The last couple of years of competitive racing have been, at times, a struggle for Charles “Chad” Ware. Recurring stomach problems sometimes hampered the Wheeling, Ill., resident and forced him to slow his pace, even forcing him to stop races completely because it hurt so much.

In Sunday’s 36th Marine Corps Marathon, Ware was hoping to just take it easy and see how he felt as he ran. But by halfway through the 26.2-mile race, Ware was still in the lead group and felt great, so he kept churning and opponents fell behind. No stomach problems flared as Ware finished with his first major marathon win and an unofficial time of 2 hours 19 minutes 16 seconds, a personal-best by nearly 90 seconds and the race’s best time in 14 years.

Ware, who made a run at notching a 2012 Olympic trials qualifying time of 2:19 once he realized he was close to reaching it, fell only seconds short of doing so. The final hill, in the last mile before the finish line at the Arlington National Cemetery, slowed him down just enough.

“Maybe if that wasn’t there I would have been able to qualify for the trials,” he said.

Tezata Dengersa, 30, of Turkey, won the women’s division with an unofficial time of 2:45:28 — a 6:20 mile pace. Emily Shertzer, 31 of Jonestown, Pa., competing in her second marathon, finished in second place in 2:45:55. Getachew Shiferaw, 27 of Ethiopia, finished third in 2:47:30.

Dengersa, who led for the entire race that began in Arlington and snaked through Georgetown and historic Washington, made a push ahead of Shertzer near Mile 24.

“It was little bit cold but for me, that’s good,” Dengersa said.

Cara Golias, 14, a Fairfax resident and the youngest of the 20,895 runners who completed the race, finished in 6:08:18, running with her sister Kelsey, 15, and father Michael, 48. Jonathan Mendes, a former World War II and Korean War Marine bomber pilot, was the race’s oldest finisher at 90 and notched a time of 7:02:30. Two-time Marine Corps Marathon winner Darrell General, 45, finished 72nd with a time of 2:48:06.

Michael Wardian, 37, of Arlington, surged in the race’s final leg to finish second in the men’s division behind Ware, who ran a 5:44-mile pace. Patrick Fernandez, 24, of Alexandria, finished third in 2:26:37.

“I didn’t know he was going to run that fast,” Wardian said. “But he proved me wrong.”

Ware, a 27-year-old Army reservist and South Bend., Ind., native, started running when he was 17 as a way to lose weight and grew to love it, even running cross-country and indoor track while he was at Butler.

What started as a potential career in medicine in college turned into a life of the military and the religious life. Ware, a first lieutenant who is headed into active duty, earned his master’s degree in divinity in May with hopes of becoming an Army chaplain. But with few spots open for it, Ware will work elsewhere in the Army until he can pursue his calling.

And in the meantime, Ware has kept up his love of running while coping with that nagging stomach issue. Sunday was his fourth marathon since last October. He had been hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials in January in Houston and to earned a spot in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which allows service members to train for the Olympics while maintain a career in the military.

On Sunday, Ware, who was running for the All-Army Marathon Team, was part of a group of five runners that led from the start. As the group thinned to three, Ware fell behind by about 50 yards at Mile 12. But near the U.S. Capitol, he surged to the lead and held it. Though there was no stomach pain, the hurt of running for so long did start to seep in.

“I started to really feel it the last two miles but I was able to hold,” he said.