Yuya Yoshida went into Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon with a plan to run a relaxed first half, then surge ahead and win it in the rolling hills along the final stretch. Mission accomplished.
Yoshida, a 25-year-old runner from Japan, pulled up on then-leader Wilfred Kimitei — who had been at the front since the start — about 21 miles into the race. He gave Kimtei several peeks as he passed, then kept a close eye on his watch as he steadily cruised to the finish line.
He made it look easy, but said it wasn't.
"The hills were tougher than I expected in the second half," Yoshida said, using a translator app on his phone to communicate.
Yoshida finished in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 28 seconds in his first time at this event, offering fist bumps at the finish line. He transitioned to post-race seamlessly, seemingly unaffected by the speed or the mileage.
Jessica Watychowicz took an approach similar to Yoshida — including a dramatic late-race pass — and was the top women's finisher in 2:33:09. There were 9,000 runners registered for the 40th anniversary of the race. Temperatures were in the low-50s early in the morning at the starting line in Minneapolis but were in the low 70s by early afternoon.
Yoshida, of Higashimatsuyama in Saitama Prefecture, has made a quick impact in the sport. His first marathon — a 2:08:30 finish at Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon on the island of Kyushu — was the second-fastest debut all-time for a Japanese man.
Daniel Mesfun struggled with a cramp about 18 miles into the race, he said, but powered through and placed second in 2:13:35. Kimitei, who is new to this distance, finished third. He was with a pack that included Mesfun in the early miles, but shed the other racers by Mile 10. He maintained a significant lead until Yoshida made his move.
Watychowicz, who is based in Colorado Springs, crossed the finish line with a big smile. She just wanted a good day, she said. Her time qualifies her for the 2024 Olympic Trials.
Aside from studying an elevation map, she hadn't done much to prepare for the course. The race was her introduction to the route. She stuck to her own race, she said, when the main pack went out. At the half-marathon mark, she started picking off runners and she found Kim Conley, the then-leader, around Mile 24.
"Once I saw the lead vehicle, I was like 'Let's go,' " said Watychowicz, 31.
Runner-up Bridget Belyeu, who finished in 2:35:18 and Conley, third in 2:35:43, compared notes afterward.
"That's a humbling course," Belyeu said.
Conley said she ran a controlled race — until Mile 16. The runner next to her was breathing hard, so she passed her. Then she saw some men ahead, so she picked up her pace.
"I hit a classic wall," she said.
Her coach-husband Drew Wartenburg yelled to her from the sidelines, but she couldn't hear him in the crowd.
"'Did he say 'No one's there?' " she said she wondered, and laughed. That hadn't been the case.
Conley improved on her personal best by 6 minutes and plans to return to this race.
"This is the type of course you want to master," she said.