Sauk Rapids native Chris Raabe and three-time women's champion Mary Akor return to Duluth to defend their Grandma's Marathon titles on Saturday.
Raabe, the surprise champion last year in 2:15:13, became the first American male to win the Two Harbors to Duluth race in 14 years, and the first Minnesota-bred runner to break the tape in Canal Park since Dick Beardsley won the second of his back-to-back titles in 1982.
Akor, the Nigerian-born American citizen, matched former course record-holder Lorraine Moller's feat of winning three-straight Grandma's titles with her 2:36:52 win last year.
Raabe will face a field that includes 19 runners who have broken 2:14 for the 26.2 mile distance, including last year's 4th-place finisher Rueben Chesang, who finished 6th at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in 2009 as well.
Akor appears to have an easier return path to the winner's circle and what would be an unprecedented fourth-straight Grandma's. Only eight entrants in the women's race have bettered her PR of 2:33:50, set at Twin Cities in 2006. Yeshimebet Bifa of Ethiopia, however, is fresh off a 2:27:45 win at the Dubai Marathon earlier this year.
Two of the fastest women's entrants have storied histories in Minnesota marathoning. 49-year-old Fira Sultanova-Zhadanova of Russia, the Grandma's course record-holder at 2:27:05 returns, as does three-time Twin Cities and 2002 Grandma's champion Zinaida Semenova, 47, also of Russia.
The starting gun for the 34th annual Grandma's Marathon fires at 7:30 a.m. on Saturuday.
Avoiding the Traffic ... Due to major construction on Interstate 35 approaching Duluth, Grandma's Marathon officials are reminding those traveling to the event to allow extra time for the trip.
Details on the road construction and advice about alternate routes can be found HERE.
Beardsley, Goucher to Speak ... Grandma's Marathon course record-holder Dick Beardsley and 2007 World Championships 10,000-meter bronze medalist Kara Goucher, a Duluth native, will speak on Friday as part of Grandma's SMDC Heath System Health and Fitness Expo.
Goucher will speak at 3:00 p.m., followed by Beardsley at 4:00.
Presentations begin at 1:00 with a presentation by Valeriu Tomescu, the coach of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Constantina Dita, followed at 2:00 by noted author and Carleton College alum Hal Higdon.
More details on the speakers can be found HERE.
More Visa Problems ... Visa technicalities continue to make arranging an elite international field difficult for Grandma's Marathon officials. Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune -- who will be be enshrined in the Grandma's Marathon Hall of Fame this weekend -- writes about the problems HERE.
Join DtB at Grandma's ... We'll be on hand Saturday morning providing live-text coverage of Grandma's Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. If you can't make it to the race, follow all the action with us!