Nell Rojas’ meteoric rise from marathoning unknown to favorite at Saturday's Grandma’s Marathon has been nothing short of remarkable.
So it’s no wonder that Rojas was asked plenty of questions at Friday’s elite news conference about her breakout debut at the California International Marathon on Dec. 2 in Sacramento, where she finished seventh in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 23 seconds.
“My goal was to run under 2:45,” she said.
“But there’s a big difference between a 2:45 pace and a 2:31,” retorted Chad Salmela, a former St. Scholastica Nordic ski coach and Winter Olympics television analyst.
This isn’t a story like that of Duluthian Kara Goucher, who literally had a track record to fall back on, so when Goucher switched to marathoning her stellar times didn’t shock anyone.
Most of Rojas’ background was in triathlons and college steeplechase, but she comes from good stock. Last month Rojas won the famed Bolder Boulder 10K, 40 years after her father, Ric Rojas, won the inaugural race, besting American and Olympic running legend Frank Shorter.
Nell picked up marathoning because she wanted to do a grueling Ironman Triathlon. She found marathoning much better (and less taxing).
“My dad knows my potential, so he said, ‘Just run 2:45. Be patient and be in no hurry,’ ” Rojas said. “I latched on with a group of men and was feeling good. My last 5K was my fastest. I just had never trained for marathons before, and that day was perfect.”
Kenyan Pasca Myers has run her share of races, including the California International Marathon, but her personal record is the 2:33:43 she had at the 2014 Grandma’s Marathon.
So it’s no wonder what she said when asked what her favorite race is on Friday by Carolyn Mather, who works with the elite athletes as part of Grandma's staff.
“Oh, I like Grandma’s,” Myers said with a smile.
“That’s what I hoped you’d say,” Mather replied back, drawing a laugh.
Take it easy
Two-time Grandma’s Marathon champion Sarah Kiptoo didn’t finish last year’s race and didn’t finish the Houston Marathon in January, either.
In both cases Kiptoo started out fast, which is her modus operandi. That’s great for pushing the pace, and that’s how Kiptoo set a then-Grandma’s Marathon race record in 2013 with a blistering 2:26:32.
However, if you’re not feeling 100 percent, it can be a recipe for disaster. Kiptoo vows to race smarter this year and scale it back just a bit.
“I’m not 100 percent,” she said, “but I’m good enough.”
Beardsley drops the mic
As soon as Dominic Ondoro stepped to the podium during Friday’s news conference for Grandma’s Marathon elites, Dick Beardsley’s arm shot up in the air.
Beardsley hardly waited for emcee Peter Graves to call on him.
“I gotta ask this because I was asked it for like 30 years in a row,” Beardsley started, already chuckling. “Dominic, do you think somebody’s gonna break your record tomorrow.”
Beardsley, of course, held the Grandma’s record from 1981 until Ondoro smashed it in 2014, finishing in 2:09:06 — or 31 seconds faster than Beardsley’s first winning time here.
Ondoro smiled and nodded.
As is the case every year, a handful of elite marathon and half-marathon entrants were late cancellations.
Among the elite women marathoners who withdrew, Janet Bawcom of Flagstaff, Ariz., would have been one of the masters favorites, while Kenyan Grace Kahura was fourth in the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon in a personal-best time of 2:34:02.
Simon Lawson of the United Kingdom, who set his PR in the 2017 Boston Marathon, was one the wheelchair marathon favorites before withdrawing.
Joining Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon pre-race women’s favorite Jordan Hasay on the sidelines is Rachel Baptista of Austin, Texas, who won the 2018 Dallas Half Marathon and had a PR of 1:12:39.
In the men’s half-marathon, American Matt Llano also scratched. Llano’s top 13.1-mile time of 1:01.47 was one of the best in the field.
Though predicting weather in the Twin Ports on the first full day of summer is always a little tricky, runners likely won’t have to worry about storms or excessive heat on the way from Two Harbors to Duluth.
The National Weather Service is predicting mostly cloudy skies through mid-morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 64 at Sky Harbor Airport on Park Point. East winds around 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph, are expected in Duluth.
Similar conditions, with a northeast wind 5 to 15 mph, are expected in Two Harbors.