MODESTO — Jesus Campos didn't have to glance behind to know he was barely leading Jon Olsen in Sunday's fourth annual Modesto Marathon. He just listened.
Olsen won the first two years, is a Prescott Junior High School math teacher and athletic inspiration, and remains fabulously famous on his home turf. From all the shouting and cheers, Campos knew Olsen was just on his tail for, oh, 20 miles or so.
To Olsen, a race of 26 miles is a romp in the park. He is a world-class ultramarathoner using the Modesto contest as a tuneup to a grueling 24-hour race in Holland in May.
At the halfway mark, Campos was 31 seconds ahead of Olsen, who had a lot more in the tank at that point and figured he could catch Campos by picking up the pace. "I was thinking, 'I've got him where I want him,' " Olsen said later.
But this wasn't Campos' first rodeo. He ran just ahead of the cheers for Olsen and sped up whenever Olsen did.
"He's popular," Campos said. "I just listened for (people shouting) his name."
Both men shattered the course record set last year by a Utah man who didn't compete this time. (Olsen came in second, 16 seconds behind, in 2012) The third-place runner Sunday came in 10 minutes behind them.
Olsen, 38, set a personal record this year, running far better than when he won in 2010 and 2011. But he finished 42 seconds after Campos on Sunday, and the victor claims all the booty $500 for winning plus $500 for a race record.
Olsen said he was "a little disappointed" at finishing second, but credited Campos for pushing him to a personal best at that distance.
"He dragged me," Olsen said. "Without him, I would have never run that fast. He has my utmost respect."
Campos, 28, a middle school teacher in Fresno, "wasn't good" at running in high school. "I was sixth or seventh on my team," he said.
A late bloomer, he got serious about seven years ago and set a personal best last year (2:24:25) in his adopted hometown. That was two minutes faster than his time Sunday in Modesto (2:26:53); maybe he could have done better if he hadn't gotten up at 3:30 a.m. to drive from Fresno.
Campos once tried a 50-mile race and has zero desire to challenge Olsen at a longer distance. "It's crazy, what he does," Campos said.
Turlock's Miguel Nuci, a two-time Olympic qualifier at the marathon distance, opted for the half marathon Sunday. He's on the rebound from an old injury and resumed running about a month ago after three months off.
"I like the marathon better, but it's not wise to do a whole one (this soon)," Nuci said.
That decision worked in the favor of Campos, a longtime friend. Nuci's personal best at the longer distance is 2:15:34 nearly nine minutes better than Campos'.
"In all honesty, it's nice to be rewarded with the money," said Nuci, 33, a part-time Togo's Sandwiches employee with a professional racing sponsor, whose training schedule skipped the Modesto race in previous years.
Anna Bretan, a 28-year-old labor and delivery nurse and mother of three, loves to run in the hills near her Berkeley home. "It's peaceful out there, the only time of day I get to myself," she said.
But hilly races in Oakland and San Francisco don't produce the best times, she said, so she looked around for a flat, fast course for her fifth-ever marathon and set eyes on Modesto.
The result: a course record, nearly nine minutes faster than the previous mark and only 33 seconds off the Olympic qualifying time. The next female racer on Sunday crossed the finish line more than 41 minutes after.
"You've got a well-organized, low-key race that's not stressful, and the weather could not have been better," said Bretan, adding she's likely to return.
Pregnancy, wind and rain, and a full racing schedule kept Stara Visser from the Modesto Half Marathon in years past. This time, she had no excuse.
So the 39-year-old Oakdale stay-at-home mom and animal shelter rescue coordinator, who trains alone without a wristwatch, set an ambitious goal to break her personal record. She went out Sunday and won the whole race.
"The course is flat and fast and the route is beautiful," Visser said.
The only downside, she said, was traveling only a few miles; her family is used to using her races as an excuse for fun trips. "This," she said, "is too close and familiar!"
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.