For the past five years, David Fuentes has been pretty dominant in these parts. He’s won just about all the local races and has even won the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. But whenever Fuentes has ventured out into the national arena in order to make a name for himself, he’s fizzled.

Those days may be over.

In the best race of his life, Fuentes finished sixth against a national-class field in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon (nee, Grandma’s) in Duluth, Minnesota on Saturday in a one-minute PR of 1:04:36 which also just so happens to be a qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, the 27-year-old Austinite (who is from Boerne) is ecstatic. “This race was a huge boost for my confidence that I can run with guys who are on paper faster than me,” said Fuentes who is a tech rep for PowerBar.

Fuentes has never been competitive in the handful of national-class races he’s run. In the past, in such races as the USA Half Marathon Champs in Houston (2011) and even this race last year, there was an intimidation factor. Fuentes didn’t believe he belonged with the top guys—and wasn’t able to stay with them.

This year was completely different in Duluth. “My goal was to run under 1:05 and get a Trials qualifier,” said Fuentes, a 2009 graduate of St. Edward’s. “But there was a lot of talent in the race and didn’t really see myself running with the top guys.”

Surprisingly, the pace on a cool, drizzly morning was relatively slow and, although eventual winner Julius Koskei took off and separated himself from the pack after six miles, Fuentes was still with the leaders of the second pack when Koskei made his decisive move. (Koskei would win in 1:03:36.)

The 4:50 pace felt comfortable to Fuentes. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this could be happening for me today.’ When Koskei surged really hard, there were five of us left chasing him and I was able to stay with those guys. I never felt like I was running over my head and just was able to maintain.”

Fuentes’ had run this race a year ago, but blew up around 12 miles and struggled home in 1:05:50. (Before Bjorklund, his PR was 1:05:44 at The Woodlands in ’12.)

“This time when we got to 12 miles, I suffered a little bit but I was able to keep my focus and none of the guys in my group got away from me. I’m definitely happy to run this time and get a Trials qualifier, but to be honest, I should have run this fast a long time ago. I know I’m faster than I’ve shown, but I just missed my opportunities in the past few years.”

He didn’t miss it this time.

Next up for Fuentes is the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on July 4th. That will be the final race for him for a while as he and his coach Derick Williamson work out a training plan for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

Fuentes has run three marathons without a lot of success so far (Chicago, Dallas and San Antonio which he won in 2:28), but clearly feels he can run a lot faster. “It’s a long process,” says Fuentes. “Maybe I’ll have another break-out race, but I’m smart enough to realize it takes a long time to be good at the marathon.

“Obviously, I would love to run well in the Olympic Trials, but really my focus is on 2020. In this sport, nobody is an immediate success. It’s taken me five years to get to this point. Now, I have the confidence that I can run a lot better.”

This article originally appeared in the Texas Running Post.