Carolyn Mather wrote this feature on the iconic Grandma’s Marathon and Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon. The most popular athlete in the event? Well, none other than Kara Goucher, who ran the half marathon with a sore hamstring. Here’s Carolyn’s wonderful piece on one of the many races she attends and assists at each year.
BARNO THREE PEATS AND GOUCHER RETURNS
Race day dawned in the low 60’s, but it was humid for Duluth,Minnesota, where the 41st running of Grandmas Marathon took place along with the 27th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. 6689 runners started the marathon and 6,377 finished while the half had an incredible 7,336 starters, and 7,332 finishers!! The half, which starts at 6:15am, had the most ideal weather, as it did warm a bit for the marathon.
The first three time men’s winner was crowned as Elisha Barno ran several sub five minute miles the last few miles to out distance his Kenyan compatriot ,Geoffrey Bundi, who was running his first marathon. Barno had just arrived from Nairobi on Friday evening, but still managed to take home an unprecedented third title in 2:12:06 with Bundi following in 2:13:32. Forty-three year old Christopher Kipyego took the masters title and 4th place in 2:15:14.
In the women’s race, Hellen Jepkurgat took the title in 2:32:09 after breaking away from the pack at 14 miles with Ethiopian Askale Merachi who finished nine seconds behind Jepkurgat. She was affected by the heat and humidity, which she did not anticipate, but she managed to hold on for the victory.
The wheelchair races both had incredible finishes as Aaron Pike edged Illinois teammate Joshua George( a three time winner) by less than foot. Then seven time winner Amanda McGrory edged her University of Illinois teammate by a wheel length for her eighth victory. McCrory was also inducted into the Grandma’s Marathon Hall of Fame at the awards ceremony. It was a banner weekend for wheelchair racing.
In the ever popular Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, the star of the weekend was Duluth native Kara Goucher. Kara had not run a race since the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials, where she finished fourth. She has had two knee surgeries since then and has struggled with getting back into true Kara form. She decided to seek the safety of running in her hometown and was getting into top shape when she hurt her hamstring. She was advised not to run but wanted to do it, finishing in 1:15:12 for fifth place overall. She ran the last two miles at 5:20 pace and felt great afterwards. Kara was a speaker at the Expo the day before the race, where she drew a standing room only crowd. Kara is truly loved by the people of Duluth. And she will enter the ranks of masters runners in a year.She even met me Sunday noon to autograph a poster for one of the staff at Grandmas who has idolized her for years and did not get the chance to meet her. Kara is a true superstar.
Two newcomers won the half as Biruktayit Degefa of Ethiopia took the women’s crown by over three minutes in 1:11:25 while Kenyan Evans Kirui took the men’s title in 1:03:35. Masters stand out Kevin Castille, 45, hung with the lead pack of five until near the end but still had a phenomenal race. He finished fifth in 1:03:58.
As is usual for the Grandma’s Marathon weekend it truly lives up to its name as a world class event with small town charm. Over 6000 volunteers work tirelessly to provide support to the staff of eight full time employees at Grandmas. They manage to truly put on a world class event year after year with the support of the community and the awesome sponsors. It never fails to amaze me how much work their small staff gets done year in and year out. Grandmas should be on every runners bucket list. Next years race will be held on June 16th and for the first time in several years there will be no lottery for the half. Registration opens on October 1,2017 at 5pm CDT on a first come , first registered basis. Mark your calendar and go to www.grandmasmarathon.com for further information.