The relatively new face of Wichitas running scene will soon become a face of the past.
Javier Ceja was largely an unknown when he won the River Run 10-kilometer race last summer, shortly after finishing his eligibility as a distance runner at Friends. He became much more recognizable a few months later when he set a state record on a 13.1-mile course by winning the Prairie Fire Half Marathon in 1 hour, 6 minutes, 51 seconds last October.
Ceja and the Wichita running community may not have known it at the time, but that was the start of Cejas going-away tour. Hes moving to Virginia in the coming months, and though he says hell return for a race or two, a move back to his native Los Angeles in the near future will essentially remove him from running here.
I planned on staying in Kansas for two years and its been more than two years now, Ceja said. I wanted to hold myself to that. I moved in 2010 and its 2014.
As the beginning of his parting shot, Ceja will compete in the spring Prairie Fire Half Marathon on Sunday. He doesnt expect his state record to fall because Sundays race is a step in training for Cejas first marathon and because conditions may not be as favorable as those that helped him set the record in the fall.
If Cejas Wichita running is beginning to wind down, he doesnt need to do much more to ensure his impact. In addition to his victories in the River Run and the half marathon six months ago, he also set his personal best in the 5,000 meters in Wichita.
For someone whose college eligibility kept him from running in many competitive races until about two years ago, Ceja has enjoyed a career than stacks up with those of many of Wichitas best-known racers.
I guess Ive never really thought of it that way, Ceja said. Im just out there training and trying to get better every day. Im definitely excited about whats going on, but I just kind of enjoy it.
Even the state record didnt resonate much with Ceja.
I was actually pretty sore for about a week, Ceja said. That wasnt fun at all.
Once he healed, Ceja was back to training and thinking of ways to fulfill his competitive nature, even though he doesnt carry all of his identity in being a runner.
The best way to push himself, Ceja believed, was to run a marathon, a gradual but natural climb from more comfortable distances he has already conquered. Hes running a marathon in December, possibly on his way to becoming a recognizable Virginia runner.
His goals arent limited to a recreational 26.2 miles, though.
Id like to run a qualifier, like an Olympic trials (marathon) qualifier, Ceja said. But Id have to run like a 2:18 for that. Sunday Id like to run a 2:18 pace for the half and see how I feel doing that. If I feel good, thats probably a good time because Im going to have to duplicate that in December.
Ceja is leaving just as he has begun putting down roots as an employee at First Gear, a running apparel store near downtown. The roots, though, are forcing the move, as hes leaving with his new wife as she heads to graduate school.
Sundays course will be different from the one Ceja took down in October, but hell soon have to adjust to a lot of new courses. He still hasnt completely come to grips with his impending move.
That, Ceja said. was kind of a shock for me.