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Proud Beardsley passes the Grandma's Marathon record torch

Dominic Ondoro of Kenya celebrates with Dick Beardsley at the finish line of Grandma's Marathon in Duluth Saturday morning. Ondoro broke the course record in an unofficial record time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 6 seconds to top Beardsley’s 33-year course record of 2:09:37. Beardsley, a radio commentator on WEBC-AM 560, watched Ondoro break his record from the pace car. (Clint Austin /

Dick Beardsley shed a few tears Saturday after Dominic Ondoro shattered his 33-year-old Grandma’s Marathon record.

But make no mistake, they were tears of joy.

“I’m getting emotional because, just being a Minnesota kid and being part of my favorite race in the world — Duluth is like my second hometown,” Beardsley said. “And to be able to have that for as long as it stood, I’m very proud of that.”

Beardsley, who grew up in Wayzata, Minn., ran the fifth Grandma’s Marathon in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds. He never expected that mark to survive unscathed for 33 years.

“Thirty-three years was about 32 years longer than I thought it was going to last,” Beardsley said.

Ondoro came to town with every intention of toppling the mark. In that regard, he was hardly unique. Pre-race favorites have talked of knocking Beardsley out of the top spot every year since about 1982. The only difference with Ondoro? He backed it up.

The 26-year-old Kenyan crossed the finish line in 2:09:06, an improbable 31 seconds faster than Beardsley ran in 1981 amid conditions strikingly similar to Saturday’s.

Ondoro said earlier in the week he’d need help from the field to set the record.

“It’s hard for one guy alone to run that kind of time,” he said.

He got help from a handful of elite counterparts, specifically Jordan Chipangama, who pushed the pace en route to an early lead. Betram Keter was the 10K leader at 30:20, which equates to a sub-2:08 marathon pace. In fact, Ondoro ran with a pack for much of the morning before making his move shortly after mile mark No. 19, near Lester River. From there, he was on his own.

Beardsley highlighted the importance of being pushed by recalling his 1981 run along the North Shore, when Garry Bjorklund challenged him for 19 miles.

The 58-year-old Beardsley, who lives in Austin, Texas, had nothing but praise for Ondoro.

“I’ve seen a lot of really good-looking runners,” Beardsley said. “This guy is as good of a looking runner as I’ve ever seen.”

Beardsley said he started doing the calculations at the 16th mile. By then, Ondoro had slowed slightly from the record pace he carried through the first half. It would take a Herculean effort to recoup that time. Ondoro delivered.

Beardsley thought his record would fall last year when Bazu Worku of Ethiopia entered the race touting the fastest previous marathon time of any entrant in Grandma’s history, 2:05:25. Worku won, but a sluggish early pace kept Beardsley’s record safe.

Until Saturday.

And that was just fine with the guy who got bumped from the top spot.

“People ask, ‘Are you kind of sad?’ No, I’m really happy for the guy,” Beardsley said. “I was proud to be a Minnesota kid and have that record, but records are meant to be broken.”