Ask Dominic Ondoro what he likes best about the Twin Cities Marathon, and the Kenyan will reel off a whole list of favorites. The spectators, of course. The crisp weather. The scenery.
And, perhaps surprisingly, that uphill stretch between Mile 20 and Mile 23, the one that grinds so many other runners into dust. Sunday, Ondoro’s ability to master the ups and downs of the 26.2-mile course brought him another victory, making him the first four-time champion in the race’s 38-year history. Though he was unable to break his own course record (2 hours, 8 minutes, 51 seconds in 2016), Ondoro’s winning time of 2:12:23 was well clear of second-place Denis Chirchir (2:13:50) and third-place Danny Docherty of Richfield (2:15:55).
The women’s race was won by Julia Kohnen, who passed native Minnesotan Dakotah Lindwurm with about 3 miles to go. Kohnen, of Florissant, Mo., won in 2:31:29, with Lindwurm second in 2:32:49.
Kohnen was running the Twin Cities Marathon for the first time and was wary of the hills, particularly the grade up East River Road into Summit Avenue. While she declared them “not too terrible,” Ondoro reiterated his fondness for the terrain that makes Minnesota so dear to him.
“I think the course is good because it’s hilly,” said Ondoro, who also won the race in 2015, 2016 and 2017. “I like to run on the hills. I’m very, very happy to win.”
Sunday’s weather was nearly perfect for a run between downtown Minneapolis and the State Capitol in St. Paul. A total of 6,735 people completed the race on a day with sunny skies and low humidity, with a temperature of 48 degrees at the start.
Ondoro was part of a lead pack of eight runners as the field made its way toward the Chain of Lakes. By the halfway point, as Docherty pushed the pace, Ondoro, Chirchir and Eliud Ngetich moved with him and put a 14-second gap on their pursuers. Docherty and Ngetich fell back after that, setting up a one-on-one battle between the Kenyans.
On steep East River Road, near the 20-mile mark, Ondoro began to pull away.
“I kept up with him as long as I could,” Chirchir said. “I was hoping maybe he would crack, but no. He was too strong.
“He knows the course so well. I knew it was going to be tough to beat him on the hills, but I tried.”
Kohnen felt so good early in the race that she had to fight the impulse to speed away. Knowing the hills would test her, she forced herself to conserve energy in only her fourth time running the marathon distance.
About the 19-mile mark, Kohnen was in third place, 57 seconds behind Lindwurm. She gradually reeled in the leaders and caught Lindwurm at Mile 23, on Summit Avenue just past Snelling.
“I knew not to get too excited early,’’ said Kohnen, who peeled 7 ½ minutes off her personal-best time. “I was ready for a fast time. I knew my workouts had been good. Knowing the hills at [Miles] 20 to 23, I had it in my mind not to kill myself before then.”
Kohnen found power on those hills, just like Ondoro. Though he didn’t lower his course record as he’d hoped, he’s already making plans for another attempt.
“Next year,” he said. “I’m going to try my best.”