DULUTH – No recruited elite athletes and no prize money marked the return of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on Saturday along the North Shore. The result brought fresh faces to the Canal Park winner's circle for the 31st edition of the 13.1-mile race.
Two first-time entrants were victors — Mohamed Hrezi, 29, of Philadelphia led overall in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 14 seconds, and Ann Centner, 29, of Tallahassee, Fla., was the women's winner in 1:14:23 on a clear morning that turned cloudy by 10 a.m.
Coming back from a COVID-19 virtual year in 2020, the half marathon was scaled down. There was a capped entry limit of 4,000, after 9,237 runners in 2019.
"This is an historically big weekend in Duluth [including Grandma's Marathon]. I knew of the races here, and I was looking for something to do," Hrezi said. "I pretty much ran by myself, which isn't great, but it was a perfect day for it."
Approximately 15 runners began in close proximity in separate lanes at the start line, and similar groups followed every few seconds, in a protocol designed by English crowd scientist Marcel Altenburg, and used in the marathon. Runners got off their transport buses, walked to the starting line and began the race, with all times being recorded by electronic chips.
Hrezi, in brand marketing for Johnson & Johnson, quickly gained an advantage and was on his own the rest of the way. David Fitzmaurice, 31, of New York was nearly two minutes back in second, in 1:05:54, and Colden Longley, 19, of Bloomington third in 1:07:32. The course record is 1:01:22 by Meb Keflezighi in 2013.
Centner said she didn't gauge her walk to the start line well and watched as others headed down North Shore Drive ahead of her. She didn't catch the leaders until four miles remained, heading up Lemon Drop Hill on London Road.
"I was hoping to run a personal best, and I did that by more than a minute. This couldn't have gone any better," said Centner, who is pursuing a doctorate in cell culture research at Florida State.
Sarah David, 32, of Chicago was the women's runner-up, two minutes behind in 1:16:45, and Kimberly Horner, 32, of Minneapolis third in 1:17:00.
Mile marvel in first marathon
Alan Webb ran a mile in 3 minutes, 46.91 seconds in 2007 and it stands as an American record. On Saturday he strung together 26.2 miles for the first time, in Grandma's Marathon.
"It is a really long event; it takes a different type of effort," Webb said with an understated tone. "But even when my body was totally shutting down, I enjoyed it."
Webb, 38, from Little Rock, Ark., said he always thought he'd like to try a marathon. The former University of Michigan star and U.S. Olympian had heard good reviews about Grandma's and came to Duluth with hopes of finishing in 2:30. He reached the halfway point in 1:14 and finished in 2:48:25.
With a chance to make England's Summer Paralympic Games team, JohnBoy Smith of London came to Grandma's Marathon for the first time. He faced a depleted men's wheelchair field and won in 1:25:45, a personal best by four minutes and ranking him No. 1 in England.
"By the third mile I was by myself, so this was literally a time trial, and I was pushing with my entire heart and soul," Smith said.
Smith's spinal cord was severed when, in a case of mistaken identity, he was shot in the back in a rifle accident in rural London in 2006. He had hoped to race against friends Patrick Monahan of Ireland and Rafael Botello Jimenez of Spain on Saturday, but both had last-minute visa problems. There were 14 men entrants.
Ivonne Reyes, 48, of Mexico won the women's division as the only entrant.
• Grandma's Marathon continued its decadeslong tradition of excellent running weather. At the 7:45 a.m. Two Harbors marathon start, it was sunny, 61 degrees with a 9 mph north tailwind. At the Canal Park finish it was overcast and 63.
• Both races were capped at 4,000 entries. The marathon had 2,682 finishers (1,479 men and 1,203 women), the half marathon had 3,305 (1,275 men and 2,030 women).The conditions and lower entry numbers meant only 87 runners were treated by medical staff, likely the smallest number in Grandma's history. "It was an awesome day to run," said medical race director Dr. Ben Nelson.
• John Naslund, 71, of Bloomington and Jim Nowak, 70, of Cornell, Wis., maintained their record of starting and finishing every Grandma's Marathon, now for 45 years. Naslund, who grew up in Two Harbors, finished in 4:39:11 and Nowak, a native of Duluth, in 5:39:59.