Samuel Kosgei had dreams of becoming a professional runner.
But after graduating from Lamar University, located in Beaumont, Texas, in 2007, the 29-year-old Ugandan transplant joined the military, moved to Junction City, and had to put his dreams on hold.
Now that his commitments are complete, Kosgei is ready to pursue his goal of qualifying to run the marathon at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June.
That’s why his victory on Sunday in the Prairie Fire half-marathon at WaterWalk was crucial. His winning time of one hour, nine minutes and seven seconds was by no means a record pace, but more importantly, it was a win.
“Actually winning the race, that feels better than running faster and you lose,” Kosgei said. “Winning always gives you a morale boost. I feel better about my training for the U.S. Championships now.”
Kosgei’s blistering pace to begin the 13.1-mile race was good enough to challenge the state record, set last year by Javier Ceja in 1:06:51, but soaring temperatures ensured the record would remain safe.
It was that quick start that took Ceja out of his own race strategy, aborting his calculated, steady pace to chase after the leader. And for eight miles, the risk paid off.
But there was a price to pay for Ceja, who faded in the final three miles and finished second in 1:09:36, 29 seconds behind Kosgei.
“That was a pretty painful last 5k,” Ceja said. “I got too competitive way too soon and came out too aggressive.
“I wanted to run my own race, but I didn’t want to pass up the competitiveness, either. I thought maybe (chasing after Kosgei early) would work out. It didn’t for me today, but that’s alright. He’s a pretty fast guy.”
It came as a surprise to Kosgei that the pace he considered mild weeded out the leader’s pack and exhausted Ceja, his lone competitor.
“I was actually expecting it to be faster than that,” Kosgei said. “The other guys didn’t really push it too hard. That’s why I decided to take it at a 5:15 (mile) pace, and not try to push it closer to a 5-minute pace. I actually ran at that pace having fun.”
Neither Kosgei or Ceja were training specifically for this half-marathon, so the competition was appreciated by both runners.
And for Kosgei, it meant the thrill and satisfaction of winning was back.
It had been too long, he said, and to experience it again reawakened his drive to make it as a professional runner.
“I was excited to have that winning feeling again,” Kosgei said. “This is my fastest race after I got out of the military, so that means a lot to me. Now I know tomorrow when I continue my training that I am better than before I ran that race.”
After setting a personal-best in the marathon by six minutes, Addison decided her body could handle the rigors of a half-marathon 13 days later.
She was right, as the 25-year-old Addison, a recent Tabor graduate and a Valley Center resident, won the women’s half-marathon in 1:31:34. Addison finished 24 seconds ahead of Belleville’s Holly Beavers and 44 seconds in front of Wichita’s Lacy Hansen.
“I’ve never won a Prairie Fire race before, so this is pretty awesome,” Addison said. “I wasn’t sure how my body was going to recover after Boston, but I was feeling good. Today was a lot of fun.”
It didn’t take Addison many miles to build a comfortable lead where she was essentially running by herself. So when the heat set in, there was not a push there to keep Addison motivated to achieve her goal of one hour and twenty-five minutes.
“I started out at a 6:40 (mile) pace and I hoped to pick it up toward the end,” Addison said. “But I ended up slowing down, instead of picking it up. I was just trying to hang on there at the end. I knew I was in first and I didn’t want anyone else to catch me.”
“We’re really pleased with the turnout and we think people really enjoyed it,” Hanson said. “We heard great compliments about the course and I think everything was mostly positive. The only complaint was that it was a little warm, but not unbearable.”
Perhaps the most popular aspect of the race was the Star Wars theme, coinciding with May 4 — the unofficial Star Wars holiday that plays on the famous movie quote “May the force be with you.”
Runners posed for selfies with Storm Troopers, ran with light sabers, and dressed up as their favorite characters.
“I think everybody absolutely loved that,” Hanson said.
As far as the races themselves, runners once again put their stamp of approval on the event.
“If they asked me to come back next week, I would,” Kosgei said. “It was a great event. I was very impressed.”
“All the running community gets out here and supports it,” added Christina Romero, a Wichita native who completed the half-marathon in 2:39:36. “It’s a good organization. Prairie Fire does a very good job of supporting the runners. It was a fantastic race.”
While some were running for personal-best times, others were running for the satisfaction of completing a half-marathon. That was the case for Romero and her friend Darcy Ali, who both turned 50-years-old this year.
“This is a big milestone for me,” Ali said. “It lets me know that I’m not dead yet and I’m not that old.”
Clark Ensz, who designed the course, anticipated one or even both state records to fall in the half-marathon. But when the temperature soared over 90 degrees, the conditions wouldn’t allow runners to take complete advantage of the flat course.
“You definitely had to start being smart about it,” said Lacy Hansen, who took third overall in the women’s half-marathon. “The heat just kind of took it out of you. There wasn’t a whole lot of pick-up to give out there. My legs started getting heavy and my lips were completely dry. It was tough.”
Running since 1972_Ever since Wichita native Ralph Williams started running road races as a 34-year-old in 1972, he hasn’t stopped since.
On Sunday, Williams completed the half-marathon as the second-oldest competitor in the field of 1,438 runners at 78. He finished the top in his age group at 2:53:54.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished another stepping stone in my life,” Williams said. “I’m still able to do it and that means a lot to me to be able to finish the challenge of a half-marathon. You just feel really good about yourself after finishing.”