Jeffery Johnson (above) guts out a sprint to the finish as the overall winner of the 30th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run on Saturday. Caitlin Sauerhage (below) was the first female runner. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Jeffery Johnson (above) guts out a sprint to the finish as the overall winner of the 30th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run on Saturday. Caitlin Sauerhage (below) was the first female runner. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
After scoring runner-up finishes three straight years, Rising Sun's Caitlin Sauerhage finally broke through as the top female runner at the 30th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Saturday morning.

Sauerhage, a former standout for the Rising Sun Shiners in high school and Ohio River Valley Conference cross country champion, now runs for Valparaiso University. She toured the 6.2-mile Courier road course in 40:08.10 to finish 24th overall - just under six minutes behind the top overall male, Jeffery Johnson of Austin, Ind.

"Three years in a row I got second and I wanted to win the race so badly," Sauerhage said. "I got to the point where this year I told myself I wasn't even going to try to win and then I finally beak through. I think the big difference was that I didn't put any pressure on myself today. Maybe that's the key."

Johnson, the top overall winner, had similar low expectations coming into the event. As a first-time participant in the Firecracker - in fact, it was Johnson's first 10K ever - he looked at the event as a learning experience.

And the 18-year-old senior to be at Austin High School ended up sharing much of the course with a very good teacher - 30-year-old Courier 10K veteran Tom Webster of Columbus.

Just over a mile into the 6.2-mile trek, Johnson and Webster hooked up stride-for-stride and they stayed that way to the bottom of Hanging Rock Hill before the teen pulled away in the final long sprint to the finish, clocking in at 34:17.10 to edge Webster by almost 27 seconds.

"At the bottom of the hill I just accelerated and he couldn't go with me," Johnson said of Webster. "I thought I was going to die on that long uphill, but I finally broke him."

"He got me on that last uphill," Webster, who was running his seventh Courier 10K, said. "We pushed each other. It was his first 10K, but he's a good high school runner."

Johnson's running resume is fairly short. He said he's run several 5Ks - finishing second this year at Englishton Park, sixth at Charlestown and second at the Pelican Run - but the 10K was a whole lot of new ground for a guy who plans to focus more on his running in the future.

"I was lucky to have (Webster) there setting the pace for me," Johnson grinned. "If I had led by myself throughout I might have never made it."

The runner-up finish was Webster's best ever in the event - previously he finished as high as fifth - and his 34:34.70 time was also a personal best.

"I've run this race seven years and it's my favorite course," Webster, a lab technician at Columbus Regional Hospital, said. "I'll be back. I think I'm getting stronger as a runner every year so maybe next year."

Sauerhage knows what that feels like. She was a bridesmaid to Alyse Nelson in both 2005 and 2006 and former Hanover College great Leah Peelman in 2007 when Peelman blistered the course for a 37:14 to place 16th overall.

"I've finished second to some pretty good runners," Sauerhage admitted. "I've wanted this one for a long time."

While neither of the 10K winners actually hail from the Courierarea, the area was well-represented atop the leaderboard.

Hanover's Justin Druba, 21, who runs cross country for Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, was third overall with a time of 35:02.80. He was also third in 2007.

Sauerhage was followed across the line in the women's division by Jiliane Lakin, 17, of Columbus, with a time of 40:35.50 for 25th place overall. However, three members of the Madison girls cross country team - Chelsea Stephan, 15, Grace Lemon, 14, and Kirsten Hart, 17, placed third, fifth and eighth, respectively, in the women's division.

Stephan, a sophmore to be, ran a 41:38.80 to finish 31st overall. Lemon, a 14-year-old freshman to be, ran a 41:52.10 and Hart, who will be a senior this fall, ran a 44:33.40.

Seeing the three Madison girls cross country runners do so well was a point of pride for Madison Courier 10K co-director Lou Knoble, a former Madison coach who started the Lady Cubs' cross country program in the 1970s.

Knoble, who has been co-director of the Courier 10K along with Dr. Richard Naylor since its inception in 1978, was honored at the beginning of the event when he and Naylor, a former coach, trainer and athletic director at Hanover College, served as the event's official starters.

The 2008 Madison Courier 10K, an official Madison Regatta event, was contested by a record field. A total of 521 entries were received with 315 runners and 185 walkers completing the course.

Although the walk is not scored as a competitive event, the first walker to cross the finish line was Madisonian Stacy Crawley, 35, with a time of 1:08.02. The first male walker was Steven Floyd, 53, of Bloomington, with a time of 1:08.10.