The 29th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run was won Saturday by two first-time winners with a lot of local ties. Jeffersonville's Neal Masterson claimed the men's title while former Hanover College standout Leah Peelman won the women's division.

Masterson, 19, was the overall and men's champion with a time of 33:25.50. Peelman was the first female runner with a time of 37:14.00 - good enough for 14th place overall.

Masterson, who ran track and cross country in high school for the Jeff Red Devils, will run in college next year as a freshman at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

Peelman, 23, of Cincinnati, is a former NCAA All-American at Hanover College where she graduated in 2006. She will attend the University of Kentucky this fall to pursue a degree in nutrition.

Both runners easily won their divisions despite battling through the hills and July heat over the 6.2-mile road course from Madison Consolidated High School on the Hilltop to Lytle Park in downtown Madison.

"I went out a little faster than I wanted to but I still had enough left to pull away in the last mile," said Masterson. "That long downhill carries you along pretty good."

Nick Arensmann, 18, of Bedford, Ind., was second in the men's division with a time of 33:55.10 while Justin Druba, 20, and Derick Clark, 18, two former Southwestern High School standouts, were fourth and fifth at 34:55.00 and 35:09.40, respectively.

"I knew (Arensmann) was behind me and I knew how good of a runner he is because we raced all through high school," Masterson said of the runner-up.

Druba, who now runs for Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Clark, who will run for Franklin College this fall, said having two former Rebels score such high finishes shows how strong that program has been in recent years. Both runners hope to return in 2008 and push each other to a win in the event.

Masterson, who has ran the Courier 10K in the past, said winning the event was an honor considering some of the elite runners who have captured the title. He said while he does not particularly like running in the hot July heat, he loves the course and will be back in 2008 to defend his title.

Peelman, who was an NCAA Division III championship qualifier in both track and field and cross country, was making her first appearance in the Courier 10K. Although she remains an avid runner and trains daily, she said running the 10K was more about coming home than going to a competition.

"I didn't really plan to run today, but I wanted to visit Hanover College and I hadn't seen coach Payne in a long time so it was a good opportunity to do both."

Josh Payne, the cross country and track coach at Hanover and an important volunteer with the 10K, had been urging Peelman to take on the Firecracker field for several years. However, summer scheduling conflicts had prevented that until Saturday.

"She's gotten better since college and she's going to just get stronger and stronger as a runner," Payne said of his former standout. "I just wish we'd had somebody here to push her a little more this year, but she's such a great runner that's hard for a lot of people to do."

Peelman said running the Courier 10K course gives her a lot more respect for Madison's hilly terrain and those who have run the event in the past.

"They warned me about the downhill toward the end," Peelman said. "I've driven that hill many times during college, but I'd never ran it until today. It's really steep and really long! It makes your legs a little sore. I kept telling myself 'At least we didn't have to go up it.'"

Peelman was followed across the line by Caitlin Sauerhage, 19, a former high school standout at Rising Sun who now runs for Indiana University. Sauerhage, who was runner-up in the 2006 Courier 10K as well, finished the course in 41:23.90, which was also good enough for 35th place overall.

Chelsea Stephan, 14, of Madison was third with a time of 42:47.70 that was also good enough for 45th overall and Kirsten Hart, 16, of Madison was fourth among the women at 43:01.20, which was also 48th overall.

Hart has been the top runner for Madison coach Josh Wilbur's Lady Cubs cross country team the past two years and Stephan will move up to the Madison varsity this fall so the two should give the Cubs a very strong one-two punch.

A total of 267 runners participated in the 2007 Courier 10K, an official Madison Regatta event. Awards were presented in 15 male and 15 female age divisions.

Another 149 people participated in the walk portion of the event.