For as many 100-mile weeks he logged before the Prairie Fire marathon on Sunday morning, it was stunning to Jacob Buhler that he was hitting a wall with six miles still to go.
Up until that point, Buhler's pace had been untouchable. He had put several minutes between him and the competition, but the 24-year-old Oklahoma City resident was beginning to lock up.
"It was my legs, they turned into rocks," Buhler said. "When you get to that point, it's kind of a mental game. Each step hurts, but you have to fight through and drive it."
Buhler's resiliency ensured victory, as he spanned the 26.2 miles through downtown Wichita in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 43 seconds to win the marathon over defending champion Tim Marshall, who was a full six minutes behind.
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Afterwards, Buhler was feeling it. He immediately found the medical tent and rested for a good 15 minutes before coming around.
"I was just trying to become coherent, more or less," Buhler said. "I started seeing stars and I didn't think I had much time before I fell over. I was hurting, but I'm feeling a lot better now."
Buhler's pace was so brisk at the start, he passed through the half-marathon finish in 1 hour, 11 minutes — which actually created confusion for his main competition, Marshall and Thomas O'Connell, who finished third.
"The funny thing was, we didn't think there was anybody that was in front of us," Marshall said. "We were kind of slowing down the pace and kind of enjoying it. We probably did that until about the 14th mile and then we found out the leader was like six minutes in front of us. Then it was too late."
It was a surprising development to Buhler that his training for the race didn't allow his legs to last longer. He was a successful collegiate runner at Utah Valley, graduating in 2009 as an all-conference runner. Since then, he has moved to Oklahoma City and is currently pursuing a bid to the 2012 Olympic Trials.
"That's kind of a dream right now," said Buhler, who has to run under 2 hours, 19 minutes to qualify. "This was just to kind of see where I'm at and how tough I can be."
So what was the prognosis post-race?
"I have a little more work to do," Buhler said. "The second half kind of killed me. I went out pretty hard and ran by myself most of the way, so that was tough. I hit a wall. I think there are a few things I can adjust in my training to help, though."
But it was more than enough Sunday. Buhler's time was more than 12 minutes better than Marshall's winning time last year. Marshall also cut down on his time by over six minutes.
"I'm definitely happy with my time," Marshall said. "That's a personal-best for me. I was a little down toward the middle of the race, but once I hit that finish everything just went away. I love this marathon."
So does Buhler, even if there was a bit of pain to pay for the pleasure.
"I was shooting for the win today, so I'm pretty happy with it," Buhler said. "I thought I had a pretty good chance. I knew where my training was at. It was a pretty good day."