Frustrated by a cold-induced slow pace, Kenyan Chris Kipyego surged away to a victory all his own.
To most of the Americans running in Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon, the 28-degree temperature at the start of the race wasn't a big deal. They tugged on stocking caps and layered up, knowing they could peel off excess clothing as they navigated the 26.2 miles from the Metrodome to the State Capitol.
For those who came from countries where there is no real winter -- such as Kenya and Ethiopia -- the frosty morning delivered a shock to their systems. But Chris Kipyego had wanted another Minnesota victory ever since winning Grandma's Marathon in 2011. Frustrated by a pace slowed significantly by the cold, the Kenyan decided to break away from the lead pack as it moved along Mississippi River Boulevard near the 21-mile mark, peeking over his shoulder to see if anyone wanted to give chase.
Not even the hardiest of the elite runners could catch him. Kipyego, 38, won the race in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 53 seconds, beating 2012 Grandma's champ Berhanu Girma of Ethiopia. Girma finished second in 2:15:04, only two seconds ahead of Sean Quigley of Boulder, Colo.
Jeannette Faber of Portland, Ore., won the women's title in 2:32:37. Both champions finished well off the course records on a morning when temperatures had warmed only to the high 30s by the time they hit the tape, making this the coldest Twin Cities Marathon since 2000.
"It was very cold, which is why we ran very, very slow the first 10 miles,'' said Kipyego, who had steam rising from his sweat-soaked stocking cap after the race. "It was too slow for a marathon.
"Nobody was willing to push. I thought, 'If they don't run, I have to go.' The Ethiopian guy was very strong, but with 4 miles to go, I knew it was going to be my race.''
The weather didn't discourage runners or spectators. A total of 9,041 people finished the marathon, the most in its 31-year history.
Thousands more lined the route, wrapping up in parkas, blankets and snowsuits for what has become an annual ritual for many. Rock bands, brass bands, drum corps and tap dancers performed along the parkways, while neighbors gathered for outdoor parties and cyclists kept pace along the bike paths.
Kipyego saw only part of those festivities last year. After winning the Grandma's title, he hoped to take home the $10,000 bonus offered to runners who win that race and the Twin Cities Marathon in the same year. But he did not give himself enough time to acclimate; he arrived from Kenya just one day before, and digestive problems forced him to drop out of the race at the 20-mile mark.
That was particularly galling, Kipyego said, because his training had prepared him to win. Travel issues kept him out of Grandma's this year. As he planned ahead for Sunday's race, Kipyego decided to do his final six weeks of training in Mexico to lessen his risk of such glitches.
That left the weather as the biggest obstacle. The runners completed the first mile in a plodding 5:26, all but eliminating the chance of a course record right out of the chute. About two dozen men led the way as they ran past the Basilica of St. Mary and its pealing bells, and the pace continued to crawl as they skirted Lake Calhoun.
A guy from a frigid place -- Tyler Sigl of Green Bay, Wis., -- headed the pack as it dwindled to 15 near the 8-mile mark. While the pace began to quicken, he and a few other runners took turns at the front, but no one made a decisive move. "Nobody wanted to sacrifice themselves with their energy,'' Quigley said. "Any move you made would have hurt your chances to win.''
As they approached mile 21, Kipyego darted away. He built about a 10-second lead by the time he turned onto Summit Avenue, stealing several backward glances to check the competition. "I thought, 'Is he coming? Is he coming?'" he said of Girma.
The Ethiopian was not, as pain in his legs slowed him. Neither was anyone else, leaving Kipyego to pick up the $15,000 winner's check -- and pick up even more appreciation for Minnesota.
"I like these two races very much,'' he said. "For those of us born in Africa, there's no winter there. The Americans run well in this weather. But I was strong. I feel very happy.''