Kenya’s Elisha Barno defended his Grandma Marathon title he won last year by winning this year’s race in style.
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.
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.
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 Weldon Kirui and Chemtai Cheruiyot 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.”