2024 US Olympic Trials Marathon

'Pulling A Bullen!' Dakotah Lindwurm's NSU Coaches Reflect On Her Success

'Pulling A Bullen!' Dakotah Lindwurm's NSU Coaches Reflect On Her Success

Before Dakotah Lindwurm was a U.S. Olympic Marathon qualifier, her college coaches at Northern State saw a driven athlete willing to put in the work.

Feb 7, 2024 by Cory Mull

The first time Dakotah Lindwurm "Pulled A Bullen," she was a sophomore at Northern State University.

Out of nowhere came a sixth-place finish at the Augie Twilight Cross Country Meet in September of 2014, with Lindwurm -- maiden name Bullen -- clocking a time of 16:59.1 for three miles ... in her first race of the season. It might have been the first instance of the Minnesotan showing the guts to race like a winner despite odds telling her she wasn't meant for it. 

From there, it only got better. She would go on to earn a series of wins, top five finishes and six outdoor NCAA qualifiers and one All-American performance across the outdoor and cross country seasons for the NCAA Division II program out of Aberdeen, South Dakota. Lindwurm scored her highest-finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2017, finishing sixth in the 10K. 

But by then, former NSU cross country coach Kevin Bjerke said, a familiar refrain met anyone who performed above expectations within the program. 

"You're pulling a Bullen!" 

"It was crazy the amount of growth she saw," he told FloTrack this week. 

Bjerke couldn't help but think back to that moment this week as he reflected on Lindwurm's career-marking effort on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, Florida. 

The 28-year-old was, at the very least, an unheralded candidate.

But Lindwurm matched the pack early, kept digging in late and eventually made one last move to the finish. She eventually locked up the third and final spot on the team, finishing third at the U.S. Team Trials in 2 hours, 25 minutes and 31 seconds.

"I didn't see her as an Olympian, necessarily," Bjerke said. "But it was just really apparent her last few years how absolutely smooth and effortless she made running in the low six (minutes) look and feel." 

"She looked stunned. But then she had a big smile and the next day she was in my office asking me, 'What do I need to do?'" 

The immediate reaction after Lindwurm's qualification on Saturday revolved around her past. 

How did someone who graduated from high school in Minnesota with PRs of 5:35.61 for 1,600m, 11:56.29 for 3,200m and 22:08.40 for 5K in cross country improve this much? 

Walk-ons don't normally become Olympians. 

But that's only where Lindwurm's story starts. Even that was a chance taken. 

"I believe she got a letter from us," Bjerke said. "Probably informal, kind of like a form letter. 'Hey, we believe you're good enough to develop. Fill out this questionnaire if you're interested." 

Lindwurm did.

Once she arrived on campus, however, she was better than anticipated. 

"She was running with our pack of 4-5-6 runners pretty consistently," Bjerke said. "She got somewhat close her freshman year to scoring at our conference meet, which was pretty competitive."

But again, there's a reason for that, and that's where the real crux of this story lies, at least from those who saw her improve at Northern State.

"A huge part of it was watching Sasha (Hovind)," Bjerke said of the former NSU athlete who arrived at Northern State the same year as Lindwurm. "Sasha actually broke every distance record at Northern State while I was there. She was better than Dakotah and it took Dakotah a full solid year to look at what Sasha was doing to be like, 'That's what it's really like to be dedicated.'" 

Hovind finished her NSU career with school indoor records in the 3K and 5K and outdoor records in the 5K and 10K.

"Sasha was an 11-time All-American," said Lynne Dingman, Northern State's current Director of Track and Field and Cross Country who was hired a year before Lindwurm started with the program. "(Dakotah) saw what Sasha was doing and she just tried to keep up. Having Sasha as a training partner had to be amazing." 

That meant Lindwurm seldomly earned the spotlight. But she never backed off, ultimately moving from her debut 6K time of 26:42.7 to a career-ending 21:14. She ran 19:40.17 in her first collegiate outdoor 5K and clocked a 16:43 by her final season. She knocked off nearly four minutes off her 10K. 

"We take those diamonds and polish them off," Dingman added. 

Bjerke knew she had potential beyond college. 

One day around Christmas break after Lindwurm graduated in 2018, Bjerke and his athlete were walking down a sidewalk on campus along with a recruit and their parents. The parent asked Lindwurm a question. "Will you keep running?" 

"I remember her saying, 'I don't know, maybe,'" Bjerke said. "But by then, I had been plotting. I said, 'Well, Dakotah, I really think you could qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon.'

"She looked stunned. But then she had a big smile and the next day she was in my office asking me, 'What do I need to do?'" 

It would be easy to say the rest is history. 

Lindwurm ran her first half marathon in 2018 in 1:16:19 and then signed with the Minnesota Distance Elite team that same year. 

She entered her first marathon in 2019, finishing second in the Twin Cities Marathon in 2:32:49. Next came a top 20 finish at the Boston Marathon in 2021, a time of 2:25 at the Grandma's Marathon in 2022 and then a 2:24 at Chicago in October of last year. 

But nothing is quite linear in a story like this. 

Was this all made possible by a series of moments? Was it that Boston finish in 2021, or that Grandma's performance in 2022? 

Was it that fast time in Chicago? 

Maybe it was her freshman season at Northern State when she watched her teammate succeed. Maybe her decision to walk-on as a freshman was the inflection point. 

Whatever it may be, Lindwurm's progress been on display, year after year. 

"I remember her leading Boston for 13 miles," Bjerke said. "Obviously, if you're leading Boston for 13 miles, there's something there, even if you blow up. I wouldn't doubt that's when it started." 

And how about for the college coach who contributed to the development of Lindwurm? How did it feel for Bjerke to see his former athlete realize her potential? 

"I can't even begin to describe it," he said. "I literally had tears in my eyes from miles 23 to the finish." 

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