Kenyans Dominic Ondoro and Elisha Barno three-peated their winner/runner-up positions at the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday.
Ondoro crossed the line first in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 53 seconds, and Barno followed shortly in 2:12:10. As in 2015 and 2016, the friends and training partners credited teamwork for their success.
“Elisha is stronger on the flat part early in the race, so he pushes there,” said the soft-spoken Ondoro, “and I’m strong on the hills. We work together.”
The two ran together from the start in downtown Minneapolis to about the 24-mile mark on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, where Ondoro pulled away. Fellow Kenyan Nelson Oyugi placed third in 2:14:33.
Ondoro broke the long-standing course record last year with a stellar 2:08:51 run, but with light rain early in the race that he said made the pavement slippery, the proud father of an 18-month-old son opted for a more conservative pace, passing the halfway mark in 1:06. While he and Barno had calculated that 2:10 to 2:12 would be good enough for the win, there was no guarantee others would cooperate with that plan. So when Eritrean Daniel Mesfun moved to the lead, they went with him to remain in striking distance. As it turned out, the two did not shake all their competitors until the 22-mile mark.
Running for Kenyans is a viable career option — after secondary school, Ondoro and Barno moved to Eldoret, the epicenter of distance running in Kenya, and started training like many other hopefuls. Working out with coach Yobes Ondieki and a group of 13 runners, they typically reach a peak in their marathon preparation of 35 kilometers (almost 22 miles) per day, accomplished in three sessions — at 6 a.m., 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They generally run — and count on winning — four marathons and sometimes shorter races in a 12-month period, flying from Kenya to the U.S. to race, which can get spendy.
“And if you don’t win …? ” Barno, the businessman, smiled and shrugged, admitting the risk. This past May, for example, Ondoro was forced to drop out of the Ottawa Marathon with a knee injury.
Over the past seven years, Ondoro, 29, and Barno, 31, have built solid résumés: Barno has won Grandma’s Marathon, held in Duluth, the past three years, and the L.A. Marathon in March of this year. Ondoro has won the Twin Cities Marathon the past three years and holds the course record at both Twin Cities and Grandma’s. Both are married and have families (Barno has two daughters, age 6 and 9), and both invest their winnings in home construction businesses in Eldoret.
Jane Kibii was delighted when she saw that the rain forecast for Sunday would hold off until noon. The defending Twin Cities Marathon champion planned to be done running well before that. “At about 19 miles, it started raining, but I thought, ‘Just enjoy. It’s raining on everybody,’ ” said Kibii, laughing.
Under a picturesque rainbow, she won the women’s race in 2:30:25. Fellow Kenyan Hellen Jepkurgat completed the 26.2 miles in 2:31:50 for second place; Serkalem Abrha of Ethiopia finished third in 2:32:35.
Jepkurgat went to the lead early, but Kibii thought that pace was too fast and let her go. She finally reeled Jepkurgat in at 19 miles. Jepkurgat gamely hung on and managed to set a personal best by 19 seconds, though she said she had not fully recovered from a previous marathon.
Kibii, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, spends six months of the year in Kenya and six months in Auburn, Calif. She credits Auburn’s hills for her strength on the energy-sapping climb up Summit Avenue in the late miles of the race. She said she always finds the middle miles of the marathon the hardest: “Once I get past 15 miles, I know I’ll be OK.”
Asked what she’ll do with her $10,000 winnings, Kibii’s face lit up: “I’m going to build a house for my mom and dad in Eldoret!”