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National XC champ 1st at Willmar Fests (Minn) 4-mile run

600 runners and walkers set off from the intersection of Third Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest at 8 a.m. Saturday for the Foot Lake 4 Run/Walk in Willmar, sponsored by Rice Memorial Hospital.

WILLMAR -- One never knows who will show up race day.

Saturday morning in downtown Willmar, it was 2011 NCAA Division III Cross-Country champion Ben Sathre of Chaska.

The 22-year-old spring graduate of the University of St. Thomas won the 18th-annual Foot Lake 4-mile run, hosted by Rice Memorial Hospital. His time of 20:10 (a 5:03.3 per mile average) put him more than two minutes up on another former MIAC runner, Austin Hinrichs, 23, the Clara City native who ran for Bethel College. Hinrichs, third last year, finished the circuit around lower Foot Lake in 22:26. That was just 4 seconds in front of emerging talent Ben Burgett, 15, of Spicer and Community Christian in Willmar, who ran in the distance events at the Class A state meet two weeks ago.

Former Willmar Cardinal standout and St. Olaf college competitor Kirsten Higdem claimed the Women's Division championship. The 27-year-old pediatric nurse at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital hit the finish line at Second Street and Becker Avenue Southwest in 26:12.

Kathryn Stalnaker, 20, of Clara City was the second female in 27:16 followed by Susan (Schweitzer) Engelhart, 36, of Jordan in 27:34. Engelhart, a 1994 Willmar grad, had 1 of the 6 age-group records set. In fourth, also in an age-group record, was 13-year-old Sophie Schmitz of Willmar.

The total runners timed were 473 (499 registered). Last year 430 ran. Registered walkers were estimated by race director Sandra Schlagel at 100 to 150, a number not tabulated until Monday.

Conditions were near ideal under light overcast with the temperature in the mid-60s.

Sathre and Higdem both received first-place checks for $100.

Sathre, who has grandparents in Dassel, ran here for the first time. He hopes to gain a sponsorship and compete at the professional level. He also is the 2011-12 NCAA champion in the 5000-meter indoor and 5,000-meter outdoor with a personal best time of 14:10.

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. 
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