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Runners to watch Runners to watch in Sunday’s marathon, half-marathon

  • Published Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, at 10:39 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at 3:57 p.m.

Jacob Buhler

Life hasn’t slowed down for Buhler since winning the Prairie Fire marathon last October.

The 25-year-old Oklahoma City resident is closer to completing dental school at the University of Oklahoma. Buhler and his wife, Katie, are expecting their first child soon.

And Buhler still has to find time to release his competitive urges left over from his days as a collegiate runner at Utah Valley University.

Managing time has never been a problem for Buhler, who said he is in better shape than last year and will return to defend his title on Sunday.

“Being an athlete in college and balancing school and running and a job helps,” Buhler said. “I just figured out what worked for me. There are definitely little stresses from time to time, but this is an exciting time in my life and I’m just trying to enjoy it all right now.”

Greg Klenda

Not long ago, Klenda remembers running in the Wichita marathon with a field of 400. On Sunday, the race is expected to draw close to 5,000.

That was always a dream for Klenda, Clark Ensz and Craig Simon. The trio believed Wichita had potential for this before anybody else did and were influential in bringing aboard the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission and turning their vision into reality.

“You look at our neighbors in Oklahoma City and in Kansas City, and there’s no reason why Wichita can’t be even better than those markets,” said Klenda, who is running the marathon on Sunday. “We thought it would take more time than it has to ramp up, but we are just amazed at the way it’s taken off.”

Winston Kenton

Having run in all 21 Wichita marathons since 1991, it’s hard for the 52-year-old Wichita native to differentiate many of them.

Kenton always aims at finishing near the top of his age group and to break three hours, but few are significant. This Sunday will be different.

That’s because Kenton will walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding Saturday. And instead of bolting for the honeymoon, his daughter will stay so she can watch Kenton race for the first time in Wichita.

“She lives in New York, so she hasn’t had the chance to see me run very many times,” Kenton said. “Now she’s coming home to watch daddy run and that just means the world to me.”

Vernon Orndorff

In 1979, Orndorff’s father, Richard, ran in the first Wichita marathon.

It became a family event for the El Dorado natives, as Orndorff’s three children joined him with his wife cheering them on. In 2008, Richard Orndorff once again crossed the finish line in Wichita, this time first in his age division at 71 and with his arm raised with his youngest daughter.

He couldn’t wait to return for one last marathon. Orndorff even purchased new running shoes for the occasion. A week later, Orndorff died before he could ever put them on.

“That’s why this Sunday me and my sister will be running the marathon in dad’s honor,” Vernon Orndorff. “And I’m going to be running in the shoes my father was going to wear.”

Vernon will fly in from Florida and be joined in the race by his sister, Lorra Gillis. Their oldest sister, Cassie Holmes, is coming in from New York to cheer them on, just like their mother, who died in 2010.

All three will wear shirts with “In his shoes” across the front with a picture of their father crossing the finish line with his arms in the air.

It is still a family event.

“It just exemplifies how we were raised,” Vernon said. “We do things as a family. I don’t know if there are words that can describe what it will be like. This is just a blessing to our family to be able to honor our dad with something that he truly enjoyed.”

The Local Joes

Taken from the “Average Joes” mold, Wichita natives John Thompson, Jennifer White, Nathan Carr and Cassandra Schwartz were hand-picked by race organizers to show that anyone can pick up running.

The group was provided with professional training from Holly Perkins and new shoes from New Balance in preparation for the half-marathon. Each was asked to keep a live diary of their training on Twitter.

Schwartz, 27, represents the working mom with little time to squeeze in physical fitness. She still doesn’t consider herself a runner, but was surprised at her dedication when the work-out plans were laid out.

“I had no athletic ability beforehand, so it shows that anybody can do it,” Schwartz said. “It’s all about your mental grit and what you have inside of you because nobody is going to be out there doing it for you.”

For others, the training has been even more extreme. Two years ago, Thompson tipped the scales at 400 pounds.

“I used to be the laziest person I knew,” said Thompson, now 36. “I drank, I smoked and I ate improperly. I was basically doing everything I could to be dead as fast as possible.”

When doctors informed him he could die by 40 if he continued his lifestyle, Thompson was overcome with a resolve to change his life.

Along the way there would be pitfalls – a DUI that led to him swearing off alcohol and his father’s death, due in large part to obesity – but Thompson never wavered.

When he steps to the line on Sunday, Thompson will weigh half of his body weight from two years ago – a tick under 200 pounds. He has downgraded from 4XL to large shirts.

“When I cross the finish line on Sunday, I will be completely elated,” said Thompson, who said his ultimate goal is to complete a full marathon. “In my mind, I’m already picturing myself crossing the line with my arms raised over my head. It’s going to be something I can put a picture up on my wall for.”

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