The relatively new face of Wichita’s 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 Ceja’s going-away tour. He’s moving to Virginia in the coming months, and though he says he’ll 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 it’s been more than two years now,” Ceja said. “I wanted to hold myself to that. I moved in 2010 and it’s 2014.”
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As the beginning of his parting shot, Ceja will compete in the spring Prairie Fire Half Marathon on Sunday. He doesn’t expect his state record to fall because Sunday’s race is a step in training for Ceja’s first marathon and because conditions may not be as favorable as those that helped him set the record in the fall.
If Ceja’s Wichita running is beginning to wind down, he doesn’t 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 Wichita’s best-known racers.
“I guess I’ve never really thought of it that way,” Ceja said. “I’m just out there training and trying to get better every day. I’m definitely excited about what’s going on, but I just kind of enjoy it.”
Even the state record didn’t resonate much with Ceja.
“I was actually pretty sore for about a week,” Ceja said. “That wasn’t fun at all.”
Once he healed, Ceja was back to training and thinking of ways to fulfill his competitive nature, even though he doesn’t 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. He’s running a marathon in December, possibly on his way to becoming a recognizable Virginia runner.
His goals aren’t limited to a recreational 26.2 miles, though.
“I’d like to run a qualifier, like an Olympic trials (marathon) qualifier,” Ceja said. “But I’d have to run like a 2:18 for that. Sunday I’d like to run a 2:18 pace for the half and see how I feel doing that. If I feel good, that’s probably a good time because I’m 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 he’s leaving with his new wife as she heads to graduate school.
Sunday’s course will be different from the one Ceja took down in October, but he’ll soon have to adjust to a lot of new courses. He still hasn’t completely come to grips with his impending move.
“That,” Ceja said. “was kind of a shock for me.”