While more than 4,600 runners in several races under the Prairie Fire Marathon umbrella were trying to set personal bests or conquer a long distance for the first time, Mario Macias was just practicing.
An accomplished distance runner who has an eye on more prestigious marathons later this year, the 30-year-old resident of Alamosa, Colo., used Sunday’s 26.2-mile race through downtown Wichita as a tuneup.
The marathon probably felt just like one of Macias’s lonesome training sessions. He said he began to pull away at the three-mile mark before winning the race in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 26 seconds. Macias followed up marathon wins this year in Carlsbad, Calif., and Lincoln, Neb., with a time that beat last year’s winning mark by more than six minutes.
Another Colorado runner, Trent Briney, finished second. The 2011 and 2010 winners, Jacob Buhler and Wichitan Tim Marshall, finished third and fourth.
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“Coming in I was just using this as a long run,” Macias said. “It wasn’t a race I peaked for. I probably could have run a little bit faster, but there were some times where we caught the head wind and it slowed us down a bit.”
Possibly the most prominent and well-known distance runner in Colorado, Macias’ first foray into Kansas offered little change.
An internet search for Macias brings numerous results of the accomplishments and race wins in his home state, but Macias has excelled in races outside of Colorado, too. He’s training for a peak performance in the California International Marathon this December in Sacramento.
Many Colorado runners will likely be glad to see Macias take his talents elsewhere, even temporarily. Briney was an alternate on the 2002 Olympic team and he runs 50- and 100-mile ultra-marathons, but the 34-year-old can no longer consistently keep up with Macias over 26.2 miles.
“He shows up to any race in Colorado, he wins,” Briney said. “There’s no difference in Kansas. Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, if Mario shows up you kind of know he’s going to be in it most of the time. He’s a really, really talented athlete.”
In a deep field that included a pair of former champions in the top four, Macias’ pace offered little hope for his closest — a relative term — competitors. He escaped the pack early and found himself essentially running alone before the race was one-sixth complete.
That gave Macias plenty of time to be alone with his thoughts, and his race, basically against the clock, showed his mental edge matched his physical one. He sailed through most of the race, only showing any signs of a struggle after he had an insurmountable lead.
Macias has room, he believes, to take about 10 minutes off his time as he shoots for about a 2:10 finish in Sacramento.
“It’s hard,” Macias said. “The first 22, 23 miles felt pretty easy. It wasn’t until the last few miles where I kind of felt it, especially about two miles where we were running in a head wind and it slowed me down about 15 seconds off my average (mile). The marathon, you’ve got to respect the distance. It’s hard.”