In one week, Brayden Barrientez went from a runner who couldn’t quite finish to one who finished strong.
Barrientez, 20, won the men’s 10-kilometer Kansas Health Foundation River Run on Saturday morning in downtown Wichita.
He broke from a pack of three runners with around 200 meters remaining and ran in first across the Douglas Avenue Bridge, over the Arkansas River, to finish with a time of 32 minutes, nine seconds.
“I knew if I could stay in the front, I would have what it took at the end to finish it off,” he said. “I don’t really know the course that well, so I decided that once I hit the bridge I would take off with whatever I had left.”
Barrientez held off defending champion Thomas O’Connell (32:14) and third-place Nathan Wadsworth (32:19), the trio that ran as the lead pack for the final mile. Former Oregon runner Amber McGown won the women’s 10K for a second straight year, with a time of 36:17. Former Wichita State runner Scarla Nero placed second (36:44) with Bishop Carroll senior Kaelyn Balch (37:16) third.
Barrientez, a senior at Oklahoma Christian who ran at Campus High, wanted to start his summer on a more positive note than his college season ended. He placed eighth in the 1,500 meters at the NAIA national meet in late May.
“The race really didn’t go the way I wanted it to, and I wanted to get that out of my system,” he said. “I was racing for second. And with about 200 to go, I just didn’t have anything left. I went out too hard. I fell back to eighth.”
On Saturday, Barrientez stayed in the top three most of the race. Fourth-place finisher Aaron Yoder took the lead near the one-mile marker, close to Century II. By the second mile, Barrientez ran in front, with Yoder second and Wadsworth, running smoothly, close behind. The lead group, down to five runners, went single file behind Barrientez as it entered Central Riverside Park. Cesar Ruiz, the eventual seventh-place finisher, fell back around the 5-kilometer mark as the top four ran alongside the river through the park.
Soon after, Yoder couldn’t maintain the pace and Barrientez, O’Connell and Wadsworth broke away near the Wichita Art Museum and across the Seneca Street Bridge. Barrientez risked turning an ankle — or worse — to run on the curb in front of Exploration Place to avoid getting cut off.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be going left or right, and Thomas started to come in on me and I didn’t want to get cut off and fall,” he said. “I kind of regretted it right when I did it.”
Barrientez started his kick near the Douglas Avenue Bridge, with the finish line on the east side. Wadsworth fell back first, then O’Connell. Barrientez sped away to win the River Run in his first attempt.
“With 600 meters to go, it was down to three guys and I made a really strong surge at the Douglas (Avenue) Bridge,” Wadsworth said. “I held it for 100, 200 meters, and then they came back up on me and they made a strong surge. I just didn’t have any kind of leg speed today.”
McGown, who ran collegiately at Cornell and Oregon, started to pull away from Nero midway through the race. McGown, 29, is adjusting to longer distances after her college career.
“I’m a miler, so this is a very long race for me,” she said. “I’m more designed for shorter stuff. I have better speed than long-distance capacity. Most of the road races are 5k and up, so I decided if I still wanted to be active in the sport, I had to move up.”
Four months ago, he was diagnosed with a rapid heartbeat. Before that, other injuries limited his training.
“I’m good to go,” he said. “I’m not even receiving any courses of treatment because (the heart problem) went away. This is my first time my body has felt good running and racing, without some kind of compensation issue, for two years.”
Wadsworth’s goal is to return to running high-level marathons and pushing his times under 2 hours, 20 minutes.
“I took some time off and learned to rest a little bit more and have a good overall schedule,” he said. “My body seems to be responding.”
Keith Long, 54, won the Male Masters with a time of 34:29, finishing ninth overall.
Long, from Beaumont, ran track and cross country at Topeka West High in the 1970s. He returned to racing in 2004 and now runs 5K’s, 10K’s, half-marathons and marathons.
“I remember telling myself I was going to run three or four miles a day, maybe three or four days a week,” he said. “Now I’m running 95 miles a week. I kind of got hooked back on running again.”
Long holds his age-group Kansas records for the 5K, the four-mile, the 10K and the 10-mile. On July 14, he turns 55 and plans to run a 10K race that day to set the record in his new age group.
“I love the competition,” he said. “And, it’s good to be in shape, too.”