Jesus Campos was more focused on running a fast time than defending his title at Sunday's Eye-Q Two Cities Marathon & Half.
The local favorite did both.
After running with a small pack for half the 26.2-mile footrace across north Fresno and into Clovis, Campos turned on the jets to finish more than 3 minutes clear of the closest competition in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 17 seconds.
"Today I just wanted to enjoy the first half and push hard in the second," said Campos, who ran 2:28:53 last year. "It worked."
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Campos and women's champion Lori Buratto of Spokane Valley, Wash., who also defended her title from 2009, each took home $1,500. Buratto finished in 3:00:21, bettering her course record by nearly 5 minutes.
Coming off a subpar (for him) 2:33 at last month's Chicago Marathon, Campos was content to run alongside Ivan Medina of Hayward and Fresno's Sean Marzolf before accelerating to a blistering 5:30 pace during miles 13-18.
"After 13 miles, I took off," said the 26-year-old Campos, who is finishing up a kinesiology and Spanish degree at Fresno State.
Mario Macias, a Delano native who lives in Alamosa, Colo., won the half-marathon in 1:04:23. Natasha LaBeaud of Flagstaff, Ariz., took the women's race in 1:15:18, just ahead of Fresno native Nicole Hagobian of San Luis Obispo.
The half-marathon was muddled by a timing error that resulted in officials starting the race at 7:19 a.m. -- 11 minutes ahead of schedule.
When the air horn blew to start the race, many runners were still standing on the opposite side of Friant Road warming up, using the port-a-potties or socializing.
Macias, LaBeaud and Hagobian were among several elite-level runners caught in the sudden scrum. Some waited up to 15 minutes before crossing the start line.
"The first six or seven miles were spent zig-zagging through huge crowds of people," Macias said. "It was pretty stressful. I was running on adrenaline."
Added LaBeaud: "It was like an obstacle course mixed in."
The miss-start irked most of the elite runners, and some were angry about it. The latter group included Christian Hesch of Morro Bay, who asked race organizers to refund his $65 entry fee.
"You pay for the opportunity to compete, and a lot of us didn't get that today," Hesch said.
Each runner carried a tiny computer chip strapped to their shoelaces that triggers when it crosses the start and finish lines. So for those not setting the pace, the early start hardly mattered.
Lowell Barnett certainly didn't care. The 73-year-old Fresnan trimmed 13 minutes off his half-marathon time from two years ago.
Oh, and since then, he had two knee replacement surgeries.
"I'll be doing this another 20 years," said Barnett, standing in line for his well-earned breakfast.
Nor did Stefanne Kizirian of Dinuba, who was feeling it after running 13.1 miles for the first time in her life.
"At the finish line, the pain went away for about 30 seconds," Kizirian said.
Temperatures in the high 40s, a light breeze and cloudy skies greeted the field of 6,000 runners and hundreds of spectators gathered at the starting line. Because of the time change, it seemed later than normal -- even for the 7 a.m. marathon.
The marathon course crosses north Fresno on Shepherd Avenue and ventures into Old Town Clovis, using bike trails and tunnels, before tracing back to Woodward Park for a final northerly out-and-back on Friant Road.
Runners finish by turning west on Audubon Drive and heading through the main entrance of Woodward Park, where crowds lined temporary barricades set up for the event.
Many runners wore personalized bibs, making it easy for spectators to give them personalized words of encouragement.
"I'm very thankful for all the people who called out my name," said half-marathon finisher Lacy Abbott of Oakhurst. "It's very inspirational."
Some runners stagger to the finish line. Some sprint across it, only to give way to gravity. Some raise their arms above their heads or and clasp hands with a partner. Some limp as if strung by piano wire. One lady towed her handbag dog on a leash.
And then there's Visalia optometrist Michael Baumann, who celebrated finishing the 50-kilometer ultramarathon (a new addition this year) by leaping and clicking his heels.
"This is the absolute best marathon in the world -- bar none," said Baumann, standing in line for an ice cream sundae while carrying a plate loaded with eggs, potatoes, sausage and orange slices.
"Just a lot of good people having a good time."