Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) --- The day in Duluth was nearly perfect. The stage was as big as it ever has been.
Among all kinds of elite athletes, however, one in particular stole the show.
"I really wanted that course record," Duluth native Kara Goucher said. "I usually don't care about time that much. I'm more of a competitor, but I really wanted to show everybody that of all the people from around the world to come run this half marathon, I'm the fastest. This girl right here, from the Northland. I really wanted the course record, and when I came to the finish and knew I was going to get it, I was pretty pumped."
Draped in a U.S. flag, Goucher celebrated her USA Half Marathon Championship win along the homestretch in Canal Park. 1:09:46 was her official time, 14 seconds better than the previous course record.
"The big winners in all of this are the citizens of Duluth," Grandma's Marathon public relations director Bob Gustafson said, "who finally got a chance to see Kara come home and run a race on her home course."
For the former Duluth East Greyhound, this is all a ramp-up to the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, where she will run the full marathon.
One racer, in particular, was very happy for Kara to have won.
"I've been running against her since she was at Duluth East, and then she went to Colorado when I went to Iowa State so we ran against each other in the Big 12, and then now to see her again on this stage," Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon women's champion Kelly Brinkman said. "I'm so thrilled she made it the marathon to the Olympics. I think she's a great representative of our sport and our country."
"Wearing the USA colors, having that on your chest, that's what you dream of," Goucher said. "That's what drives you as a little kid when you see them get the awards, and you see all that red, white, and blue. You're like, 'I want that so bad.'"
Another U.S. Olympian emerged victorious on Saturday. Abdi Abdirahman won the men's USA Half Marathon Championships in a time of 1:02:46.
While Goucher had quite the home course advantage, Abdirahman went with a different strategy.
"I just wanted to run the course. I didn't want to know where to go or what it looked like," Abdirahman said. "It's fun when you don't know where you're going. You just have to run 13.1 miles, so that's fun for me."
So while Abdirahman has fun winning on unknown courses, some other race winners on Saturday said they just have fun competing here in the Northland.
"There are the crowds. I ran downtown, and there were so many people cheering that I got the giggles," Brinkman said. "You're at mile 12, you're in the pain cave, and you're giggling. It was a great race."
"The town supports the race so well," Grandma's Marathon men's wheelchair champion Josh George said. "Everyone comes out and is yelling and cheering. It's fun for us to come out to a town where everyone understands wheelchair racing. You're pushing your racing chair down the street, and no thinks it's some kind of weird bicycle."
"This is absolutely incredible. As far as weather goes, we couldn't have asked for a better day," Grandma's Marathon women's wheelchair champion Amanda McGrory said. "It's absolutely gorgeous, and I think nice weather brings out more people. Coming in through downtown to the finish, there was so much noise. I couldn't have heard myself think if I wanted to."
"Turning into Canal Park, I had more adrenaline than I have ever felt," Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon men's champion Jack Delehanty said. "That last mile was the hardest mile of running I've ever done, but the adrenaline was able to carry me through."
Adrenaline seems to carry most everyone through Grandma's Marathon, now finished with its 36th year.
For 31 of those, the men's full marathon record has been held by Dick Beardsley.
2:09:37 is the mark to beat, and for the 2012 third place finisher, it's a mark that haunts him every time out for Grandma's.
"I'm unhappy with what happened today," 2008 Grandma's Marathon men's champion Lamech Mokono said. "I want to make the people of Duluth happy, and I want to run a course record. I want the name of Dick Beardsley to change to Lamech Mokono, so my record can stand another 30 years.
The 2012 men's champion is Ethiopia's Berhanu Girma. He finished less than three minutes off Beardsley's pace, 2:12:25 the time.
The women's champion, meanwhile, is Everlyne Lagat. She came in third and second respectively the past two years and said that experience was certainly helpful to her on Saturday.
"I think I got accustomed to the course and the crowd, everything here," Lagat said. "It helped, and I think I had a little more confidence through that."
So with that, Grandma's Marathon weekend 2012 is in the books.
Perhaps it is best summed up best by the runner to whom this day will always belong.
"This weekend's huge," Goucher said. "It's Grandma's Marathon weekend, right? Everyone around here knows what that means."
It means, this year at least, a homecoming for one of the Northland's Olympic stars.