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Grandma's Marathon notebook: Cool weather keeps things quiet

Duluth Mayor Don Ness reacts after crossing the finish line of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth on Saturday June 22, 2013. This is the first year that Ness ran the half marathon. (Clint Austin /

Grandma's Marathon built its reputation on having cool weather for many of its early races and found that niche again Saturday with temperatures in the 50s from start to finish. Overcast skies and fog met the runners in the marathon and Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and USA Half Marathon Championships, but no rain.

That led to a quieter-than-usual medical tent at the finish line in Canal Park.

Approximately 220 runners were treated, compared to 273 a year ago, said race medical director Ben Nelson of Essentia Health, mostly for foot blisters and muscle cramps. Eight runners required hospital visits, but all were treated and released.

"This probably wasn't a great day for spectators, but if you're a runner this is the kind of day you want," said Nelson.

Race finisher numbers

Race finisher numbers continued to trend down in the marathon and up in the half marathon.

In the 37th Grandma's Marathon, there were 7,338 entrants, 5,763 starters and 5,613 finishers compared to 5,787 finishers in 2012.

In the 23rd Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, there were 7,835 entrants, 6,645 starters and a record 6,618 finishers, compared to 6,482 finishers in 2012.

In the USA Half Marathon Championships, there were there 231 entrants and 193 finishers, compared to 169 finishers in 2012.

In Friday's 20th William A. Irvin 5K, there were 1,998 starters and a record 1,653 finishers, compared to 1,617 finishers in 2012.

This year marked the first time in race history that the half marathon entry numbers were higher than the marathon.

Iron Three have 37 in a row

The most enduring streak in Grandma's Marathon history continued to be shared by three men following Saturday's race. They've completed all 37 since the event began in 1977.

Former Minnesota Duluth pole vaulter and Two Harbors native John Naslund, 63, a financial adviser from Bloomington, Minn., finished in 3:47:01; retired high school physical education teacher Joe C. Johnson, 63, of Menominee, Mich., ran 4:27:19; and Duluth native Jim Nowak, a retired high school special education teacher from Reedsburg, Wis., ran 4:56:55.

Naslund also holds the distinction of completing all 31 Twin Cities Marathons from Minneapolis to St. Paul. The 2013 Twin Cities Marathon is Oct. 6.


Duluth Mayor Don Ness shook off myriad small, mostly annoying injuries to complete his first Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on Saturday.

Ness, 39, crossed the finish line with his younger brother, Patrick, completing the 13.1-mile race in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 8 seconds. They averaged 10:33 per mile.

"It was a great experience and fun running it with my brother," he said.

Ness, a former Duluth Central basketball player, was new to distance running. He battled tight hamstrings and soreness in his legs and back during the course of his training. Earlier this week he said the chances of him running were 50-50, but he proved to be a gamer.

"I had pain at the back of my knee from Mile 1, but it didn't get any worse," Ness said. "My last mile was probably my best mile."

Sandor, Vinnie and Amanda Surges finish

Superior's Tim Sandor kept his own Grandma's Marathon streak going with a 29th straight finish. Sandor, 64, came in at 4:26:12, his best time in five years. The part-time medical technologist at Essentia Health Superior has finished 106 marathons, including one in every state.

"Because of the (cool) weather, everything fell into place (Saturday). Right away I started thinking, 'This is a decent pace. This is working,' " said Sandor.

Duluthian Vinnie Surges, 25, a recent Massachusetts of Technology doctoral program graduate, conquered his first marathon try in 4:20:15. He's dealt with asthma since childhood but had finished three half marathons in the past year and used a training program on the Grandma's Marathon website to guide his marathon debut. Calf soreness, however, slowed his effort.

"For the first 15 miles things went so smooth and I was running exactly an 8-minute (per-mile) pace. But after that, out of the blue, I had severe calf pain in both legs," said Surges. "I walked and ran the last 11 miles because not finishing was not an option. "

Surges says he wants to come back next year and give the marathon another try.

His wife, Amanda, 27, a Duluth Denfeld and Minnesota Duluth graduate, ran the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, finishing in 1:58:45.

Personal best claims masters title

Tracy Lokken of Marquette, Mich., one of America's top masters runners, was 25th overall and won the Grandma's Marathon 40-and-older men's division in a personal-best 2:21:34 at age 47. His time was not far off the Grandma's 45-49 age-group record of 2:19:30, set by Reuben Chesang in 2010 at age 47. And it came just two months after winning the Boston Marathon master's title (and placing 31st overall) in 2:22:27 on April 15, which also was a personal best.

Lokken, a YMCA wellness center employee, also has speed at shorter distances. He won the master's championship of the Run for the Dream 8K in 25:28 on June 2 in Williamsburg, Va.

Ukranian Valentyna Poltavska, 41, won the women's masters title Saturday in 2:46:14.

Two-time Grandma's Marathon champion Doug Kurtis, 60, of Livonia, Mich., was seeking a 200th career marathon faster three hours, but just missed out with a time of 3:05:23. It was just the fifth marathon finish for Kurtis slower than three hours. He has a world-record 76 marathons under 2:20.

Pearson completes comeback

As featured in the News Tribune on June 16, Scott Pearson, 62, of Poplar suffered a heart attack toward the end of last year's Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. His heart stopped beating and he wasn't breathing when several medically trained onlookers helped resuscitate him.

Following heart surgery, Pearson didn't take long to return to running. But Saturday marked his first half marathon since his heart attack.

Pearson finished the race in a time of 2:27:07. Other than dealing with the typical aches and pains that afflict runners, Pearson was pleased with how his race went.

"I took it pretty slow. I'm a little sore but otherwise feel pretty good," he said Saturday afternoon. "It went about as well as I could have hoped."

And his thoughts while passing the corner of Superior Street and Fourth Avenue West, where he collapsed on June 16, 2012?

"It was a little emotional running there; it brought up some bad memories," Pearson said.

But those bad memories evaporated as he crossed the finish line.

"I'm ready for the next race," he said.