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Grandma's Marathon notebook: Kipyego tops masters field again

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Christopher Kipyego of Zacatecas, Kenya, crosses the finish line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday morning. Kipyego won the men's masters division in 2:22:56.

Christopher Kipyego, the 44-year-old Kenyan who’s become a mainstay at Grandma’s Marathon, defended his crown as the masters division winner Saturday, reaching the Canal Park finish line in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 56 seconds. He was 26th overall.

Kipyego likes to hang around the leaders early and hang on as long as he can. Saturday, he didn’t quite have the kick he did while running a 2:15:14 to finish fourth overall in 2017. Kipyego was victorious here in 2011.

Asked if he thought about trying to keep up with runaway champion Elisha Barno on Saturday morning, Kipyego smiled and said simply, “We tried.”

Ukrainian Valentyna Poltavska, 46, was the Grandma’s Marathon women’s masters champion in 2:48:16, good for 41st among women.

Stellar finishing rate

There were 8,217 people registered for Grandma’s Marathon; 6,294 started the race and 6,103 finished. The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon had 9,272 people registered, with 7,627 starters and 7,584 finishers.

An impressive 97 percent finished the full and 99.4 percent finished the half, on par with the best years in Grandma’s history such as 2015, when 97.5 percent completed the full and 99.8 percent the half.

Iron Three streak intact

Their finishing times might get slower and their ages older, but one thing that doesn’t change for the “Iron Three” — they always finish Grandma’s Marathon.

For the 42nd consecutive year, Joe Johnson of Menominee, Mich., Jim Nowak of Cornell, Wis., and John Naslund of Bloomington, Minn., made it to the finish line Saturday.

They are the only runners to have completed every Grandma’s since its inception in 1977.

Officially, Naslund covered the course in 4:02:04, followed by Johnson in 5:10 and Nowak in 5:42:59.

Runner roundup

Ahead of Duluth’s signature event, the News Tribune spotlights runners with inspiring, bizarre or just plain strange stories. A recap of how they fared:

  • Shane Keating, the 36-year-old from Foley, Minn., who broke his back in a sledding mishap and underwent spinal-fusion surgery in January 2005, entered his third Grandma’s hoping to lower his personal-best time of 4:10:33. Breaking 4 hours was the goal. The former St. Scholastica cross-country captain succeeded, reaching the finish line in 3:43:25.
  • Running Grandma’s in honor of her late brother-in-law, Andrew Carroll, a Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey standout and captain from 2005-09, Carissa Carroll of Shoreview, Minn., completed 26.2 miles in 3:39:18. Her friend and running cohort, Katie Bjorklund, also of Shoreview, was through in 3:36:49. The two hadn’t entered a marathon since setting matching 3:35:31 PRs at Chicago in 2009. Andrew Carroll had registered for Grandma’s before taking his own life in January. He was 32.
  • Volunteer-turned-participant Ashley Balaich of Duluth finished the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2:46:20. The 29-year-old has been attending Grandma’s since before she was born — her mom, Julie Gross, was pregnant with Balaich during the 1988 event, at which Gross was a water-station volunteer. Balaich similarly has passed out water almost every year while secretly wanting to be on the receiving end.
  • Running in memory of her son, Will Schlotec, who died at the age of 15 last August after jumping into “the Deeps” at Amity Creek, Duluth’s Mary Lahti finished the marathon in 5:30:41. Lahti was part of a large contingent of family and friends running either the marathon or half-marathon, something Schlotec aspired to do.
  • Rik Zortman of Avoca, Iowa, did the Bjorklund in 1:45:53. The 45-year-old has become known for using the GPS feature on his MapMyRun app to run routes that spell names of, most often, children fighting cancer. He then uploads the image to Facebook and tags whoever submitted the name. As of last Tuesday, his tally was up to 427 names, though Zortman planned to run one in both Duluth and Superior this weekend. His son, Armstrong, died in 2009 from brain cancer. Armstrong was 3.
  • Jackson Lindquist, a 24-year-old Esko High School and Wisconsin-Superior graduate who now teaches third grade in Delano, Minn., finished third in the Bjorklund with a time of 1:10:21, lowering his PR from 1:11:52. Lindquist was 77th and the top Minnesotan at April’s Boston Marathon, producing a 2:36:42 on a slow day beset by brutal weather.
  • This was no World Marathon Challenge, but 38-year-old Rebecca Pizzi of Belmont, Mass., ran her 76th marathon Saturday in 3:30:44. Pizzi twice has completed the World Marathon Challenge — seven marathons on seven different continents in seven days. She was the first American woman to accomplish the feat, which she won both times.
  • Jennifer Lucas ran her first marathon in 3:47:14. Lucas, 25, of Cottage Grove, Minn., was born weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces, and spent 73 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. She runs almost every day.
Locally speaking

Top locals Saturday included Nick Nygaard of Duluth, who was 42nd overall in the marathon, finishing in 2:29:04, and Kjerstin Anderson, also of Duluth, who was 125th among women in 3:13:24. Scott Behling of Duluth was tops among Northland men in the half-marathon (1:09:33) and Hibbing’s Lisa Smith was the first Northland woman (1:25:28).

  • Carlton’s Brent Smith, 62, won the men’s marathon’s 60-64 age group in 2:52:24.
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