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Grandma's Marathon notebook: Kipyego refuses to act his age

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Christopher Kipyego of Kenya sticks out his tongue at the finish line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday morning in Duluth. Kipyego was the winner of the men's Masters division.

Christopher Kipyego isn't supposed to be contending at Grandma's Marathon, or any other major marathon for that matter. It's not his resume — that's plenty impressive, including a title here in 2011 and a runner-up showing in 2010.

But the man is 43 years old. One of these days, Kipyego will start acting his age. That didn't happen Saturday.

The Kenyan's 2:15:14 was good for fourth place.

"Today, I came in and said, 'I have to run under 2:15,' " Kipyego said.

That was his objective, but when the lead pack crossed the halfway mark in 1:06:30, on pace for a 2:13, Kipyego's plans changed.

"I said, 'OK, now I have to stay with these guys,' " he said.

Kipyego didn't quite hold on, bowing to the late surge of countrymen Elisha Barno and Geoffrey Bundi — who showed little respect for their elder — but he had a blast nonetheless. Kipyego usually does at Grandma's, where he holds course records for the 35-39 age group (2:12:17) and Masters division (2:11:59).

The way he sees it, Kipyego still has good racing years in front of him. He might be 43, but he didn't start running competitively until he was 28. His first marathon was at 31.

Kipyego enjoyed reminding his youthful competitors of his age Saturday.

The Iron Three

The Iron Three all completed Grandma's Marathon for the 41st time Saturday. They remain the only people to run every year.

John Naslund, 67, of Bloomington, Minn., posted a qualifying time for the 2018 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line in 3:52:19.

Joe Johnson, 67, of Menominee, Mich., finished in 5:05:47, while Jim Nowak, 66, of Cornell, Wis., clocked in at 5:33:57.

People watching

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson held the women's marathon finish-line tape with Tim Jones, a district parts and sales manager for event sponsor Toyota. They even "practiced" before the elite runners arrived.

"I've run races, I've done the half-marathon, I've done the full many times, but it's surprisingly stressful to hold the ribbon. You don't want to get it wrong," Larson said, laughing. "I love this course."

Larson held the tape last year while also running the William A. Irvin 5K. Not this year.

"It turns out, this is a busy job," Larson said of being mayor. "So it's hard to find time for training, but I love being down here. It's amazing, just to see the spirit of the people who come by."

The local media do their best to tell participants' stories, but they can't tell them all.

It's an interesting mix at the finish line, with citizen runners finishing the half-marathon while the elites come in.

Larson's niece, Ellen Larson, finished her first half-marathon Saturday.

Four young women, wearing pink shirts that said, "Mile Shake Mamas," finished the half at the same time and did a little cheer after crossing the line.

Falling is apparently contagious, with two elite runners hitting the bricks right after crossing. One of them refused to be taken by wheelchair to the medical tent.

A woman carries a baby across the finish, while an 80-year-old man from Grand Rapids comes strolling in. Another man arrives wearing what looks like a golf shirt and swim trunks and sporting one-pack abs, showing that runners do, indeed, come in all shapes and sizes.

Two women cross the line hugging each other. One starts crying and you can't help but wonder, what's her story?

"You watch people," Larson said. "They're bleeding, they're crying. You look over and there is a marriage proposal, and then somebody comes in who you can just tell left it all out there and that this is such an important accomplishment for them, spiritually or physically. It is just a testament to the human spirit. I love being here at the finish line."

One final drive

All this talk about pace and finishing times, and where's the love for Steve Greenfield?

He was in front of the men's marathon leaders all morning — driving a media vehicle, just as he's done the previous 31 years. Saturday marked Greenfield's last time driving at Grandma's, what he calls the "best seat in the house."

He's done it long enough, Greenfield figures.

He was gracious enough to deposit a News Tribune reporter at Lake Avenue on Saturday morning, before getting the radio team of Charlie Mahler and Dick Beardsley closer to the finish line. The drop-off, already crunched for time with Barno bearing down on Superior Street, didn't go well. The van's door wouldn't open and, by the time it did, Greenfield already was moving again. He had somewhere to be. The reporter wiggled out in front of excited — and likely confused — spectators and, running alongside the van, tried to force the door shut.

To no avail.

How'd they do?

• Top local marathon finishers Saturday were Nick Nygaard of Duluth, who was 32nd overall in 2:29:52, and Auralee Strege, also of Duluth, who was 36th among women in 3:07:15.

• Jim Hagerl finished Grandma's in 3:47:46. The 39-year-old from Cloquet has Stage 4 brain cancer. He ran his first Grandma's last year in 3:24:46, and was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme on Oct. 26. He also ran the William A. Irvin 5K in 32:36 on Friday.

Hagerl was greeted with quite a surprise Saturday morning. Unbeknownst to him, his wife, Jessica Winkels-Hagerl, had organized a huge cheering section, with groups strategically placed along the course. More than 100 friends and family — some who traveled from as far as Colorado and Chicago — donned lime-green shirts, rang cowbells, held signs and yelled encouragement as Hagerl crushed his four-hour goal time.

Hagerl had no clue.

"I saw a big group of people at mile 9 and I thought, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' " he said. "It was a surprise, and I cannot believe my wife was able to pull that off."

Hagerl was buoyed by the support. People he didn't even know, including fellow runners engaged in their own races, cheered him on.

"It was amazing, and it definitely propelled me faster than I thought I could go," he said. "Just absolutely mind-blowing the support they had out there for me."

• Mike Palmquist, the 1976 Chisholm graduate who's now an associate provost for instructional innovation at Colorado State University, covered 26.2 miles in 4:46:25. Palmquist ran the Grandma's course before it was the Grandma's course, helping founder Scott Keenan test the race route.

• Antonio Toledo, 68, of La Crosse, Wis., completed his 100th marathon on the same course in which he ran his first. He finished in 4:45:29, smashing his goal of five hours.

• Lorraine Washa completed her 25th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon — out of a possible 27 — finishing in 3:38:34. The only two she missed were in 2002 because of breast cancer and 2003 because of colon cancer.

• Kelly Schmidt finished her first marathon in 4:47:35. She's run the Bjorklund before. Schmidt, 37, broke her neck 20 years ago in a car accident prior to her senior year at Proctor. Her husband, Tyrone, ran with her Saturday, coming in a second sooner. They reside in East Bethel, Minn.

• Chris Kotolski, 29, of Plainfield, Wis., finished his first 26.2-miler in 5:09:45. He weighed more than 400 pounds in 2014, but after bariatric surgery in January 2015, he's morphed into a runner, dropping in excess of 175 pounds.

• Charlene Staats, 54, of Lexington Park, Md., finished Grandma's in 4:27:33, while her 18-year-old daughter, Anna, finished her first Bjorklund in 1:44:33. Kerry Staats — Charlene's husband and Anna's father — died at the age of 51 in January after battling ALS. He ran Grandma's for 20-plus years and will be buried Monday between mile markers 8 and 9, a mile inland from Scenic Hwy. 61.

• Abby Hansen completed the Bjorklund in 2:42:14, a year after running her first marathon at Grandma's. She ran here a year ago alongside her fiance, David Forster Jr. He paced her and, less than a week later, collapsed and died near the end of an eight-mile workout in Northeast Minneapolis at the age of 27.

• Wearing 25 pounds of military body armor, Sgt. Travis Birr, 37, of Duluth completed Grandma's in 6:18:50. Birr is a combat medic with the Duluth-based U.S. Army Reserve 477th Medical Company. He ran to raise awareness about suicide among veterans and active-duty service members.

• Jeremy Finton, 37, of Canal Winchester, Ohio, became just the second quadriplegic to complete Grandma's, finishing in 3:19:55 in the wheelchair division. The time smashed his career-best of 3:45. Finton is a two-time medalist at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Championships and a wheelchair rugby athlete.

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