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Detroit — Better late than never. That's one way to look at Zachary Ornelas' win Sunday morning at the 38th Detroit International Marathon.

"I didn't decide to do Detroit again until the last day to sign up," the 24-year-old Ann Arbor resident said, after finishing the race in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 22.54 seconds. "It's one of the best marathons I've ever run. The course is fantastic, the volunteers are fantastic. It was an easy choice."

For winning the race, Ornelas will be taking home a check for $4,000.

Ornelas, who teaches at a private school in Northville, said training was difficult.

"It makes it tougher because a full-time job running if you want to be good at it," he said.

Geoffrey Burns, 25, also of Ann Arbor, finished second, with a time of 2:26:21. He and Ornelas were teammates at the University of Michigan. Burns graduated in 2012 and Ornelas in 2013. The pair stuck together for much of the race, too.

"Zach and I were together until we got back to the U.S.," said Burns, who grew up near Lake Leelanau and graduated from Traverse City West in 2010. "We got back in and he kept rolling. I backed off a little bit."

He said once they decided to run, they had one goal.

"We decided that we had to get on the podium together," Burns said.

He and Ornelas are also members of the USA Track and Field 50K team.

"We talked about using this as a checkpoint for that," Burns said, referring to the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, UAE in November. "I'm happy with it. Second is great considering it was pretty cold out there."

Lyubov Denisova, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was the top female finisher. She crossed the finish line in 2:41.36 and won $6,000 ($4,000 for being the first female to finish the race and an extra $2,000 for being a member of the Masters category).

"This year (I) made an effort to win this race," said Denisova, formerly of Moscow, who spoke through a translator. "After 20 kilometers (my) partner took off and (I) had to catch her."

Her running partner, runner-up Valentyna Poltavka, 44, formerly of Ukraine, finished in 2:42:07.

Denisova said she ran about 80-90 miles a week leading up to the race.

She's no stranger to marathons, having run the New York marathon five times, Boston four times and Los Angeles three times.

"(I) like the course and the city," said Denisova, a four-time Detroit runner who finished second last year.

How much more gas is in the tank?

"Maybe 10 more years," she said, laughing.

An interesting proposal

When William Mazzola, 34, of Royal Oak crossed the finish line of the half-marathon portion of Sunday's marathon, he had one thing left to do. Propose to his girlfriend of a year, Donna Beydoun, 31, of Dearborn Heights.

"I was nervous," Mazzola said. "I had to cheat. I was supposed to be in row G, but I ended up in row B. Thank God my family was in place. Everybody worked together. It was huge."

And how did it go?

"I was just hoping to finish the race," Beydoun said, adding that she had no clue her fiancé had been planning the proposal for three months. "I couldn't catch my breath already and then that happened. It was so surprising."

Shipping up to Boston

For a pair of marathon finishers, Sunday's marathon represented something bigger: qualifying for the Boston marathon in April.

Timothy Martin, 19, of St. Clair Shores and Zachary Thomas, 20, of Macomb Township, were strangers before their first Detroit Marathon. They were grouped together, and finished five seconds apart.

According to the Boston Marathon website, the qualifying time for the men's 18-34 age group is 3:05:00.

"It was a lot of fun until about the last mile," said Martin, who finished in 2:59:04. "I'm just numb right now. I was just going for the Boston (Marathon) qualifier and was happy to get under three (hours)."

Martin, a sophomore at Michigan and member of the school's club cross country team, said he wasn't sure about running the race, finally deciding to commit over the summer.

"I set my mind to doing the marathon around July," he said. "The most (miles) I ever did was about 50 (a week). I didn't do the stereotypical marathon training that most of those people do. Some of them do 100 miles a week. I was nowhere near that. It felt good and I'm happy."

Thomas, a junior at Oakland University, said he ran on the school's cross country team his freshman year, before stopping.

"I've been freelance running to train for the marathon," said Thomas, who finished in 2:58:59. "The course was actually pretty friendly. It was mostly flat. The tunnel and bridge were pretty hilly, but I trained for that."

Thomas, who was co-captain of the Macomb Dakota cross country team three years ago, said near the end, Martin was pushing him to finish strong.

"I didn't know I had it in me until that final sprint," Thomas said. "I ran a half-marathon over the summer and I didn't have it then, and I had it today. It was nice to have him (Martin) there to push me."

Al Willman is a freelance writer

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