 1:11:27. Megan Hogan, 27, of New York, was second in 1:12:34.
Spence, 25, ran her first half-marathon just four months ago, placing second in 1:12:39 in Tampa, Fla., which qualified her for the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. If she participates, it would be her first marathon.
“I’ve been talking about it with my dad. No one has to convince me to move up to the marathon, I’m ready,” said Spence, who ran for her father at Shippensburg University.
Steve Spence, 53, was 12th in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona and third in the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. He has a marathon best of 2:12:17.
Garry Bjorklund, 64, a Duluth native now living in Fort Collins, Colo., was on hand for the milestone running of his namesake race and held the finishing tape, along with former race director Scott Keenan.
The world’s best woman wheelchair marathoner, Tatyana McFadden of Clarksville, Md., won the Grandma’s Marathon title in her first try in 1:42:49.5, while course record holder Josh George of Champaign, Ill., was first overall in a field of 11 in 1:30:11.5, to win a third Grandma’s Marathon title.
Both are competing in the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Championships at Hamline University this weekend in St. Paul and made the 150-mile trip to Duluth on Friday, arriving about 9:30 p.m.
McFadden, 26, has won in Boston, New York, Chicago and London in 2013 and 2014, and was first again at the 2015 Boston Marathon in April.
“Because of the [wet] conditions, this was more like a training race for me,” said McFadden.”But it was my second-fastest time in the last year, so I’m pleased.”
George, 31, set a personal best of 1:22:55 in winning the 2012 Grandma’s Marathon. He dueled former Grandma’s champion Rafael Jimenez of Spain on Saturday before prevailing by 5.5 seconds.
“We all took a soaking because of the rain at the start and it took 15 miles to warm up again,” said George. “One thing that keeps me coming back here, though, are the smooth roads. In big city races, the roads are not so good, but here they’re impeccable, pristine.”
• After 10 years as race director and the past two years as executive race director, Duluthian Jon Carlson is retiring after Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon. Carlson, 62, is being succeeded by Shane Bauer, 38, a former promotion and design director with the race from 2001-07. The marathon organization operates on a $2.8 million budget.
• Cool weather again led to few medical problems for runners. The temperature along Lake Superior didn’t vary more than 2 degrees from the 7:45 a.m. start until 3 p.m., sitting at either 54 or 55, with about 94 percent humidity and overcast. There was some rain, but nothing persistently heavy.
There were 184 runners treated at the finish line medical tent, the fewest in the six years that Dr. Ben Nelson of Essentia Health has been the race medical director. “Runners looked fresh and healthy at the finish line, and even those we treated seemed to recover quickly,” Nelson said.
• There were 7,794 entrants in the marathon and 6,047 timed finishers through seven hours, 164 fewer than last year. There were 8,358 entrants in the half-marathon and 7,218 finishers, a few less than the record 7,298 in 2014.
• Three men have now completed Grandma’s Marathon for all 39 years, starting in 1977: John Naslund, 65, of Bloomington, in 3:52:31; Joe C. Johnson, 65, of Menominee, Mich., in 5:05:34; and Duluth native Jim Nowak, 64, of Cornell, Wis., in 5:25:21.