Minnesotan Dakotah Lindwurm made Grandma’s Marathon a priority on her calendar after her win last year, when she had become the first Minnesotan woman to top the podium since Janice Ettle in 1991.
This year, she again had her eyes set on breaking the tape at Duluth’s Canal Park. And she ran with purpose.
Purpose because she loves the course, the fans, and the history of the race. Purpose because she remembered her late mother’s cheers near the finish in 2018. Purpose because her grandfather was there this year, waiting to see her finish strong.
“Everything went better than planned; I had the time of my life. I definitely think I can dig deeper and run harder here in Minnesota,” said the Eagan resident after the race. “I feel like I got that extra gear and I can stay strong longer knowing that I’m representing my home state.”
The race, the fans, even the weather gods that hover over the waters of Lake Superior loved her in return during the 45th running of the legendary race. Step over striding step through the 50-degree air, she pushed her pace to the limit, throwing smiles and tossing waves to cheering crowds on her way down the North Shore.
Her win was the first-ever back-to-back win from a Minnesotan woman. Her time of 2:25:01 was just 34 seconds shy of the course record and stood as a personal record for her (by four minutes).
“It’s a huge PR, but this was expected,” she said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work. [This was] 365 days in the making—I knew I was going to come back and crush it.”
Lindwurm approached the finish with her hands waving high in the air. Her victory yell carried over the music and the crowd’s screaming. She stood for a moment, then pumped her fists twice in the air before accepting flowers and doubling over. Then she ran with arms outstretched to her grandfather, who was waiting near the crowd barrier. He had never seen her race in person because he had a difficult time walking. The two embraced in a long hug while tears fell.
“I looked over and I saw him crying after I crossed the finish line,” said Lindwurm. “Winning was great, but that moment was more important to me.”
Behind her, Sarah Sellers, 30, of Ogden, Utah, finished 42 seconds later. She had moved up from behind, passing third-place Susanna Sullivan, 32, of Reston, Virginia, who ran 2:26:56. They were followed by Kenyan Esther Wanjiru, 34, in 2:27:15.
All four women took advantage of the great running conditions: they all ran personal best times, and they all broke the 2:28 time bonus, which earned them all an extra $10,000. Not bad for a day along the scenic North Shore.
Lindwurm knew early in the race that her pace was hot.
“I thought, ‘I’m running way faster than I had planned,’ but my fitness has indicated something in the 2:25s before, so let’s just roll with it.”
She clicked off 5:30-minute-per-mile splits as the race unfurled. Several miles after the halfway point, Lindwurm was running side-by-side with Wanjiru, who trains some of the time in Michigan. Wanjiru surged, then pulled back, but the two didn’t lose contact. When Lindwurm made a turn at mile 24, she was looking ahead, and later found that Wanjiru had faded back.
“That was the first time I realized I was alone,” said Lindwurm, who does well when running out front on her own. Her next thought was “‘Woe … I’ve got eight miles to go, and I’m alone—which is great.”
“Winning was great, but that moment was more important to me.”
– Dakotah Lindwurm
Lindwurm will take home $20,000 for the win. And while a victory against a field of nearly 4,000 women (80 of whom are elite) is impressive enough, she did more than just become the fourth woman to win consecutive Grandma’s Marathons.
The thousands of spectators that caught a blurred glimpse of her grin are witnesses to the 12th-fastest marathon ever run by an American woman, according to the World Athletics list (that excludes non-eligible courses).
Her 2:25:01 moves her between Sally Kipyego’s 2019 Berlin Marathon run (2:25:10) and just behind Molly Sidel’s 2:24:42 run to fourth at the 2021 New York Marathon. It also places her ahead of fellow Minnesotan and Olympian Kara Goucher, who finished third at the 2012 Houston Marathon in a 2:26:06 (though she also ran 2:24:52 at the 2011 Boston, which is deemed a non-record-eligible course).
Lindwurm is coached by Chris Lundstrom at Minnesota Distance Elite along with Annie Frisbee, her fellow Puma-sponsored teammate. The winner mentioned Frisbee as a motivator in her training.
“I love my teammates. We have really great relationships … and we really help each other get faster.”
With Puma gear in the closet, she won’t be burning her winnings on new shoes. She plans to make a more responsible decision.
“I was not a stellar Division-II athlete,” she said, referencing her time at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “I still have student loans, so the money will be going to that.”
Lindwurm has another marathon on the schedule, but said she has to be mum about it for now. On the calendar next June, though, is a weekend she already has planned.
“I hope to make this a three-peat next year,” she said.
The overall winner of the race was also a familiar face: Dominic Ondoro, 34, last won Grandma’s in 2014, the year he set a new course record. This year, he tore away from the group near mile 21 to break the tape in 2:09:34.
Ondoro ran with the pack, and stood literally a head above the other runners. His tall torso sported the only T-shirt (bright orange) in a crowd of racing singlets. As the early miles clicked along, he ran in a pack with several others: his training partner Elisha Barno, last year’s first- and second-place winners Milton Rotich and C.J. Albertson, former Oregon runner Parker Stinson, and several other Kenyans (including Sammy Rotich and Benard Rotich).
By the 20-mile point, Milton Rotich dropped out, and the group narrowed to seven. At Lemon Drop Hill, Ondoro made his push, and no one else could match it.
He ran through the finish line with arms high and his index fingers pointing to the sky. The clock showed the second-fastest time ever run on the course—three seconds faster than Dick Beardsley’s winning time in 1981.
“It felt good,” he said, noting that the weather was also good for the race. He said he comes back for the course because he likes the support and the scenery. Though the $10,000 first-prize package can’t hurt.
Ondoro is best known in the Gopher state as the king of the Twin Cities Marathon. He is a four-time winner and owns the course record, which is also the fastest marathon ever run in the Land of Lakes. Though he keeps returning to Minnesota, he lives in Eldoret, Kenya, with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 3—and one more on the way.
“We’re expecting in November,” he said, beaming a smile.
He trains at high altitude in the Rift Valley with his own schedule. “I used to use a coach, but now I don’t have one. I train with Elisha [Barno] four days a week. … Today when we were [finished], I slapped him on the back and we joked about the race.”
Barno, 36, finished fourth in 2:10:22. He was a favorite to win because he is a four-time winner: from 2015–2018.
The other top finishers were second-place winner Sammy Rotich, 35, and third-place James Ngandu, 36—both of whom set personal best times.
Rotich clocked 2:10:08, a minute better than his 2022 Houston Marathon win in January. Ngandu punched through at 2:10:17. It was a massive comeback in his career, considering his previous PR was smashed by almost two minutes—a PR set 15 years ago with his second-place finish in the 2008 Enschede Marathon.
C.J. Albertson, 28, of Fresno, California, was the first U.S. finisher, taking fifth in 2:10:52.
Ondoro said he hopes to bring a similar return to PR-smashing soon.
“Next year, I want to run my personal best,” he said. Will he return to Grandma’s Marathon to do it?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said with a grin.