DULUTH – The headline in the Duluth News Tribune on June 25, 1977, indicated something new coming to the shores of Lake Superior.
Huff, puff: marathon today.
A spare seven paragraphs previewed an inaugural race, sponsored by the North Shore Striders and a year-old restaurant in Duluth’s Canal Park, Grandma’s Saloon & Deli.
Grandma’s Marathon was born with 150 entries and today celebrates 40 years with 9,589 participants. Minnesota’s oldest 26.2-mile run, from south of Two Harbors to downtown, is now the 11th-largest in the United States and operates a three-race weekend on a $2.73 million budget.
Minnesotans Garry Bjorklund, Dick Beardsley, Janis Klecker and former state resident Lorraine Moller, among many, have preached the word of Grandma’s Marathon across the globe. And race management has provided one of the most efficiently run events in America. The race sold out for 14 straight years through 2008, when there were a record 9,888 entries. The race is at capacity again, filling on Dec. 31, the earliest in Grandma’s history.
Women’s course record holder Sarah Kiptoo of Kenya has returned for a fourth straight year to the race she ranks as her favorite.
“I love everyone cheering along the way. … When I’m here, I feel like I’m home,” Kiptoo, 26, said Friday.
The marathon has had cool weather for four straight years, which aided a men’s course record of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 6 seconds, by Kenyan Dominic Ondoro in 2014 and Kiptoo’s women’s mark of 2:26:32 in 2013. Conditions may not be as favorable Saturdaywith a forecast of rain and high of 75 degrees.
Although Ondoro isn’t entered, his training partner and defending champion Elisha Barno is. Barno, 30, from Eldoret, Kenya, won last year in 2:10:36 and was second in 2015 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:11:39. American Fernando Cabada has raced the accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon five times and now is making his Grandma’s debut at age 34. He finished 55th in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:27:53 on Feb 13 in Los Angeles, a result he’d like to forget.
“I’m just very grateful for this opportunity to run here. It won’t erase the bad memories, but it will give me a chance for a better race,” said Cabada, who won the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon men’s title.
Esther Atkins, 30, of Blowing Rock, N.C., finished a long day of travel just past midnight Friday by being pulled over by the Minnesota State Patrol on Interstate 35 for speeding. Still, she’s looking forward to racing in the state where she won the Twin Cities Marathon in a personal-best 2:33:15 in 2014. It’s her first Grandma’s.
“The course looks something like the Boston Marathon, and that was a good course for me,” said Atkins, who ran the 2013 USA Half Marathon Championships in Duluth.
The 26th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, which starts at 6:15 a.m., has a record 9,572 entries. Friday’s William A. Irvin 5K had 2,242 entries.