Two-time U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdirahman had never run in Minnesota before Sunday's victory in the Twin Cities Marathon weekend's most star-studded event. But he already knew all about the state and its famous weather.
"Everybody I knew told me it was so cold," he said. "So I packed all my sweaters and all my gloves."
He loaded his suitcase in Arizona, flew to Minnesota and on an unseasonably hot and humid October Sunday -- the warmest day in the marathon's 26-year history -- Abdirahman ran away with the men's TC 10-mile championship in a field jammed with elite runners preparing for next month's U.S. Olympic trials at the New York City Marathon.
His time of 47 minutes, 34 seconds beat Team USA Minnesota's Jason Lehmkuhle by 14 seconds. Abdirahman, a Somali-born, naturalized American citizen, won the USA men's national championship and a $10,000 check.
It also left him confident for the Olympic marathon trials a month from now.
"I knew I was fit," said Abdirahman, who lives in Tucson but has been training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz. "But the weather, it was tough. This is not cold. It is hot, humid."
Lehmkuhle, a Missouri native who now lives in Minneapolis, shattered his personal record in the 10-mile race and defeated everybody but Abdirahman in a field that included two-time Twin Cities Marathon champ Mbarak Hussein, U.S. Olympic marathoner Dan Browne and 2006 TCM runner-up Simon Sawe.
"With a field as deep as this one, it's easy to get in way over your head and then you suffer," Lehmkuhle said of the lure of running too fast, too soon with so many elite runners. "I felt within myself. I'm really pleased. Hopefully, that's a good indicator [for his performance at the New York City Marathon]."
Lehmkuhle's wife and fellow Team USA Minnesota member, Kristen Nicolini Lehmkuhle, won the women's TC 10-mile race in her debut at that distance with a time of 56:17.
Masters runner wins third title
USA Track and Field Masters women's marathon champion Susan Loken completed a TCM three-peat Sunday, winning her third consecutive masters title in St. Paul by six minutes even though the Phoenix woman, who rises at 4 a.m. daily to run while her three children sleep, never really knows where she is in relation to other masters runners.
"When I cross the finish line and they're screaming, 'You're masters champion,"' said Loken, 44, when asked how she knows she has won.
Wheelchair racer takes second win
Denver's Tricia Downing won her second TCM women's wheelchair title with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds, but this one is sweeter than her 2005 victory for a simple reason. "I was the only female that time," said Downing, who caught and passed Circle Pines' Linda La Reau by the 20-mile mark. "So this is a good one."
In the men's race, Tyler Byers, who is from suburban Washington, D.C., relied on experience for his victory. When living in Phoenix, Byers had never trained in high humidity. When he came up to compete in the Twin Cities Marathon five years ago, "it was foggy, and I had no grip at all," he said. "It was like pushing on glass. I had a little more tack this time."
Staff Writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.