There wasn’t a large home base cheering for Mario Macias when he crossed the finish line of Sunday’s Prairie Fire Marathon in first place.
Or for Scott Downard in second. Or Mark Mulholland in third.
That’s because none of the top three runners in Sunday’s race were from Wichita — Macias, last year’s champion, hails from Manitou Springs, Colo., Downard from Norman, Okla., and Mulholland from Westminster, Colo.
It’s a growing trend for out-of-state competitors at the top of the race and one that race director Bob Hanson says is evidence that the Prairie Fire series is becoming a regional draw. He counted 42 states having representation in Sunday’s race.
“We are very pleased with (the direction of the race) and we got a lot of compliments about the race,” Hanson said. “Everybody that comes from out of state seems to leave very pleased.”
When the race debuted in 2010, Wichitan Tim Marshall won the marathon and was joined by 10 fellow Kansans in the Top 12 of the race. The next year 10 of the top 13 runners were from Kansas.
But as the race expanded and its popularity grew, it began to attract more top runners from surrounding states. Last year five of the top six runners were not from Kansas and on Sunday, seven of the top 12 were from out of state.
Downard said making the short drive from Norman was an easy decision.
“This race in Wichita has certainly grown into a very big regional event,” said Downard, who finished second in a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 20 seconds. “I’ve run in some big races and I don’t think this one lacks anything as far as that goes.”
Hanson said Macias was so impressed from his experience running in Wichita last year, he made sure to include it in his country-wide schedule.
Macias turned the race on Sunday into his own personal training session once again, finishing nine minutes ahead of second place in 2:23:11 — 17 seconds better than his winning time last year.
Attracting runners like Macias and Downard will only make the Prairie Fire Marathon a more attractive event to competitors in surrounding states.
“It’s a great destination for me and a lot of other runners in the region,” Downard said. “I really like running by the river and the people here are great and the spectators are great. I love it when the community gets involved and you can appreciate what’s going on in the area.”
The popular opinion among the runners was the new tweaks to the race this year were positive. Hanson rearranged the course, taking out a few sharp turns and introduced runners to some new areas in downtown Wichita.
But that wasn’t the only improvement that the runners noticed.
“I love the bling,” said Marcus Wilkerson, who finished in fourth place with a time of 2:47:46. “The medals, that’s all I care about. Today I won some prize money, and I don’t even really care. They were pretty cool this year and compared to some other marathons, they’re definitely signature-looking medals.”
While those things will certainly attract outsiders, Hanson knows the Prairie Fire will only be as strong as its local support.
And it’s runners like Wilkerson, a 37-year-old Wichita native, who will continue to make the race a premier event.
“I feel like it is important to support the local race,” said Wilkerson, who qualified for the Boston Marathon with his time. “This year I made sure to have it on my schedule and I know I will in the future, too.”