Friday, June 15, 2012

Grandma's Marathon: A Battle of Champions

When tomorrow's Grandma's Marathon winnows itself down to a lead men's group, it's likely the aspiring pack will include runners who have already won marathons in Minnesota, including on the scenic road from Two Harbors to Duluth.

The 36th Grandma's Marathon elite field includes 2011 Grandma's men's champion Chris Kipyego of Kenya, 2008 Grandma's winner Lameck Mokono of Kenya, and 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon victor Sammy Malakwen of Kenya. 

(If you're wondering why so many Kenyans, read THIS.)

The champions' trio is likely to find Ethiopia's Assefa Girma, a 2:07:43 marathoner last year, in the lead pack, too, along with Coon Rapids-based Kenya contender John Nojorge. 

The top American contender, Ryan Bak of Oregon, has also been a winner in the North Star State -- the 2:14:17 marathoner won an NCAA Division III cross country title in Northfield, while a student at Trinity College.

The Duluth News-Tribune's Kevin Pates caught up with Mokono, who hasn't been back to northeastern Minnesota since his 2008 victory HERE.

Women's Field ... 2011 Grandma's women's champion Yihunlish Delelecha of Ethiopia returns to defend her title.  She'll be joined by Kenya's Everlyne Lagat, last year's runner-up.

Mulu Sebaka of Ethiopia sports the fastest personal best in the women's field at 2:25:45.  Countrywoman Asha Gigi is close behind with a PR of 2:26:05.  Both, it turns out, have been victorious a the Toronto Marathon during their careers.

Fira Sultanova-Zhdanova, 51, the women's course record-holder and a two-time Grandma's champ, return.  She placed seventh at Grandma's in 2010, but was a DNF last year.

Perhaps the best-known woman in the elite field is Ariana Hilborn of Arizona, last year's 10th-place finisher in 2:37:28.  She's provided the signature image (above) of the event's 2012 advertising campaign with her exultant, arms-raised finish.

Pates caught up with her HERE.

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