DULUTH – The first Minnesota women's winner at Grandma's Marathon since 1987. That distinction alone made Saturday a glorious experience for Dakotah Lindwurm of Eagan. But she believes more great days are ahead.
Lindwurm, 26, led the women's division of the 45th Grandma's Marathon in a personal-record 2 hours, 29 minutes, 4 seconds on an ideal 60-degree running day near Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Canal Park. The start-to-finish victory was the first by a state entrant since Olympian Janis Klecker 34 years ago.
Milton Rotich of Iten, Kenya, saw his neighbor and training partner win the 2019 Grandma's men's title and then made his own history with his first victory on American soil, and first since 2014. Rotich, 35, led overall in 2:13:04. Defending champion Boniface Kongin, 31, of Iten started but didn't finish.
"When I heard Grandma's would happen this year, I went at my training full bore. Running under 2:30 was everything today. Every time I looked at my watch, I was calculating what my finish time would be," said Lindwurm, who grew up in St. Francis, was a high school hockey goalie and attended Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D. "And I think I can do much better. I'm still young in the sport."
Lindwurm, 5-1 and 105 pounds, has run only five road marathons but won three Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon titles from Duluth to Carlton in 2014-16, and trains with the Minnesota Distance Elite team. Leading to Grandma's, she ran 2:30:38 in the Marathon Project on Dec. 20, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz.
While Lindwurm blazed her own trail, Rotich sat back before seizing his championship. C.J. Albertson, 27, of Fresno, Calif., led much of the way until being caught 15 miles into the 26.2-mile race.
"My strategy was to be patient. The marathon is tactical," said Rotich, who is 5-9 and 130 pounds and lives on 10 acres in Kenya raising corn and owns five cows. "It bothered me that it had been so long since I had won a race. I took my time, and worked from behind, and that strategy worked."
Albertson, a former steeplechaser at Arizona State, pushed from the beginning and had his own game plan.
"I tried to break people, to make them hurt. It was about trying to win today," Albertson said. "It worked for the most part, but [Rotich] was very solid."
Rotich and Lindwurm earned $5,000 each from a $42,500 prize money purse, which was reduced by half in a return to in-person racing following COVID-19 restrictions a year ago. Entries were also cut in half, with a cap of 4,000, still leaving Grandma's Marathon, Minnesota's oldest marathon, as the largest American in-person road race so far in 2021.
Albertson was second among the men, 1:25 back, in 2:14:29 to earn $4,000 and Joseph Whelan, 30, of Webster, N.Y., was third in 2:16:25 for $3,000. Tyler Jermann, 28, of St. Paul was the top Minnesotan, fourth in 2:16:42. Katja Goldring, 30, of Flagstaff, Ariz., was second among the women in 2:31:30 for $4,000 and Tristin Van Ord, 26, of Blowing Rock, N.C., third in 2:32:55 for $3,000.
Kongin was the men's favorite but hadn't been feeling well recently. He and Rotich, who stayed at the Duluth home of Tina and Brian Nelson, trained as many as 118 miles a week at home and planned to run together Saturday. It didn't work out.
"He's my training partner and friend, and I was sad he had a bad day, but marathons are like that," Rotich said of Kongin, who ran 2:11:56 in 2019.
There were 26 men and 27 women in the elite field, all but nine from the United States. Yet foreign domination continued. Of the past 24 men's titles, 21 have been claimed by East Africans, including 11 in a row.