DULUTH - Her race ended last year before it began. Belainesh Gebre got in the wrong van the morning of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, mistakenly boarding the bus that took elite athletes to the starting line for Grandma's Marathon.
By the time she made it to the proper start site, the half marathon had started without her. Gebre wasn't about to make that mistake again. Saturday, she got to the start with time to spare -- and made it to the finish the same way, winning the women's race in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 57 seconds, nearly a minute ahead of second-place Hyvon Ngetich.
Kenyan Ernest Kebenei led the men's half marathon from start to finish and won in 1:05:15.
"Last year, I was very sad," Gebre said through an interpreter. "This time, I was very prepared. My training was really good. I'm really happy I won, and I worked hard for it."
Gebre, 21, is an Ethiopian who trains in Flagstaff, Ariz. She ran side by side with Ngetich for the first half of Saturday's race before picking up her pace and pulling away. Ngetich finished in 1:12:40, with fellow Kenyan Caroline Rotich third in 1:14:45.
Minneapolis' Michelle Lilienthal was the top American in the women's field, finishing sixth. Joan Benoit Samuelson, 52, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, finished ninth in 1:20:37.
Close, but no record
The heavy air didn't bother Kebenei as much as a breeze in the early going and the twisty course near the end. He had the best half-marathon time in the field and hoped to break the course record of 1:04:19 set by Ryan Meissen in 2002, but he came up about a minute short after holding a commanding lead through the race.
As his pursuers cut into his 300-meter lead, Kebenei held them off, but the tight corners late in the race prevented him from breaking the record.
"I tried my best," he said. "If it had been a straight line [near the end], I could have made it. I'll try to break it next year."
Ezkyas Sisay, an Ethiopian who trains with Gebre in Arizona, finished nine seconds behind Kebenei in a tight race for second. Twin Cities Marathon champ Fernando Cabada was third in 1:05:30, only five seconds behind Sisay, and Matt Gabrielson of Minneapolis was fourth in 1:05:36.
36 runners hospitalized
Dr. Steve Harrington, medical director of the event, said 577 people were examined at the medical tent, most for hyperthermia, dehydration or muscle cramps; 36 runners were sent to a hospital for further treatment.
Harrington said temperatures near the finish line reached 90 degrees, creating a busy afternoon. "We've had three warm [Grandma's dates] in a row, and this is the most people we've seen in my recall," he said. "It's not the kind of day we wanted for the runners, but it's what we got."
• Scott Ramberg of Marine on St. Croix, who was profiled in Friday's Star Tribune, ran 3:51:19 in his first marathon after a near-fatal construction accident last year.