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History — not weather — highlights 42nd Grandma's

In sticking with tradition, Grandma's Marathon executive director Shane Bauer drove the racecourse with his family Sunday, looking for loose ends to tie up and left-behinds to clean up.

Bauer's haul: one sponge and one cup.

It was a fitting finish to a Grandma's weekend that was all but spotless.

The 42nd annual event featured a little bit of everything.

Wisconsin native Kellyn Taylor decimated the women's record, besting Sarah Kiptoo's 2013 mark of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 32 seconds by a whopping two-plus minutes. At a race often overlooked by U.S. elites, Taylor's 2:24:28 made her the seventh-fastest American woman marathoner of all-time.

Then there was Elisha Barno, who added to his North Shore lore by securing a fourth straight victory. Prior to 2017, no man had ever three-peated at Minnesota's oldest marathon. Barno was fast, too, winning in 2:10:06, which ranks third in Grandma's history.

Additionally, Duluth's favorite runner, two-time Olympian Kara Goucher, was back home to compete in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.

Bauer, overseeing his third race weekend, noted that Grandma's is "loaded with these historic moments. I guess that's the coolest part for me — this is one that will definitely stand out."

He was talking on his cellphone while driving near the end of the course, and paused the conversation briefly to catch a weather warning. Indeed, those were abundant throughout the weekend, especially Friday and Sunday, but the thunderstorms that caused so much damage in the region stayed away Saturday morning, at least between Two Harbors and Duluth.

Once again, Mother Nature smiled on Grandma's, as she's prone to do.

Running conditions were ideal one day after downpours induced localized flooding and power outages and one day before storms washed out many Northland roads.

"Considering the weather, I don't think it could have went any better," Bauer said.

Of the heavy rain late Saturday night and into Sunday, as well as the resulting flood damage, Bauer said: "That's the kind of thing that would cancel the marathon," something that's never happened in 42 years. "And that's kind of what was forecast (for Saturday morning). Just super fortunate. It's hard to believe."

Taylor came to town with a 26.2-mile PR of 2:28:40, which means the 31-year-old improbably slashed it by more than four minutes. She started the Boston Marathon in April, but dropped out midway through because of hypothermia.

Comparatively, Saturday was perfect.

"The weather was great," Taylor said. "I think we all went into the race not knowing what to expect because the weather had been fluctuating so much throughout the week, and then race day came, and I don't know if we could have asked for better weather."

Participation in the marathon was down from 2017 — 8,231 registrants this year compared to 8,740 last June. There 9,589 in 2016, though that was the 40th anniversary celebration, and 7,794 in 2015. Bauer said those are natural ebbs and flows for an event of Grandma's size.

"Anytime you get over (8,000), that's really good," he said.

In the Bjorklund half-marathon, 9,280 entered, up from 8,893 a year ago. There were 9,571 half-marathoners in 2016.

The 43rd Grandma's Marathon is June 22, 2019. Registration opens Oct. 1.

• Bjorklund winners Saturday were Panuel Mkungo for the men (1:02:50) and Monicah Ngige for the women, who was first in 1:09:55, 10 seconds off Goucher's 2012 record.

• Kiptoo, who won here in 2013 and 2016, was unable to finish Saturday because of a troublesome knee.

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