Mykola Antonenko traveled long and hard to run hard and fast. Sunday it was all worth it.
Antonenko is from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine. To get from there to Minnesota for the 26th running of the Twin Cities Marathon he had to take a 12-hour bus ride to Kiev, then fly to Paris. From there he took a flight to Houston, then one to Minnesota. After spending two days on the road, what's another two-plus hours?
At 7 miles, unhappy with the pace of the lead pack, Antonenko, 35, broke away and spent most of the rest of the race padding his lead on the way to a winning time of 2 hours, 13 minutes and 54 seconds. That was more than six minutes ahead of Kenyan Joseph Mutinda, who finished second. And Antonenko said he could have gone faster if someone had been pushing him. And, if it had not been the hottest TCM weather in history.
"Psychologically it's hard to run by yourself," said Antonenko, who spent most of the race doing just that. "[Especially] in this kind of weather."
Russian Svetlana Ponomarenko, who lives in New York, won the women's race, also with relative ease. She finished in 2:34:09, four-plus minutes ahead of Alena Vinitskaya of Belarus and about five minutes off her personal best set while winning the Dallas Marathon last year. Vinitskaya then did double duty, translating for Ponomarenko, 38.
"We prefer to run in colder weather," Ponomarenko said. "This is unusual."
That it was. By the 8 a.m. starting time the temperature was 74 degrees and the relative humidity was 87 percent, according to the race's medical director, Bill Roberts. The race uses an index called the wet bulb globe temperature, which takes into account the temperature, humidity and the effect of sunlight. Put those together and you get the hottest Twin Cities Marathon ever.
Almost too hot.
"We were about 10 degrees below our cancel range," Roberts said. "Ten, 10½ degrees higher, we'd have had to talk about it."
The good news: The race went on. The better news: While several runners needed medical assistance, both on the course and after they finished, Roberts said everybody who received assistance appeared to be doing well.
This year's race was expected to have more of an international flavor, in large part because so many of the best U.S. runners were in the 10K race rather than the marathon, prepping for next month's Olympic trials.
And it did. Behind Antonenko was a group of Kenyan runners. The top three women finishers were from foreign countries as well.
Antonenko had hoped to run a personal-best 2:11 Sunday. But that was before he found himself running alone for most of the race. Mutinda, who was battling some tough travel of his own and a sore hamstring, said he felt it would have been a closer race had he been healthy. It was his first TCM, so he wasn't familiar with the course.
"I didn't want to push it," he said. "I was thinking maybe [Antonenko] was going to slow down."
He didn't. On the other hand, he would have liked to run a little faster. "I'm very happy with the purse [$25,000 to the winner], but not the time," he said.
At about the 23-mile mark Mutinda made a push into second place. Now that he knows -- and likes -- the course, he feels he could run a 2:09 or 2:10 here on a good day. So look for him to return.
Ditto for Ponomarenko, who said she fought through a tough stretch at about mile 17 with some help from the crowd.
"[I] like the hospitality of the crowd," she said. "I will try to come back."