DULUTH, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — A Kenyan runner who set the pace for much of a Duluth marathon lost his bid for a second win after a water-related mishap, allowing Ethiopian rival Berhanu Girma to secure his first victory in five career marathons.
Lamech Mokono, 31, was on pace to break the Grandma’s Marathon record that has stood for 31 years. But when he took a large gulp at an aid station near the 19-mile mark, the water went down wrong. He began choking, stopped and nearly collapsed, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Girma, who had been matching Mokono nearly step for step, surged ahead. Girma won with a time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 25 seconds, a personal best. The course record is 2:09:37, set in 1981.
“I saw everything happen (with Mokono) and I took that opportunity to take the lead,” Girma, 25, said through an interpreter. “Coming into the race, I wanted to put up a good fight and be competitive, but I didn’t think I would win.”
Chala Lemi, a 25-year-old Ethiopian, came in second with a time of 2:12:58. Mokono finished about a minute behind the winner, taking third place with a time of 2:13:28.
Mokono won the 2008 race.
Grandma’s Marathon, the 13th largest marathon in the U.S., had a starting field of 5,980 runners. The 26.2-mile race winds from Two Harbors to Duluth.
Most elite runners keep specially prepared bottles of fluid at aid stations, but Mokono drank from paper cups. He said the water went down wrong, something that had never happened in his racing career.
Kenyan runner Everlyne Lagat won the women’s division with a time of 2:33:14. The 31-year-old, who placed second last year, edged out two Ethiopians: Mulu Seboka (2:34:54) and defending champion Yihunlish Delelecha (2:35:42).
Weather wasn’t much of a factor. The day started out warm and sunny at 66 degrees with 73 percent humidity. By the time Girma finished, the temperature had dropped to 61 degrees.
In the U.S. Half Marathon Championship, which was also run Saturday in Duluth, a Portland, Ore., woman became a crowd favorite when she set a course record. Kara Goucher, formerly of Duluth, pumped her fist near the finish line as she finished in 1:09:46.
“I had to try and shut my emotions down during the race because I was trying to get something out of this race and prepare for London,” said Goucher, who will run the marathon at this year’s Summer Olympics in London.
The top three finishers in the men’s division all reported minor pain issues. Girma said fluid problems have caused abdominal pain during races and he still hasn’t figured which drink suits him well. He was content to stay a step behind Mokono until he saw his opening.
Mokono said his left calf began cramping at mile No. 24, and Lemi said one leg got sore near the end of the race.
“I could’ve run faster if it hadn’t been for my hamstring, but I was not disappointed,” Lemi said.
Girma earned $10,000 for the win plus a $1,500 bonus for finishing under 2:13. Lemi will take home $10,500, and Mokono made $6,250.
And WCCO’s own Rachel Slavik also competed in the Half Marathon, where she set a personal best time of just over two hours.
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