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Ondoro seeks Grandma's Marathon repeat

A year ago, Dominic Ondoro came to Duluth for his Grandma's Marathon debut determined to break Dick Beardsley's course record. Ondoro backed up his big talk with a dominating run from Two Harbors to Canal Park that blew away a loaded field. He wa...

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Defending Grandma’s Marathon champion Dominic Ondoro set a course record in 2014. (File / News Tribune)

A year ago, Dominic Ondoro came to Duluth for his Grandma’s Marathon debut determined to break Dick Beardsley’s course record.
Ondoro backed up his big talk with a dominating run from Two Harbors to Canal Park that blew away a loaded field. He was so fast - 2 hours, 9 minutes,
6 seconds - that nearly three minutes elapsed before the second-place finisher came across. Beardsley’s record of 2:09:37, set way back at the fifth Grandma’s in 1981, didn’t stand a chance.
Can Ondoro do it again?
“We’ll see,” the 27-year-old Kenyan said through a big smile. “I feel great.”
Ondoro and 40-year-old countryman Meshack Kirwa came to town Tuesday. Talking together from the downtown Holiday Inn lobby Thursday evening, the teammates were asked how they’ve passed their time in the Northland since arriving from Kenya.
Kirwa pointed to a picture on the wall showing one of the lighthouses in Canal Park while noting the bridge that “goes up and down.”
Kirwa and Ondoro train together in Eldoret, a large city in western Kenya where elite running clubs are a staple. While Ondoro is getting plenty of pre-race pub as Saturday’s favorite, another teammate, Elisha Barno, comes to Duluth fresh off a win at February’s 26.2 with Donna marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., where his time was 2:13:19. Barno, with a 26.2-mile PR of 2:09:45, hopes to be in the 2:10-2:11 range Saturday.
Like Ondoro, Barno is a member of the
AmeriKenyan Running Club based out of Santa Fe, N.M. The club, with agent Scott Robinson, has five runners competing this weekend.
They all are pursuing the same thing - victory, teammates and training partners or not.
“There has to be a winner,” Kirwa, a newly minted masters runner, said. “Our hope is that it’s someone from our team.”
And what if Ondoro and Barno, or even Kirwa, come down Canal Park Drive neck-and-neck Saturday? The defending champ laughed as he thrust his index finger forward, as in “run past ’em.”
Robinson, reached while driving to the airport in Albuquerque on Thursday afternoon, said: “These guys all hope for success for each other. They all want each other to succeed, but I think the mindset is, if it comes down to the finish, everyone wants victory.”
Ondoro will wear the No. 1 race bib, Barno the No. 2.
Ondoro’s marathon PR is an even 2:08. He was fourth at the Houston Marathon (2:09:40) in January.
Last year, Ondoro ran with the pack before pulling away at about the 19th mile. He sounded Thursday like a similar strategy is in the offing. Going solo too early, Ondoro said, is a recipe for disaster.
Textbook running weather aided Ondoro’s record romp in 2014. Thus far, it doesn’t look like history will be repeating itself. Warmer temps, humidity and rain are forecast for Saturday.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Among the challengers to Ondoro’s throne are:

  • Jordan Chipangama was fourth at Grandma’s in 2014 with a time of 2:12:22, which also doubles as the 26-year-old from Zambia’s fastest time in the marathon. He also was seventh in Duluth in 2013 (2:13:08).

Chipangama ran a 1:02:24 to win the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in May.

  • The second-fastest marathon time (2:08:43) at the start line Saturday in Two Harbors will belong to Abraham Chelanga, a 31-year-old Kenyan. Chelanga’s 26.2-mile PR came at the 2009 Paris Marathon, where he finished 11th. He was seventh at Grandma’s last year (2:13:26) and claimed first place at the Cleveland Marathon last month (2:16:20), which doesn’t leave much turnaround time between races.
  •  Josphat Too boasts a 26.2-mile personal-best of 2:13:37, which he turned in while finishing ninth at the Hong Kong Marathon run in early May.
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