The Grandma’s Marathon course is noted for its fast times for wheelchair racers, but Saturday’s marks entered another stratosphere.
Susannah Scaroni of Urbana, Ill., smashed the event mark by nearly six minutes to defend her women’s title in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 42 seconds.
Similarly, two-time defending champion Aaron Pike of Champaign, Ill., obliterated the Grandma’s men’s record by nearly two minutes, crossing the Canal Park finish line in 1:20:59.
Scaroni’s time was more than six minutes better than the official world mark Manuela Schaer clocked at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Schaer also went 1:28:17 in the 2017 Boston Marathon, which like Grandma’s is a point-to-point marathon and has an elevation drop that is above the allowed standard and therefore is not considered for world standards.
No matter how the time will be judged by recordkeepers, she was fast on a perfect Duluth day.
“We were fortunate to be on this course on a gorgeous day with a great field, and that’s what it takes (to set a record),” the 28-year-old Scaroni said.
Scaroni trailed Tatyana McFadden most of the race, not catching her until around Mile 24. From there she pulled away to win by 48 seconds.
”I could see (McFadden) in the distance for most of the race and then all of a sudden we were close,” said Scaroni, who became paralyzed at age 5 after a car accident in Idaho.
Keeping up a 19-mph speed throughout, Scaroni was untouchable down the stretch.
“I felt comfortable keeping a high pace,” Scaroni said. “I didn’t know if it would turn out for the worse — if I would tire out or not — but I felt comfortable so I just wanted to maintain that pace in case we got lucky.”
Breaking her 2018 winning time of 1:37:32 was never in doubt, partially due to Scaroni’s increased training regimen with the Top End racing team and due to the use of a new 18-pound, carbon-hybrid Garmin racing chair that she debuted at Grandma’s.
“Over the last two years I switched up a couple things on my racing chair,” Scaroni said. “Wheelchair racing is a very technical sport, and something really clicked for me two years ago.”
Likewise, McFadden was using a new chair that she plans on taking to Tokyo next year for the Paralympic Games.
“It worked amazing; I was really pleased,” McFadden said.
McFadden says she got caught up in the flow of able-bodied Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon runners as the course narrowed near downtown Duluth.
“The ending got really tricky when you come in with the runners, and I hadn’t done this course for a while,” she said.
Like Scaroni, Pike had a rival to keep up the fast pace.
For the first 22 miles, the 33-year-old traded the lead with Ireland’s Patrick Monahan. But with the knowledge of how Lemon Drop Hill can change the outcome of a race in a hurry, Pike decided to gamble and go for his third consecutive victory and the event record that eluded him when Joshua George nipped him at the wire in 2012.
“I just put my head down and went for the record,” Pike said. “I saw how it worked last year and decided that would be a good thing to do.”
Pike, a Park Rapids, Minn., native who was paralyzed as a teenager when shot by a hunter outside Virginia, worked in concert with Monahan from the beginning.
When they were regularly hitting 20 mph, Pike knew a good time was in the offing.
“I knew when we hit 39 minutes for a half-marathon, I knew we were on par for a good pace,” he said. “When you have two people working to get a fast time, that’s what you need to get a course record.”
A north-northeast tailwind for 90 percent of the race doesn’t hurt, either.
Pike recently finished ninth in the road world championships in London and is in the process of training for the track world championships in Dubai this November.