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DULUTH – Don't call Elisha Barno old. Or over the hill. Or past his prime.

At age 39, call him the King of the Hill of Grandma's Marathon.

The 5-foot-5 Kenyan is unmatched among runners in the 47 years of the 26.2-mile race from Two Harbors to Duluth.

Barno stands at Saturday's starting line with five Grandma's Marathon men's titles, including a 2023 victory, and two of the top six times in race history.

Road racing success in your late 30s isn't by accident, says one of the winningest marathoners in history.

"So many athletes want to push to their limits all the time, and that can be hard on your body," Doug Kurtis, 72, said from home in Weaverville, N.C. "When I was racing, I wasn't trying to run faster and faster every race. I was often running 80 percent of what I could and enjoying every day. I wanted to be consistent."

Kurtis earned 40 victories in 205 career marathons, finishing under three hours 200 times. His most satisfying performance: winning the 1989 Grandma's Marathon at age 37. He came back to win in 1993, at age 41, as the race's oldest champion (along with women's winner Fira Sultanova in 2003).

Barno, from Eldoret, Kenya, became the second-oldest Grandma's winner a year ago at age 38 with a career-best time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 14 seconds. He won the first four times he came to Duluth (2015-18). At the Twin Cities Marathon, he's won once (2018) and finished second three times. He has 12 wins among 34 career marathons.

"I'm strong, I'm healthy and I still want to accomplish my mission and my dream every year. I want to defend my title," Barno, the father of three daughters, said this week. "I don't have another job, so I work hard at this one, and I think I can run even better.

"It's about believing in yourself. It's about training and nutrition and running without stress. My age isn't important."

For inspiration, he needs to look no further than two East Africans headed to the 2024 Summer Olympics in July in Paris. Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, 42, and Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, 39, are two of the best runners in history. Bekele won the 2019 Berlin Marathon in 2:01:41 at age 37. Kipchoge won a second Olympic marathon title in 2020 in 2:08:38 at age 33.

"In my 40s, I didn't feel age was holding me back," said Kurtis, the 1994 Boston Marathon over-40 men's winner, which earned him a trip to the White House and a run with Bill Clinton. "The older you get, the better you get at planning things and racing smarter."

Kurtis is in Duluth this weekend, providing race commentary for television. He is one of six men who have won two Grandma's titles — the others are Garry Bjorklund, Dick Beardsley, and Kenyans Patrick Muturi, course record holder Dominic Ondoro and the late Wesly Ngetich. Ondoro, 36, also running Saturday, is a four-time Twin Cities Marathon winner and course record holder. He and Barno are training partners and plan to run together.

East African men have won 23 of the last 26 Grandma's titles. Among women, Lorraine Moller and Mary Akor each have three championships. Among wheelchair competitors, Tami Oothoudt has 10 victories and Paul Van Winkel eight.

Olympian heads field

Minnesotan Dakotah Lindwurm, 29, is the marquee entry in the 34th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. She won consecutive Grandma's Marathon women's titles in 2021 and 2022 and was second in 2023.

She qualified for the 2024 Summer Olympics by placing third in the U.S. Marathon Trials on Feb. 3 in Orlando, in 2:25:31. The Olympic women's marathon is Aug. 11 in Paris.

Two other Minnesota women have run in an Olympic marathon race — Kara Goucher, 11th in 2012 in London; and Janis Klecker, 21st in 1992 in Barcelona.

Since a virtual participation year in 2020, Grandma's Marathon entry numbers have risen to a record 9,993 in 2024. It was the 10th-largest U.S. marathon in 2023 with 6,690 finishers.


48th GRANDMA'S MARATHON

Where and when: Saturday, 26.2 miles, starting from Two Harbors on North Shore Drive to Duluth's Canal Park Drive. Wheelchair and adaptive at 7:35 a.m., elite men at 7:40 a.m., elite women and citizen at 7:45 a.m.

Field: 9,993 registered runners compete for $107,450 in prize money ($10,000 each to men's and women's overall winners).

34th GARRY BJORKLUND HALF MARATHON

When and where: Saturday, 13.1 miles, starting from the Talmadge River on North Shore Drive to Duluth's Canal Park Drive. Adaptive at 5:50 a.m., elite and citizen at 6 a.m.

Field: 9,639 registered runners compete for $26,425 in prize money ($3,000 each to men's and women's overall winners).