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Grandma's Marathon local finishers: Heitzman is top runner from Northland

John Heitzman didn't have tears in his eyes Saturday morning because his legs were sore, he was thrilled with his finishing time in the 37th Grandma's Marathon.

The former Grand Rapids runner set a personal best in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 4 seconds to place 27th in the men's field. His previous best was 2:24:28 at the 2010 California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., to place 16th.

Heitzman, 28, and his wife, Ariel, and their two children, ages 3 and 10 months, moved from Superior to Madison, last month to prepare for John's entry into a doctorate program in physical therapy at the University of Wisconsin. He had missed a few days of training during the transition but was on his game on an excellent running day.

"This was a storybook day," said John Heitzman, a former Wisconsin-La Crosse runner. "I felt like I was hitting my split times (5:30 per mile) all day. I told myself, 'John, stay relaxed. Think of the last 10K as your second run of the day. Stay confident, be smart and stay strong like a horse.' "

He took his advice to finish as the top runner from Northeastern Minnesota.

It was also a good day for Ariel, 28, in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, as the top local woman finisher in 1:22:13, fourth overall. A month ago, in the Fargo (N.D.) Half Marathon, John was third overall in 1:09:30 and Ariel, 28, a physical therapist, was fourth in the women's division in 1:22:35.

Hermantown's Leslie Semler continued a streak of consistent finishes at Grandma's Marathon, placing 32nd in 3:04:30. In the previous three years she was 28th in 3:04:09 in 2010, 64th in 3:05:09 in 2011 and 33rd in 3:10:25 in 2012.

Semler, 32, has been a distance racer for three years and debuted at 50 miles last July, winning the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon from Carlton to Duluth and back. The contract engineer for Duluth's Bar Engineering also won the 2011 Half-Voyageur Trail Marathon.

Also among marathon finishers: former Minnesota Duluth runner Nick Nygaard, 22, in 2:37:02; Paul Rockwood, 25, of Superior in 2:40:37; Benjamin Cogger, 28, of Duluth in 2:43:05; and Donny Sazama, 35, of Hermantown in 2:43:40. Jarrow Wahman, 51, of Duluth was second in the men's 50-54 division in 2:50:52. Duluth native Al Evans, 50, of Beaverdams, N.Y., won the division in 2:40:45.

Jenna Boren, 36, of Minneapolis was the top Minnesota woman in the marathon in 2:40:38. Rochelle Wirth, 51, of Duluth finished in 3:12:03 and won the women's 50-54 division.

Katie McGee, 40, expecting to be a factor in the masters division, reinjured a hamstring a week ago and Saturday's race didn't go as well as hoped. She got to about 22 miles and was sore enough that she went off the course, headed to the Lakewalk, took off her race number and slowly finished her trek into town.

"I was healing pretty good until I tripped and fell while running on a trail. Today I hurt, hurt, hurt," said McGee.

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