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Kenya's Barno outpaces Ondoro to win Grandma's Marathon

Four runners were separated by seven seconds through Mile 20 at Saturday's Grandma's Marathon. Elisha Barno was leading the way, and when the Kenyan prepared to make a move, he didn't receive any objection from countryman and defending champion D...

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Elisha Barno of Kenya left countryman Dominic Ondoro, the course record-holder, in his wake in the final few miles to win his first Grandma’s Marathon men’s title Saturday morning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Four runners were separated by seven seconds through Mile 20 at Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon.
Elisha Barno was leading the way, and when the Kenyan prepared to make a move, he didn’t receive any objection from countryman and defending champion Dominic Ondoro.
“Don’t wait for me,” Ondoro told his friend and training partner. “Just go.”
Barno didn’t need to be told twice, surging up Lemon Drop Hill at about the 22nd mile. And he kept the throttle down en route to a comfortable winning time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, 36 seconds in his Grandma’s debut. The 29-year-old clocked the fourth-fastest time in race history a year after Ondoro decimated Dick Beardsley’s long-standing course record.
Was it hard for Barno to ditch the teammate with whom he trains in sprawling Eldoret, Kenya?
“No, I don’t feel bad,” he said to laughs. “I’m very happy.”
A heavy downpour doused marathoners about 20 minutes before Saturday’s 7:45 a.m. start in Two Harbors. It gave way to steady, and then sporadic, rain, but on a day in which forecasts repeatedly predicted severe weather, things could have been far worse.
Instead - and improbably - conditions were good. Temperatures were in the 50s and wind was almost nonexistent.
Barno, like so many others, said the early deluge, and the cold it created, tightened his leg muscles. He eventually loosened them up, and the result was impressive consistency. He went through the halfway point in 1:04:50, and his 25th mile registered at 4:55 - the same pace Ondoro maintained over 26.2 miles last June.
Barno was asked what was going through his mind as he prepared to toe the start line.
The cold, namely.
“I feel like I need to stay under the tent (and dry),” he recalled.
The affable Barno, though, said the rain was manageable.
“When it rains, but if there’s no wind, I think it’s better,” he said. “Wind would affect our attitude.”
Ondoro came to town with visions of another record. His 2:09:06 a year ago trumped Beardsley’s 1981 mark of 2:09:37 by 31 seconds, and he was strong again Saturday until a side stitch between the 18th and 19th miles flared up and slowed his stride.
Ondoro dropped back and found himself in a fight for second place with Jordan Chipangama of Zambia. He recovered in time to eclipse Chipangama, 2:11:17 to 2:11:35.
Barno earns $10,000 for winning and $2,500 for producing a sub-2:11. Saturday continued his torrid 2015. Coming to Duluth, he already boasted wins at the Donna Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon in Louisville, Ky., and the Indy Half Marathon in Indianapolis.
Barno and Ondoro both belong to the AmeriKenyan Running Club out of Santa Fe, N.M. Their ties run deep, and it showed after the race. In the media center, located at the Comfort Suites in Canal Park, the two repeatedly could be seen talking and laughing with each other.
After all, somebody had to finish first. Ondoro hoped it would be him, but when he realized Saturday wasn’t his day, he became an unabashed Barno fan.
Their agent and the founder of the AmeriKenyan Running Club, Scott Robinson, called it “harambee,” a Kenyan rallying cry for unity.
“I really like working with guys who understand that, ‘I’m not going to win every day,’ ” Robinson said. “And if I’m not going to win, then I want my partner, my brother in training to win. They encourage each other and they support each other.”
That doesn’t mean Ondoro won’t try to win the next one. And that could come sooner than expected, perhaps the first time he runs with Barno upon their return to Eldoret.
“We’re going to have one more race,” Ondoro, whose second-place check was worth $7,500, guffawed.
Chipangama earned $5,000 for finishing third.
Rounding out the top five were a pair of Ethiopians: Negash Duki (2:13:40) and Birhanu Dare Kemal (2:13:42).
The top Minnesota finisher was Edward Tabut of Coon Rapids in 28th, while Nick Nygaard was the top Duluth finisher in 38th.

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