DULUTH – Ideal running weather led to successful Duluth debuts Saturday morning in the 32nd Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon for Kenyan Daniel Kemoi and Great Britain’s Rosie Edwards.
Kemoi, 35, led the men’s field in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 4 seconds for 13.1 miles along North Shore Drive to Canal Park, and Edwards, 33, was first among the women in 1:12:45. Kemoi ran the second-fastest time in race history, 42 seconds behind Meb Keflezighi’s 1:01:22 in 2013.
Kemoi, from Eldoret, suffered a calf muscle injury a month ago and said that until recently he was 50-50 about getting to the start line. He felt good and pushed to the lead by the first mile. No one went with him.
“I was prepared. I couldn’t wait. I said: ‘Let’s go,’ The weather was perfect,” said Kemoi, who won $3,000 Saturday from a purse of $26,100.
Kiya Dandena, 33, of Flagstaff, Ariz., was 17 seconds back in second place in 1:02:21 to earn $2,000. The top Minnesota finisher was Joel Reichow, 28, of White Bear Lake, 10th in 1:04:39.
Edwards, a native of Manchester, England, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., had to stop for a bathroom break about 4 miles into the race, then did some catching up. By Mile 11 she had moved into first place, and ultimately she won by 47 seconds.
“Friends of mine couldn’t talk highly enough about this race and Duluth,” said Edwards, a personal trainer and coach who ran track and cross-country for Butler University in Indianapolis. “It was just a beautiful day, and it’s not often you see [spectator] crowds like this.”
Edwards earned $3,000 for first place. Elena Hayday, 22, of Bethesda, Md., was second in 1:13:02 for $2,000. The first Minnesotan was Alayna Sonnesyn, 25, of Plymouth, 11th in 1:16:19.
Nine months ago, in Champaign, Ill., wheelchair athlete Susannah Scaroni was on the road training when she was hit from behind by a car. Scaroni suffered three vertebrae compression fractures. On Saturday, she broke her Grandma’s Marathon women’s wheelchair course record by more than three minutes, winning her fourth Duluth title in 1:27:31. Her previous best was 1:30:42, in 2019.
Scaroni, 30, a Tekoa, Wash., native, wore a back brace for everything but showering for four months before returning to racing in January. It was a cautious return to Grandma’s.
“I hadn’t done much distance work, and I wondered how my back would feel,” said Scaroni, who injured her spinal cord in a car accident at age 5. “But I didn’t feel any pain today. It surprised me .”
Scaroni won $3,000. Jenna Fesemyer, 25, of Champaign, was second in 1:33:50.
Minnesotan Aaron Pike, 36, and England’s Johnboy Smith, 32, are becoming close friends. In the 2022 Boston Marathon, on April 18, they placed 2-3, six seconds apart — Pike in 1:32:49 and Smith in 1:32:55. Saturday’s rematch was almost identical: Pike first in 1:20:02, breaking his course record, and defending champion Smith second in 1:20:05, second best in race history. Three seconds apart.
“It was a complete battle from the start of the race. It was very tactical and very enjoyable. It was neck-and-neck until the last 50 yards,” said Smith, who won in 1:25:45 in 2021.
Pike, who grew up in Park Rapids, Minn., and injured his spinal cord in a hunting accident at age 13, now has four Grandma’s championships, setting the previous course best of 1:20:59 in 2019.
Pike won $3,000.
It was an uneventful day for the finish line medical tent. dr Ben Nelson, race medical director for 14 years, said 144 runners were treated, and just one was sent to the hospital for further evaluation. The numbers are below average, he said. Eighty-seven were treated a year ago.
Two men kept their record intact of starting and finishing every Grandma’s Marathon, now for 46 years since 1977. Two Harbors native John Naslund, 72, of Bloomington finished in 4:17:18, and Duluth native Jim Nowak, 71, of Cornell, Wis., finished in 6:18:30. Naslund has also completed every Twin Cities Marathon.
The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon had 9,428 entrants, 7,014 starters and 7,004 finishers. Grandma’s Marathon had 8,832 entrants, 5,967 starters and 5,938 finishers (3,399 men and 2,539 women).