NDSU grad brings 'fresh legs' into defense of women's marathon title

With another 50-hour work week over, Cindy Lewandowski started her weekend with a 17-mile run in Sunday morning rain. Her workout was done by 10 a.m. - hours after finishing her shift as a nurse supervisor at the nearby St. Cloud (Minn.) Hospital...

Cindy Lewandowski

With another 50-hour work week over, Cindy Lewandowski started her weekend with a 17-mile run in Sunday morning rain.

Her workout was done by 10 a.m. - hours after finishing her shift as a nurse supervisor at the nearby St. Cloud (Minn.) Hospital. Despite working overtime because of a nursing shortage, she managed to squeeze in two 4,000-yard swims during the week, plus three bicycle rides totaling more than 100 miles.

The 44-year-old wife and mother of two is training for the Sept. 10 Ironman Triathlon in Madison, Wis. That's where participants will swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run a 26.2-mile marathon.

The training has been painful. Lewandowski is still recovering from a Dec. 23 surgery to repair achilles tendinitis in her right foot.

"I am getting tired," she said, sitting at the dining room table of her home located an easy 1-mile jog east of the Mississippi River.


"It's going to feel good to have fresh legs."

Fresh legs are a result of tapering down the workouts. Less running means another marathon is approaching - this time the Fargo Marathon, where Lewandowski will defend her women's title Saturday.

It was Lewandowski's first and only marathon win. Not bad for a woman who - 10 years ago - wasn't running at all. She ran cross country and track at Sauk Rapids (Minn.) High School.

"But I never took it seriously," said Lewandowski, a 1990 North Dakota State graduate. "I put that on the shelf until I was 35 years old."

Since then, she has run in 23 marathons, countless 5K and 10K runs and six mini-triathlons. She doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.

"She's addicted," said Denny Wintheiser, one of Lewandowski's running partners from the St. Cloud River Runners club.

"She is a very busy woman and pretty well-balanced ... she does do it all," said Pam Stevens, an All-American triathlete who has been training with Lewandowski.

"I can't see how she can keep all those balls in the air," said Pat Ross, another member of the St. Cloud River Runners.


Lewandowski came to last year's Fargo Marathon with 10 St. Cloud River Runner members. She says the last thing on her mind was winning the 26.2-mile race that was held in cold and windy conditions.

Lewandowski remembers three other women ahead of her at the 12-mile mark. But when they made the turn for the half-marathon course, she began hearing spectators telling her she was the first woman.

"My focus was to keep the pace that I had," Lewandowski said. "I didn't even want to think about winning."

That was hard to do when spectators kept telling her she was in first. It was even harder to do when two of the male St. Cloud River Runner members she was running with repeatedly and jokingly told her she was in first place.

"I know that, be quiet," she would tell them.

Then, at Mile 25, a marathon official pedaling a bicycle told Lewandowski she was going to win.

"This is cool," Lewandowski thought to herself. "It was just weird to be the person to break the tape."

She crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 16 minutes and 17 seconds - more than half an hour better than her first marathon time at the 1995 Grandma's in Duluth, Minn. She produced her best time (3 :09) at the Twin Cities Marathon when she turned 40.


Three months after Fargo, she ran a 3:17 at the First Annual Leading Ladies Marathon that runs through Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills. One month later, Lewandowski faced one of her biggest challenges at the Moose Mountain Marathon that follows the Superior National Forest hiking trail in northeast Minnesota.

She fell at least five times, trying to navigate tree roots, rocks and logs.

"It was brutal .. I got beat up so bad," said Lewandowski, who finished the course in 5:17.

"I don't know why anyone would want to run anything like that," Wintheiser said. "That almost put her down."

The race aggravated the tendinitis. Unable to walk on the foot and training only in the swimming pool, Lewandowski could not run in last October's Twin Cities Marathon.

But she ran in last November's New York City Marathon, finishing in 3:40.

"I shouldn't have run it," Lewandowski said. "When my daughter saw me at Mile 25, she knew I was hurting."

One month later, Lewandowski underwent surgery in which doctors injected platelets to break down the scar tissue on the bottom of her right foot. She started running again in February, saying she's getting stronger every week.


"I'm a little scared," Lewandowski said of the Fargo Marathon. "I'm not as strong as I was a year ago. I would like to do well. We'll see. I know I'll give it all I've got."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

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