DULUTH – A Kenyan sweep in Saturday's 28th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon meant redemption for Panuel Mkungo and a sweeter sponsor deal for Monicah Ngige.
Mkungo, 24, who trains in Elkton, Md., wasn't thrilled with a fourth-place finish a year ago and was determined to make amends. He broke from a three-runner group just past nine miles and powered away to win in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 50 seconds for 13.1 miles. American Fernando Cabada, 36, of Lakewood, Colo., was second in 1:03:22.
Following Friday afternoon thunderstorms and lightning, it was a nearly ideal 57 degrees with overcast skies, and 83 percent humidity for the 6:15 a.m. start.
"After last year, I was not happy. I said, 'I have to come back and win this race,' " said Mkungo, who ran 1:03:45 in 2017. "I was slowed a little bit [Saturday] because of the weather. I was cold; I was not getting warm. My target was to run 1:01."
Mkungo, from Eldoret, Kenya, knew he was fit after running the Lawyers Have Heart 10-kilometer road race one week ago in 28:58 in Washington, D.C.
The winners both earned $3,000 from a total purse of $26,000.
Ngige, 24, from Nyahururu, Kenya, was recently told by her sponsor, Nike, that improved race times would mean a paycheck, not just shoes and clothes. She took that to heart.
In what was her first trip Duluth, Ngige came within nine seconds of Kara Goucher's course record to place first in 1:09:55. She bettered her personal best by exactly three minutes, although it was just her second half-marathon.
Ngige flew to the United States from home last week, but trains part of the year in Lansing, Mich.
Goucher finishes 21st
The Duluth-raised Goucher, 39, of Boulder, Colo., was in her first race since placing second in the 2017 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. And the day didn't go as hoped, finishing 21st in 1:18:15 in the same event.
"It was a perfect [weather] day, but I knew right away it was going to be a battle. If it had been any place other than my hometown, I probably would've dropped out at Mile 3," said Goucher, a two-time U.S. Olympian. "Now I'll plan to start training aggressively in August and look to run a fall marathon. I want to see if I can still be competitive on the world stage, or as a master [age 40 and older], or maybe in ultramarathons."
Minnesota-born Aaron Pike and Susannah Scaroni, who train at the University of Illinois, claimed Grandma's Marathon wheelchair titles for a second time.
Pike, 32, from Park Rapids, led the men's field in 1:26:48 after winning a year ago in 1:29:02. Juan Ramon Valladares, 37, of Caracas, Venezuela, was second in 1:28:04.
Scaroni, 27, the 2014 champion, was first in the women's race in 1:37:32, while Katrina Gerhard, 21, of Ashburnham, Mass., was second in 1:44:44.
The winners earned $2,000.
Whether it's on the road, track or snow, Pike has become a superstar performer. He's competed in four Paralympics — two Winter Games and two Summer Games (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018). He took on biathlon and Nordic skiing the past six years and has found his Norwegian roots.
In other 2018 marathons, Scaroni has been fifth in Tokyo, second in Boston and third in London. A week ago, in the New York Mini 10-kilometer women's race, she set a world record in 22:48.
"This has been my best season; I've been so strong," said Scaroni, a two-time Paralympian. "I love this [Grandma's] course. The road is so smooth."
The Iron Three
Three runners came into Grandma's Marathon having started and finished every race.
All three now have a streak of 42: John Naslund, 68, of Bloomington finished in 4:02:04; Joe C. Johnson, 68, of Menominee, Mich., in 5:10:00; and Duluth native Jim Nowak, 67, of Cornell, Wis., in 5:42:59.
Naslund, who grew up in Two Harbors and attended Minnesota Duluth, has also completed all 36 Twin Cities Marathon races.
• The 40-and-older masters winners were Kenyan Christopher Kipyego, 44, who placed 26th overall in 2:22:58 (he was the 2011 overall men's champion), and Ukraine's Valentyna Poltavska, 46, who lives in New York — 41st overall in 2:48:16.
• The Grandma's Marathon finish line medical tent had one of its quietest days in recent memory with 151 runners treated Saturday, race medical director Dr. Ben Nelson told the Duluth News Tribune. There were 281 runners treated in 2017 and 184 in 2015, a six-year low. Eighteen athletes were seen for hypothermia Saturday.
• There were 9,284 half-marathon entrants and 7,577 timed finishers.
• The marathon had 8,232 entrants and 6,086 timed finishers as of 3 p.m.