The 35th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run/Walk got off to a soggy start on Saturday and was contested in a drizzling rain throughout. Kristopher Sandlin (above, center) ran with Danny Fisher (left) and defending champion Jeremy Johnson before pulling away to the win in a time of 31:44. Sarah Billingsley (below) was the top female in 38:12. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell, above, and Ken Ritchie, below)
The 35th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run/Walk got off to a soggy start on Saturday and was contested in a drizzling rain throughout. Kristopher Sandlin (above, center) ran with Danny Fisher (left) and defending champion Jeremy Johnson before pulling away to the win in a time of 31:44. Sarah Billingsley (below) was the top female in 38:12. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell, above, and Ken Ritchie, below)
The 35th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run was contested Saturday morning with Franklin College's Kristopher Sandlin leading the field to the finish line for a 31:44 win.

In an agreed upon strategy, Sandlin, 21, of Scottsburg, and runner-up Danny Fisher, 30, of Columbus, broke from the field at the start, prepared to set a fast pace and make it a two-man race.

The two runners pushed each other along until the final stretch when Sandlin pulled out to a 17-second win with Fisher completing the race in 32:01 and defending 10K champion Jeremy Johnson, 19, of Austin, another 30 seconds back in third with a time of 32:31.

"I started out pretty quick and then Danny Fisher, the guy who got second, he pretty much pushed me the whole way, which is nice because we kind of got together before the race and decided that we kind of wanted to run a quicker time," Sandlin said. "So I was just trying to hold him off the whole time and I just ended up pulling off the win."

The two runners made the event a two man race about one-third of the way into the run with the defending champion giving chase just a few seconds behind.

"We pulled away after two or three miles," said Sandlin, whose best finish previously in the Courier 10K was second. "We still had Jeremy Johnson there, but we started pulling away a little more after that."

Sandlin, who will be a senior this fall on the Grizzlies' cross country team, was All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in cross country in 2011 and the conference champion in 2012 as a junior when he ran the 8K HCAC championship in 26:11. He majors in elementary and secondary education and physical education and health.

Hanover College's Logan Wells, the runner-up in 2012, finished fourth and Asheville, N.C.'s Alex Zorich was fifth. Wells, 20, of Scottsburg, ran a 33:55 while Zorich, 18, ran a 34:48.

Sandlin, Johnson and Wells make up a powerful combination of distance runners from nearby Scott County.

"It's really cool," Sandlin said of having so many good runners from such a small area. "I know the Johnsons. I'm from Scottsburg and they're from Austin so we sometimes get together and train. I also have another guy, Logan Wells, who lives right down the street from me and we train together ... being able to have other guys around you - good guys you can train with - helps out a lot."

The top female on Saturday, 16-year-old Sarah Billingsley of Batesville, also comes from a family of strong runners.

Billingsley, who will be a senior this fall at Oldenburg Academy, ran a 38:12 to improve upon her third place finish among the women in 2012. Her twin sister and training partner, Rachel Billingsley, ran third this year in 41:45.

Sarah Billingsley said she and her sister began pushing for improvement as runners last year by running every day but that Rachel came into Saturday's race slowed by an injury.

Defending women's champion MacKenzie Dye, 20, of New Castle, ran a 38:37 and finished second. Sarah Billingsley said she remembered Dye, a runner at nearby Hanover College, well from the Courier 10K last year but was better prepared for the more experience athlete this time around.

"I tried to run with her (last year) but she passed me early on," Billingsley said, adding that Saturday she ran with Dye for about the first mile and then it was she who pulled away.

Fourth place went to Madison Consolidated High School senior Gabby Nay, 17, of Deputy, with a time of 42:06 while her sister, 11-year-old Mya Nay, was fifth among the women in 43:29 and former Madison Cub standout Kirsten Hart, 22, of Lafayette, was sixth in 43:32.

The race was contested under a cool drizzling rain. The 70-degree temperature at race time was far different than the scorching high 80s and low 90s weather runners faced just a year earlier.

"It was awful last year. This was definitely better," Billingsley said. "It was really fun. I was worried I was going to slip on the downhill. It was really wet but it was better than last year."

A total of 296 runners competed in the run and 100 more participated in the non-competitive but timed walk. Both groups started at 8 a.m. at Madison Consolidated High School on the hilltop and finished at Lytle Park in downtown Madison.

The first walker to finish was Bill Wardlaw, 33, of Sellersburg in 49:16 while Allison Rademacher, 19, of Memphis, Ind., was the first female walker in 57:38.

Complete results for the run and walk are available on The Madison Courier website at www.madisoncourier.com and more results and photos of the winning runners will be published in Thursday's edition.