Momentum is a fickle thing in the world of elite running, but if anyone has it entering the 38th Grandma’s Marathon, it’s likely Nick Arciniaga.
The 30-year-old California native, who makes his home in Flagstaff, Ariz., was a perpetual top-10 finisher at some of the country’s top races. But he never could break through - always the bridesmaid, as it were.
Finally, after a career of near-misses, Arciniaga outkicked a loaded field to win the 2013 Twin Cities Marathon, which doubled as the U.S. championships, in a time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, 11 seconds.
That signature victory served as a springboard to a seventh-place showing at the Boston Marathon in April, where Arciniaga was even faster at 2:11:47. He was second among Americans.
“That was one of the best performances of my career,” he said Wednesday by phone. “Winning Twin Cities just gave me so much confidence and motivation. I definitely want to carry that momentum forward going into the race this weekend.”
Arciniaga, whose personal best at 26.2 miles is 2:11:30, is no stranger to Grandma’s. He has run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon three times, including a ninth-place finish (1:04:26) in 2012 when the race served as the U.S. Half Marathon Championship. Saturday, he will double his distance along the North Shore in what he hopes is a triumphant return to Minnesota.
“I seem to run well there,” Arciniaga said. “The humidity, the weather, the atmosphere of the crowd seems to bring the big races out of me.”
With an eye on the forecast, which continues to look promising for Saturday, Arciniaga hopes to set a new PR while adding a Grandma’s win to his burgeoning resume.
“My goal is to get out there and compete for the win,” he said.
One of Arciniaga’s biggest obstacles could be Kenyan Dominic Ondoro, who arrived in Duluth on Wednesday sporting a pair of sub-2:09 marathon times. That includes the 2:08 flat he used to claim first place at last year’s Tiberias Marathon in Israel. Ondoro, 26, is making his Grandma’s debut.
Nonetheless, he knows who he’s chasing - course record-holder Dick Beardsley, whose 2:09:37 in 1981 continues to taunt challengers. Will that change Saturday?
“We ordered good weather, so provided that weather comes in, we think Dominic will have a good chance to break that long-standing record,” Ondoro’s agent, Scott Robinson, said Thursday after arriving in Duluth. “It’s amazing how long it’s stood.”
Beardsley’s mark is always the target at Grandma’s. A year ago, it looked ready to fall when Bazu Worku of Ethiopia came to town touting the best previous marathon time - 2:05:25 - of any entrant in the race’s history. That, combined with flawless running conditions, had just about everybody, including Beardsley, expecting a new standard to be set.
Worku reached the Canal Park finish in 2:11:14, good for the fifth-fastest course time but well off Beardsley’s record pace.
Why will this year be different? Nobody that will toe the start line in Two Harbors will boast a PR that can rival Worku’s, and the weather, while looking favorable, can’t possibly be as ideal as it was in 2013.
“The weather has to be good,” Ondoro said through Robinson. “Having a strong level of support on the course from other runners … if there’s some consistency in the pace. That’s what it’s going to take; it takes teamwork. It’s hard for one guy alone to run that kind of a time.”
Ondoro made his U.S. marathon debut at Houston in January. He will wear the No. 1 bib Saturday.
Last year, amid 50-degree temperatures, an overcast sky and a stout tailwind, three of the top 10 Grandma’s Marathon men’s times were produced. Two of the top 10 women’s times came in 2013 as well, including the course-record 2:26:32 turned in by winner Sarah Kiptoo, whose agent also is Robinson.
2008 winner scratched
Lamech Mokono, who won Grandma’s in 2008 with a time of 2:13:39, withdrew from the race earlier this week because of a knee injury. The 33-year-old Kenyan actually ran a faster time in Duluth in 2012, when his 2:13:28 was good for third place.
Other notable runners include:
- Chris Kipyego of Kenya, a veteran of Minnesota’s oldest marathon, returns this week after finishing sixth a year ago. The 40-year-old’s name is part of Grandma’s lore after he held off Ethiopian Teklu Deneke to win the 2011 marathon by two-tenths of a second.
- Abraham Chelanga has the second-fastest marathon time of anyone in Saturday’s field. The 29-year-old Kenyan ran a 2:08:43 to finish ninth at the 2009 Paris Marathon. Chelanga is married to Jebichi Yator, one of the favorites in the women’s half-marathon.
- Stephen Muange, a 32-year-old Kenyan, won the 2010 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:04:24. He returned in 2011 to finish fourth.
- Michael Reneau of Minneapolis is switching from the marathon to the half. Reneau, 36, and the 2012 winner of the Fitger’s 5K, owns a marathon PR of 2:13:53.
- Eliud Ngetich of Kenya was a late addition to the marathon field. The 20-year-old finished third last year, where he posted a time of 2:12:00.