At the 14-mile mark of Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon, Jeannette Faber thought she might be able to finish in the top four in the elite women's field. She could see the lead pack, and she felt strong and fit enough to catch some of the runners near the back.
Faber, 30, was in seventh place at that point. As those athletes faltered, she kept moving up -- and so did her expectations. "I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm in third,'" she said. "Maybe I can finish second if I just catch one more. Then I went past Melissa, and I honestly thought she was going to come with me.''
But Melissa Johnson-White, who was leading at the 23-mile mark, lacked the energy to respond. When Faber crossed the finish line, she had earned a victory, a winner's check of $15,000 and a significant drop in her personal-best time. She completed her first Twin Cities Marathon in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 37 seconds, more than four minutes faster than her time at last January's Olympic trials.
Hirut Guangul of Ethiopia nipped Johnson-White for second place, clocking a 2:34:03 to claim the runner-up spot by one second. Faber was moved to tears by her finish, which continued her string of improving her time in each of the 13 marathons she has run.
"I can't believe that just happened,'' said Faber, who trains in Portland, Ore. "I've never felt that good when I finished before. Everything went right.''
Faber said she had prepared perfectly for the race, and the cold weather did not affect her. She started conservatively, trying to maintain an even pace around 5:50 per mile as the lead pack moved beyond her sight.
She spied them just past Lake Nokomis, as the group began to splinter. One by one, Faber passed runners who were dropping back. Johnson-White, in a pack just behind the leaders, moved up between the 17- and 18-mile mark and decided to go to the front at 20 miles.
"I thought, 'OK, the race is going to start,'" said Johnson-White, 31, a Michigan resident also unfazed by the weather. "I've got to keep moving.''
Faber said she was "running scared'' when she passed Johnson-White at 23 miles. But as the going got tougher for Johnson-White in the final stretch, Faber felt strong and comfortable. At the 26-mile mark, she realized no one was going to catch her, and she gave a fist pump to an appreciative crowd.
The victory was the fifth of Faber's career and her first since 2010. Her previous best time was 2:36:50 in a 21st-place finish at the Olympic trials in Houston.
Her next goal is to break the 2:30 mark. Sunday's unexpected victory, on a day when she would have been thrilled to finish fourth, gave her confidence that she can keep improving.
"I knew I was in shape,'' Faber said. "But I didn't think I was going to win. It's crazy.''