Rochelle Wirth went into Saturday’s 31st annual Fitger’s 5K just hoping to win her age group, not the whole thing.
Well, the 58-year-old Duluthian did just that, covering the 3.1 miles in 21 minutes, 19 seconds to edge Kristi Nixon of Duluth by two seconds and Lisa Filzen of Hermantown by nine seconds.
Wirth is a repeat champ … apparently.
“I think I won Fitger’s a lot of years ago but I can’t remember when,” Wirth said, laughing. “But I think there was another time when I was the first female finisher.”
Minnesota Duluth electrical engineering student Liam Fife of New Prague, Minnesota, won the men’s race in 17:29 followed by Sean Gaskell of Esko (18:10) and Northwestern High School cross country and track coach Phil McGrath of Lake Nebagamon (19:24).
“I went out too fast and kind of died a bit at the end, but it was alright,” Fife said.
When asked if he was able to run with anybody, Fife said, “Nope, it was just me.”
With coronavirus precautions in place, there wasn’t a whole lot of racing to be had here as the runners started in three blocks throughout a cool, misty morning, with one wave of runners followed by another.
“It was perfect weather to run,” said Wirth, who works for Fond-du-Luth Casino.
Fife ran in the 9 a.m. heat and dealt with sprinkles, fog, wind and 50-degree temps. Wirth ran an hour later.
Fife, 20, is president of the running club at UMD. It was his second Fitger’s 5K after doing it last year as a “fun run.”
“Considering that it wasn’t a real race, and not a lot of people from last year were doing it (not in-person, at least), I’m not too surprised,” Fife said of his relatively easy win. “I honestly just wanted to get out and do a timed race. I’m doing the Wild Duluth 50K in October and I just wanted to get out and do something. It’s hard to see where I am by myself.”
Numbers were significantly down for the in-person event, rescheduled from April, with about 340 finishers when normally the event is pushing 2,000. But counting virtual runners, numbers were well over 1,000.
“It was a slow time, not my best time,” said Wirth, who finished 10th last year in 20:08. “It was kind of hard. When you’re running with 20-some people there’s really nobody to push you after a while, you know? You’re kind of out there, alone, and there was no crowd along the way. It was different. It was quieter. I think that might have made a difference in everybody’s time.”
That, and the course was different, using the Lakewalk for the first time this year. Race organizers took advantage of the smaller numbers, knowing runners would be more spread out.
“I didn’t know that until today when somebody told me,” Wirth said. “It was different, but that was alright.”
Wirth downplayed the accomplishment of beating runners 20 years younger than her, saying it depended on how old you were when you started running.
Wirth picked up running in her 30s after she had quit smoking and has made up for lost time since.
“I just kept it going from there,” Wirth said.
1. Liam Fife, New Prague, Minnesota, 17 minutes, 29 seconds; 2. Sean Gaskell, Esko, 18:10; 3. Phil McGrath, Lake Nebagamon, 19:24; 4. Mathias Langhorst, St. Paul, 19:47; 5. Andrew Olson, Duluth, 19:50; 6. Matthew Nixon, Duluth, 19:57; 7. Matthew Loberg, Proctor, 20:41; 8. Noah Bitney, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, 20:45; 9. Richie Rochel, Cloquet, 20:54; 10. Bobby Paxton, Minneapolis, 21:04.
1. Rochelle Wirth, Duluth, 21:19; 2. Kristi Nixon, Duluth, 21:21; 3. Lisa Filzen, Hermantown, 21:28; 4. Sarah Anderson, Superior, 21:29; 5. Robyn Madole, Duluth, 21:34; 6. Kristen Regas, Duluth, 21:34; 7. Susanna Gaunt, Duluth, 21:55; 8. Veronica Olson, Duluth, 23:01; 9. Darian Bushey, Cloquet, 23:02; 10. Lori Mickelson, Saginaw, 23:12.