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Grandma’s Marathon executive director Jon Carlson (left) congratulates Dominic Ondoro of Kenya at the finish line of Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday morning. Ondoro broke the course record with a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 6 seconds to top Dick Beardsley’s 33-year-old mark. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

For his first year in charge, Grandma's Marathon was kind to Carlson

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How can Jon Carlson possibly top this?

In his first year as executive director of Grandma’s Marathon, Carlson:

  • Witnessed Dominic Ondoro shatter Dick Beardsley’s 33-year-old course record.
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  • Had perfect weather ripe for fast running.
  • Saw record participation for the Garry Bjorklund Half Mara­thon and William A. Irvin 5K.
  • Not a bad way to start.

    Saturday was the first Grandma’s Marathon without Scott Keenan at the helm. Keenan retired last summer after serving as executive director for the race’s first 37 years. Carlson, previously the race director for 10 years, was named the replacement — and he couldn’t have asked for a better debut.

    Carlson soaked it all in.

    “I just kind of backed away, walked around and took a look at what was going on,” he said Sunday. “It was surreal. It was like, ‘hey, the race is going on and it’s going pretty smooth.’ The people that know what they’re doing just did their jobs, and they made my job very easy.”

    The weather was reminiscent of a year ago, as well as the 1981 race when Beardsley set the previous mark at 2 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds. Temperatures were in the high 40s and low 50s throughout the morning, with overcast skies, fog and a little bit of a tailwind.

    Just 198 people were treated at the finish-line medical tent.

    Even better: Almost everyone who started the marathon or half-marathon finished — 6,211 completed the 26.2-mile race from a starting field of 6,229 (99.7 percent); the numbers were 7,298 of 7,308 for the half (99.9 percent).

    “Everybody that I’ve talked to, weather-wise, has said it was just an ideal day,” Carlson said.

    Perhaps even more miraculous? Around the time Keenan was getting inducted into the Grandma’s Marathon Hall of Fame in the afternoon, the sun made a brief appearance over Duluth.

    A rare day, indeed.

    Carlson was at the finish line when Ondoro came across in 2:09:06. The 26-year-old Kenyan sprinted down a festive Canal Park Drive while knocking 31 seconds off the old mark. The atmosphere was electric.

    “We heard Dick Beardsley over the WEBC 560 broadcast and it was like, he’s going to make it; he’s going to break the course record,” Carlson recalled. “I got in front of the finish line just to look at the clock, and he came across. He did it. It was just unbelievable.”

    Beardsley was all smiles after his record finally fell. He’s long expressed his affinity for Grandma’s, calling it his favorite race in the world. That sentiment was only reinforced Saturday.

    “Wow, it’s an exciting time for Duluth and Grandma’s Marathon, and for me,” said Beardsley, who also was replaced by Ondoro as the owner of the fastest marathon ever run in Minnesota. “What a way for Jon Carlson, as the new executive director, to kick off his tenure in this job, with a new course record.”

    Ondoro claimed $10,000 for winning, $5,000 for running a sub-2:10 and his choice of either a 2014 Toyota or a $16,000 cash option for breaking the course record.

    The 39th Grandma’s Marathon is June 20, 2015. Next year also marks the 25th anniversary of the half-marathon, and Carlson said Garry Bjorklund, the race’s namesake, probably will be part of the celebration.

    Registration for the 2015 marathon opens July 1. The half-marathon lottery will take place in February.

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