As Dave Baker watched thousands of runners stream past him last year, his first impression was that the Twin Cities Marathon must be an enormous challenge. Hearing the cowbells and cheers at the 23-mile mark, though, made him realize he wanted to find out for himself.
Baker decided right then that he would run the marathon this year. The 26.2-mile course, from downtown Minneapolis to the State Capitol grounds, won’t be the most daunting road he has faced. Baker, 48, has been homeless for more than a year; he also has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes the progressive decline of brain and muscle function.
An organization called Mile In My Shoes, which gets homeless people involved in running, put Baker on course to be among the 11,473 who will run in Sunday’s 34th Twin Cities Marathon. He has trained regularly with the group — including all winter, no matter the weather — and is aiming to finish in 3 hours, 25 minutes, which would qualify him for the 2017 Boston Marathon.
“Those guys won’t let me quit,’’ Baker said of Mile In My Shoes, which provides free running gear and organizes twice-weekly group runs. “There are no excuses. I’m as fit as I’m ever going to be to do a marathon.’’
After Baker lost his job and his home, he began spending his nights at Higher Ground, a Minneapolis shelter run by Catholic Charities. Mile In My Shoes brings volunteers together with Higher Ground residents for early-morning runs in a mutually supportive environment.
Baker said Mile In My Shoes provides both physical and emotional nourishment, calling it “a godsend’’ that is helping erase stereotypes about the homeless. His doctors expect his physical and mental state to remain relatively stable for a few years, he said, and he plans to keep running.
The group will be supporting Baker and others Sunday, with volunteers providing cheer at Mile 21.
“They’ll be handing out hugs, gummi bears and condolences if we don’t make it,’’ Baker said, laughing. “We’ll fight to the finish.’’
Elisha Barno and Dominic Ondoro both are native Kenyans, and they train together in their home country and in Santa Fe, N.M. In June, the two engaged in another joint endeavor, pushing each other through Grandma’s Marathon as Barno won the race and Ondoro finished second.
The two may reprise that strategy Sunday. They are among the favorites in the elite field, chasing $59,000 in prize money and a course record that has stood for 30 years. Phil Coppess set the mark of 2:10:05 in 1985.
Ondoro already has taken down one of Minnesota’s most enduring records. He won Grandma’s in 2014, finishing in 2:09:06 to break the 33-year-old mark set by Dick Beardsley. Though he isn’t predicting another course record, he does think the two could run faster than Barno’s time of 2:10:36 at Grandma’s.
“I think we can do better, even if the course is hilly,’’ Ondoro said, referring to the fact that the Twin Cities Marathon follows a more undulating path than Grandma’s flatter course. “We can if the weather is OK.’’
The forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions and seasonal temperatures Sunday, with a low of 45 degrees and high of 61.
Catch me if you can
The TC 10 Mile will serve as USA Track and Field’s national 10-mile championships for both men and women. In addition to the record total purse of $81,000, there will be a $10,000 “equalizer bonus.’’ The women’s field will be given a head start of 6:18, and the bonus will be awarded to the man or woman who crosses the finish line first.
The TC 10 Mile previously offered the equalizer bonus in 2011 and 2012, in the hope of setting up a race to the finish between the top man and the top woman. Mo Trafeh won the bonus in both years, passing women’s champ Janet Bawcom both times. Bawcom thinks the tables could turn this year.
”We have a really strong field, so I think the ladies might get it,’’ Bawcom said. “I’m hoping so. We’ll try to help each other and see if we can snatch it from the guys.’’