DULUTH – Kenya's Elisha Barno is 2-for-2 at Grandma's Marathon. Two times on the course and two victories.
He helped celebrate the race's 40th year Saturday with a victory in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 26 seconds on a humid morning along the North Shore from Two Harbors to Duluth's Canal Park. Barno, 30, from Eldoret, became the first back-to-back Grandma's Marathon men's winner since 1996-97. He won $12,000 from a $100,000 purse.
Women's course-record holder Sarah Kiptoo, 26, of Kenya won a second Grandma's title in 2:33:28, earning $11,250. She set the race mark of 2:26:32 in 2013.
The defending men's champion was focused on a return to northeastern Minnesota.
"When I started marathon training in March, I said '[Grandma's] is my race. This is my only race,' " said Barno, who won the 2015 event in 2:10:36. [Saturday] I wasn't looking at the other runners, I told myself, 'Just run your own race.' "
A capacity field of 9,572 was at the starting line at 7:45 a.m. under partly cloudy skies, with 78 percent humidity and 73 degrees — less than ideal conditions after four straight cool-weather years.
Barno, wearing No. 1, outdueled No. 2 Weldon Kirui of Kenya, who was second in 2:12:26. Kiuri, 27, the 2016 Los Angeles Marathon winner on Feb.17, earned $9,000. Kimutai Cheruiyot, 26, finished third in 2:14:02 and Jacob Chemtai, 29, fourth in 2:16:59, completing a Kenyan sweep.
"I knew from the beginning, as soon as I was outside, that this was not a good day for running fast," said Kiptoo, who is from Eldoret and trains in Santa Fe, N.M. "It was humid and I knew it would be too hard to run alone. I like to push the pace, but today I ran with a group."
A year ago, Barno ran side-by-side with training partner and course-record holder Dominic Ondoro before pulling away with about six miles remaining. This year he was in a three-person group, with Kirui and Chemtai through 20 miles. At 24 miles Barno dropped Kirui, the last challenger.
"I came to win, but my pace slowed because of the heat," said Kirui, who lives in Bomet, Kenya.
Barno won the California International Marathon on Dec. 6 in Sacramento in 2:12:11 and planned to run in Los Angeles in February, but visa problems kept him home. He then set his sights on Grandma's, arriving in town Wednesday.
"This was a tough day — too humid, too hot, too sunny, and I had a side stich for part of the race," said Barno, who plans to run the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 9, after placing second last year. "After I pulled away, I didn't see anyone, and I was very happy."
Kenyan Patrick Muturi won Grandma's Marathon in 1996 and '97, and the only other back-to-back men's winner is Minnesotan Dick Beardsley in 1981 and 1982. Other two-time men's champions are Garry Bjorklund (1977, 1980), Doug Kurtis (1989, 1993) and the late Wesly Ngetich (2005, 2007). The last women's multiple winner was Mary Akor, who won three in a row from 2007 to '09.
The top American man was Nicholas Arciniaga, 32, of Flagstaff, Ariz., sixth in 2:17:12. Arciniaga was the 2013 Twin Cities Marathon winner. The top Minnesotan was Matthew Wiersum, 28, of Minneapolis, 24th in 2:29:55.
Kiptoo was content to be pulled along for a while in a pack of five, including three men. From miles 15 to 18 she slowly gained an advantage. Serkalem Abrha, 29, of Ethiopia injured a hamstring while placing second in the 2016 Los Angeles Marathon and resumed training just seven weeks ago. She was thrilled to finish second in 2:34:20, 51 seconds back.
"I didn't feel any hamstring soreness and was able to at least keep close. I could still see [Kiptoo] at 23 miles," said Abrha, the 2015 Twin Cities Marathon women's winner.
Clara Santucci of Dilliner, Pa., was third, and the top American woman, in 2:34:55. The top Minnesota women were Lindsey Pierret 28, of St. Louis Park, 24th in 3:04:48 and Cindra Kamphoff, 40, of Mankato, 25th in 3:05:50. Former Minnesotan Jenna Boren, 39, of Menlo Park, Calif., was 18th in 2:57:45.