Danedri Thompson
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Neither the 5K run, the 34.5K bike ride nor a second 5K run are the punishing parts of Gardner’s annual duathlon, the Prairie Punisher.

“That course – it’s usually hot,” said Kevin Sampson, a regular participant and winner of the event. “That’s the punishing part.”

Now in its ninth year, organizers for the event are expecting more than 220 participants from more than 10 states this Saturday. The event will also include a 5K run and a 5K walk. All proceeds from the walk will benefit the Gardner Gold Special Olympics team.

A runner crosses the finish line at the 2008 Prairie Punisher at Gardner Edgerton High School. The Prairie Punisher is scheduled for this weekend at Celebration Park. File photo

Jason Bruce, Gardner Parks and Recreation supervisor and event organizer, said the city began sponsoring the Prairie Punisher nine years ago after a resident suggested it to parks staff.

“It’s just grown since then,” Bruce said.

It grew so quickly that in 2007, the annual event was named as a world qualifying event, allowing some participants to qualify for the world championships.

World-qualifying events tend to move around, so Prairie Punisher athletes won’t be able to qualify for the world championships this year. But, Bruce said, they’ll be running and biking for bragging rights, a goody bag and a plaque.

They’ll have tough competition from last year’s defending champion, Sampson. He’s won the men’s category several of the event’s nine years – including last year with a finishing time of one hour and 24 minutes.

He doesn’t remember how quickly he competed in each leg, but Sampson said he’s a better runner than biker.

“Usually people can catch up to me a little bit in the bike,” he said. “Hopefully I can stay ahead after the second run.”

The defending women’s champ, Leslie Curley of Topeka, is also expected to compete. She finished the race last year in one hour and 33 minutes.

Bruce said the entire event from start to the final finisher crossing the line will be about three hours. Participants may arrive in town as early as the night before to get a good night’s rest near the race. On race day, Bruce said some athletes arrive as early as 5:45 a.m.

Sampson said training starts long before the actual event. Sampson said he trains all year, spending seven to eight hours each week doing some type of exercise.

“Occasionally, I take a day off, but most days I’ll either run or bike or I use an elliptical trainer,” Sampson said. “I lift weights some of the time.”

The Prairie Punisher will start at 7 a.m. this Saturday at Celebration Park. Participants start with a 5K that will take them out of the park onto 159th Street. The joggers will run to a turnaround point on the road and then u-turn back to Celebration Park.

At the park again, they’ll hop on their bikes for a grueling 34.5K ride. Riders will take 167th Street to Waverly Road. They’ll head south on 175th Street then west on Four Corners Road. From there, it’s a jaunt north on 143rd Street and then west on Edgerton Road back to 175th Street and a return to Celebration Park. They’ll ditch the bikes and take off on foot for another 5K down and back on 159th Street.