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Part of the field of 250 runners stride out in the first mile of the Green Lake Road Race Sunday, including Heather Baker (178) of Minneapolis, Kristen Woelfel (128) of Belgrade and Ernst Van Gulijk (120) of New London. Tribune photos by Rand Middleton

Novice Green Lake runners win men's, women's titles

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sports Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SPICER -- Newcomers prevailed Sunday morning at the 34th annual Green Lake foot race.

Wade Cruser finished the 12-mile circuit of the 5,400-acre residential lake in a winning time of 1:14.57. Cruser, a Sauk Rapids native who now lives in Sartell, played football and wrestled at Ridgewater College in Willmar before graduating in 2007.

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He just took up competitive running this spring, he said.

"I ran a 3k and a 5k last month. This is the farthest I've ever run. The farthest I'd run at one time was about nine miles to get ready for this race."

The pace wasn't rapid -- 1:09.50 was the winning time a year ago -- but Cruser, 22, ran easily with a big lead the second half of the race. He said he was a sprinter the only year he was out for the Storm track team.

For the second year, the race started at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than the traditional start, to beat the July heat.

A total of 250 finished the race, according to Pickle Events results. There were 12 no shows.

Only last year's 259 finishers were more.

Kim Hager of Houston, Texas, was the first female to the line, in front of Melvin's on the Lake, in a time of 1:18.31. She finished in a dead heat with Mark Freitag of Willmar in seventh place.

Hager, 37, is spending the summer with her husband and two daughters at a home they own at Lake L'Homme Dieu near Alexandria.

"It's a beautiful course," she said of the lake loop. "It's good to be back in Minnesota. Mild weather and clean air. You can't beat that."

Hager, who coaches triathletes, is a native of Redwood Falls.

"I graduated in 1989," she said (Her maiden name is Schultz). "I remember our family used to camp at the county park on the lake and I'd see all these people running by and wondering what that was about. It's really something that this is the 34th year."

Hager listed qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials as the high point of her athletic career.

Hager finished 3:17 up on last year's women's winner, Sarah Hillman of Sioux Falls, S.D., who came in at 1:21.48. Hillman, 18th overall, still improved on her first-place time of 1:22.56 in 2008.

Nicole Kustok, 28, of Chicago was the third female and 19th overall. The former Nicole Kuznia of Olivia, who ran for Northwestern University, works at the Board of Trade in downtown Chicago.

Cruser went out with the leaders and took the lead alone at the four-mile mark where he pulled away from Joe Buckentine, 46, of St. Cloud.

Buckentine, third last year, finished second in 1:16.25, which is 12 seconds more than his time a year ago when he was third.

Last year's two top finishers -- Kyle Eckhoff of Willmar and second-place Lucas Gemer of Moorhead -- didn't run.

Paul Pranghofer of Golden Valley finished his fourth straight Green Lake. The wheelchair-bound 55-year-old, who was born with one leg and no arms, was slowed only slightly by about 200 yards of road construction early in the race.

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334
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