It’s no wonder Dominic Ondoro and Elisha Barno are friends, given all they have in common. Both are marathoners who train together in Eldoret, Kenya, and Santa Fe, N.M. They share a coach, an agent and a history in Minnesota as the past two winners of Grandma’s Marathon.
So on Sunday, when Ondoro crossed the finish line first in the Twin Cities Marathon, there were no hard feelings. He and Barno ran together through most of the 26.2 miles between downtown Minneapolis and the State Capitol grounds before Ondoro pulled away in the late stages of the race. He won in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 16 seconds, with Barno second in 2:11:39 and fellow Kenyan Jacob Chemtai third in 2:14:13.
East African runners also swept the women’s podium, with Serkalem Abrha of Ethiopia winning in 2:31:39 over Kenya’s Jane Kibii (2:31:44) and Ethiopian Simegn Abnet Yeshanbel (2:32:43).
Ondoro said before the race that he and Barno hoped to push each other Sunday, just as they did in June when Barno defeated his friend by 41 seconds at Grandma’s. This time, it was Ondoro’s turn to take home the winner’s purse of $10,000, which didn’t bother Barno one bit.
“No, no, no,” Barno protested, laughing when asked if he had a rivalry with his training partner. “He wins, no problem. I win, no problem. We are happy. We are friends.”
Ideal weather and robust crowds made thousands of other runners happy, too. A total of 8,511 finished the marathon, enjoying temperatures in the 50s with no wind for the 34th running of the race.
In 2014, Ondoro won Grandma’s in historic fashion, finishing in 2:09:06 to break Dick Beardsley’s 33-year-old course record. That is the fastest marathon ever run in Minnesota, and Ondoro, 28, hoped to erase another long-standing mark Sunday. Though he finished short of the course record of 2:10:05 set 30 years ago by Phil Coppess, Ondoro’s time was the fastest at the Twin Cities Marathon since 1990.
Ondoro and Barno settled in with a pack of about a dozen runners early in the race. The pace picked up during Mile 7 around Lake Harriet, whittling the lead group to seven or eight.
After hitting the halfway point in 1:07:12, the leaders again quickened the pace, with four men taking charge: Ondoro, Barno, Chemtai and Abraham Chelanga. Chelanga dropped back after Mile 18, leaving the top three to battle it out. Former elite distance runner Matt Gabrielson, watching from the lead vehicle, said he was awestruck to see the group tackle the hill that starts at Mile 20.
“They were flying,” Gabrielson said. “Between Mile 20 and 21, going uphill, they ran 4:52. Then it became a one-on-one battle, and Dominic just broke Elisha. And they missed a lot of the fluid stations, which makes it even more of an accomplishment.”
Ondoro tore through Mile 23 in 4:36, leaving his friend behind. He and Barno ratcheted up their pace at every split, as both finished the second half of the race faster than the first.
Agent Scott Robinson, who represents both men, said the only rivalry they have is over the final 10 kilometers of a race. The results seem to have no effect on their friendship, as they proved again on Sunday.
“For me to get second place at Grandma’s, it was no problem,” Ondoro said. “I was happy for [Barno] when he won, and he is happy for me when I win. Today, I am very happy to win.”