By Kyle Merber
February 7, 2024
An average high school runner, Minnesota Distance Elite’s Dakotah Lindwurm walked onto the team at Northern State University, but wound up a two-time NCAA Division II. She similarly entered the world of post-collegiate running as an unheralded but steady performer. But she ramped up to the marathon distance early, raced it often, and steadily chipped away at it, even winning the Grandma’s Marathon a couple of times.
Still, despite boasting a well filled-out resume, she seemed like a longshot to make an Olympic team. There were too many big names slotted ahead of her, with PRs significantly faster. That all changed on Saturday, when Lindwurm outlasted all but two members of one of the best fields ever assembled at an Olympic Trials marathon. Her story is one that is sure to inspire, and her progression is one that I know high school coaches nationwide are sharing with their non-state-champion athletes this week.
Dakotah was generous enough to chat with me over the phone following her qualification. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Justin Britton / @JustinBritton
How is your body coming off the race on Saturday? Were you in one piece the following day?
Yeah, I'm. feeling really good. I've done a lot of marathons and have been running really high mileage, so I don't feel like the marathon really destroys me anymore.
So does it feel real yet? We saw other athletes celebrating through their final mile and you really didn't let yourself celebrate until the very end.
I was just all business in those last couple of miles. You never want to celebrate too early and be caught. So I just felt like I just needed to get to the finish line, touch the finish line, and then celebrate. I don't feel like it is real yet. I don't know that it will until I'm back home and into my routine. But I keep getting little reminders that I am now going to be on an Olympic team, and I almost break down in tears every time.
When did it feel like it was actually happening? Was there a point in the race that you thought not only do I have a shot, but it's happening as we speak?
When I dropped Caroline Rotich and had like three seconds on her. And for one moment I let myself think, ‘you're on the team if you can hold this.’ But again, I wanted to put that aside and just said, ‘you have to just finish this marathon – do not think about the finish line until it's there.’
It seemed like around mile 17, or when Fiona O’Keeffe was starting to make a move, that you made a concerted effort not to try and match everyone in that surge. Am I reading that correctly? Were you strategically allowing that bit of a gap to open between you and third place?
I don't think it was out of desire that I wanted to let them go, but it was out of knowing what my body felt like at that moment. I felt like I didn't have it in me to make that move and hold it. I would have been playing too many cards that early in the race. Coach Lundo [Chris Lundstrom] told me before, if people make a move at 18 through 20 that seems too heavy, let them go and celebrate it because they're going to come back – they're going to blow up. He's a pretty wise man, as that’s exactly what happened.
I remember in your Lap Count interview in 2021 you had mentioned in the first few marathons of your career, that you had issues throwing up. With it getting warm late in the race, was there ever an issue with your nutrition?
I had great nutrition. I think I finally dialed in what I needed to do and in past marathons, especially early, I thought more is better when it comes to carbs and I had to learn the hard way that that's not true. You can't absorb the carbohydrates if you're putting too much in your bottle or if it’s too diluted, I suppose. And I haven't really had stomach issues since.
Justin Britton / @JustinBritton
Was there something different about this build up than in the previous? Looking at Strava, you ran a number of 130 miles a week and had lots of 20+ mile days. Was it as smooth as you could have hoped? Did something change, or was it just a matter of time making you a better marathoner?
Something just clicked this build, where before we got into the meat and potatoes of it, I talked to Coach and said, ‘I've been handling 120 really well and we are going to be in Florida… we're going to be training for a flat race and I want to bump that up a little bit.’ And he was really receptive to that and happy to give me the 130 mile weeks.
And something about being in that zone of being pretty tired, but recovering and still hitting every single workout as well as I could have hoped... I think there was maybe one 90 minute fartlek that I would have liked to go a little bit faster, but it was still the best I had ever done. Every single workout was top notch plus faster than I've had before. I don't know what about it just clicked – maybe it's just all the miles catching up to me.
Something that stands out about your training is that you really don’t run that slow. Even on easy days, despite running 130 miles a week, you move pretty quickly all the time. Is that a long term strategy and have you always been that type of athlete?
I've always been somebody who runs fast. When I joined the cross country and track team in high school, I was just somebody who just ran with the boys. My girl teammates would always skip out on runs and hide behind the school. So I just got in the habit of running with the guys and they just ran a little bit faster and made it a hard effort. I know that when you're in a 130 mile week, that you’ve got to take at least your doubles as slow as possible – for me, that's like 7:10 pace. That's me literally being conscious of slowing down to keep my heart rate low. But if I'm just out there and I'm not thinking about pace, my body just likes to move at like a 6:45 pace.
Also, the vibe I'm getting is that you really like Taylor Swift as well! Just something about your Strava titles… Are you doing the majority of those miles by yourself?
Our team meets up three days a week and the rest of the days are out on our own. I was living with Annie [Frisbie] down in Florida, and even then, she likes to take her recovery runs a bit slower. So we do our own thing, and that's kind of how we both prefer it. I like to spend some time by myself anyway.
So I saw that your high school personal bests were posted (2:44/5:35/11:56). That is now your race pace for a marathon. When you were in high school, did you have these visions of one day being an Olympian or was that not on your radar?
When I was in high school, I was still playing hockey and for sure had Olympic dreams there. But that obviously didn't pan out. But by no means did I think I was going to be an Olympian in running during high school. I ended up walking onto my Division II team because like, I wanted to keep running and I enjoy the community behind it. I was getting better through high school, but I knew that I wasn't the best in the country or even close to the best in my state.
Justin Britton / @JustinBritton
What's been the craziest thing – besides the race – in the last couple days with so much happening since you crossed the finish line? Has there been a moment beyond making the team that was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool!’?
I walked into a bar late Saturday night and Des [Linden] and Kara [Goucher] were in the back and I was like, ‘I'm gonna say hi!’ They jumped out of their seat and screamed for me – for them to be so excited and know who I am – that was probably the craziest thing for me.
Given your story and background, the number of younger athletes now that are probably seeing themselves in you or at least hope to one day see themselves in you – what is that like and what do your Instagram DMs look like?
They're absolutely unhinged. I'm somebody who likes to keep their text messages at zero. And I read all my DMs just to keep that notification out of the way, but I can't keep up with it right now. It's absolutely wild. Hopefully sometime I'll have some moment to try to respond to some of the younger athletes, because I would love to inspire a younger generation who's maybe not the high school phenom that their competitors are, but are willing to really work hard.
Looking towards the Olympics, it's a long build up between now and the Games, whereas it was a shorter turnaround after Chicago. What do you do for the next six months to prepare? Do you do one long buildup or have plans to do a half?
I'm somebody who likes to race. Taking a couple months off or anything just to go from Chicago to the Olympic Trials was pretty tough. I'll probably try to replicate that since it seemed to work, and keep me in good shape. But I'll definitely be at the Grandma's Half Marathon, since they're close to my heart, and I want to still support that race. I'd love to do a couple of shorter races to work on my speed.
Have you thought about a goal for the Olympics or are we not there yet?
Today was the first time I started to dream about it and talk it through with my boyfriend. But I think on a hot day it can produce an underdog story just as much as it did on Saturday. I want to place in the top 10, though it would be great to bring home a medal for the country.
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.