For the past three years, Elisha Barno had watched from behind as Dominic Ondoro won the Twin Cities Marathon. A four-time Grandma’s Marathon champion, Barno wanted nothing more than to complete a Minnesota double, but three runner-up finishes to his friend made him wonder if it was ever going to happen.
So it was not surprising that Barno’s eyes welled up when he finally got the view he longed for Sunday, cruising down John Ireland Boulevard with nothing in his sights except the outstretched tape awaiting the winner. The Kenyan earned his first Twin Cities Marathon victory in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 58 seconds, besting countryman Boniface Kongin by 14 seconds. On a day that was a little chilly for his liking, Barno waited until Mile 25 to make his move, confidently striding away from Kongin to take the winner’s purse of $7,500.
The women’s race also got a new champion, as Sinke Biyadgilgn of Ethiopia broke Jane Kibii’s two-year streak atop the podium. While Kibii faltered late in the race and finished fifth, Ondoro did not return to defend his title this year, opening the door for Barno to realize his long-held ambition.
“I came down the hill, and I felt very happy,” said Barno, 33, who has won Grandma’s Marathon in each of the past four years. “I felt like I want to cry. To be a champion is not easy.”
A total of 6,800 runners finished the 26.2-mile course from downtown Minneapolis to the State Capitol in St. Paul. Biyadgilgn, 23, was something of a surprise in the women’s race. She won in 2:33:04, six seconds faster than 2015 champion Serkalem Abrha of Ethiopia and seven minutes swifter than Tierney Wolfgram, a 15-year-old from Woodbury who finished sixth in a smashing marathon debut.
After winning Grandma’s for the fourth consecutive time in June, Barno rested for a week before resuming training at his base in Santa Fe, N.M. He entered Sunday’s race feeling strong and fit.
With heavy clouds holding temperatures in the mid-40s, Barno hoped to come close to the 2:10:06 he ran at Grandma’s. His winning time Sunday was about three minutes off the course record of 2:08:51 set by Ondoro in 2016, when Barno clocked the third-fastest time in Twin Cities Marathon history. This race, though, was simply about being the first runner across the line.
By the time the field reached Lake of the Isles, six men — including Kongin, Barno and Boaz Kipyego — set the pace. That group increased its cushion to more than a minute and a half over the chase pack at the halfway point along the eastern shore of Lake Nokomis.
The leaders gradually dwindled to three, as Barno felt his confidence grow. “I decided then to run my own race, at my own pace,” Barno said. “I was trying to push Boniface, but he was very strong.”
Barno, though, was stronger. After those two dropped Kipyego on their way down Summit Avenue, Barno made his final surge. “It was near the church,” Kongin said, referring to the Cathedral of St. Paul. “I was not able to keep up.”
Wolfgram jumped out to a 30-second lead early in the women’s race, before Biyadgilgn, Abrha, Kibii and two-time Grandma’s champ Sarah Kiptoo reeled her in and took command. Kibii dropped back on the steep grade at Mile 21, and Biyadgilgn outdueled her last two rivals to earn her first marathon victory.
“I’m not good at hills,” said Kiptoo, who placed third. “[Biyadgilgn and Abrha] ran very well [Sunday].”
So did Barno, who has begun to feel very much at home in Minnesota.
“I like it here,” he said. “I run well here. The people are cheering, the kids are very happy. You get energy from that.
“And now, I am very happy, because I am a champion.”