If the reputation of the woman out front hasn’t preceded her, someone nearby does know Raquel Stucky and is shouting out encouragement to her.
Wichita’s budding community of runners has adopted Stucky, a Pretty Prairie native, as its own. After finishing the inaugural Prairie Marathon Half Marathon in a light drizzle Sunday morning in downtown Wichita, Stucky couldn’t make it further than a few strides before accepting congratulations or a handshake from someone for her women’s winning time of 1 hour, 21 minutes, 21 seconds.
It may have been a foregone conclusion for Stucky, who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials in Houston, but running in Wichita never grows tiresome.
“I always feel more connected when I run here,” Stucky said. “It’s neat when people know you by name and are cheering for you. That’s always a nice boost.”
Stucky was unsure during the week if she would be among the 1,700 runners competing on Sunday, but decided that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run in Wichita as part of her training.
Sunday’s half marathon was part of a training schedule gearing the 37-year-old Stucky up for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., on June 22.
“It turned out OK,” said Stucky, who finished six minutes ahead of second place. “It was like training, just a little bit more effort. You can’t just go out and run. I had to get a little faster run under my legs. I was happy with it.”
The men’s half marathon was more competitive, but Matthew Chesang, a former distance standout at Kansas State, used a superior kick to pull away for a 40-second victory in a winning time of 1:11:18.
Chesang held the lead for most of the race, but the 31-year-old from Kenya slowly began to separate himself with seven miles left. By the final mile, no one was within striking distance.
But providing that second-place finish was Jonny Bernasky, a sophomore distance runner at Fort Hays State who was running in his first half marathon.
“I kind of surprised myself,” Bernasky said. “I’ve never raced in anything that long before. That’s why I stuck in the pack for so long because I didn’t know how to race it really. But I ended up surprising myself there at the end.”
“I mean, it’s a half-mile away from where I’m staying, so I figured I might as well jump in,” Ceja said.
It proved worthwhile, as Ceja won the 5-kilometer race in 16 minutes, 12 seconds.
Not a bad way to kick off his final week at Friends, as Ceja, a California native, will graduate this Saturday.
Andover’s Mary Grene, 50, was the top women’s finisher in 21:32.
“I had to do something,” Christensen said. “The doctors told me I was going to die if I didn’t, so I started running. It’s been hard to quit.”
Now Christensen’s new addiction of running has led the 73-year-old to completing countless road races, including Sunday’s 5-kilometer race. He was the second-oldest finisher in 25:52, which would have won the age group 10 years younger.
“I don’t ever want to go back to where I was,” Christensen said. “I always enjoy running in Wichita because there are so many good runners here. I really enjoy seeing how many of the younger kids running and picking it up.”