Gwen Jorgensen, Crazylegs Classic
Former University of Wisconsin runner Gwen Jorgensen crosses the finish line in 26 minutes, 48 seconds to win the women's title at the Crazylegs Classic on Saturday. Greg Dixon photo

Katrina Rundhaug realized her chances of successfully defending her women’s title for the Crazylegs Classic got a lot more difficult when she found out early last week that Gwen Jorgensen had entered the road race.

Rundhaug knows as well as anyone what a tough competitor Jorgensen can be. The two are friends and former cross country and track and field teammates at the University of Wisconsin.

Jorgensen not only was the top female runner on Saturday during the 29th running of Crazylegs, she set what was believed to be a women’s record time for the 8-kilometer race of 26 minutes, 48 seconds. Rundhaug, a former Dodgeville athlete who now lives in Madison, settled for second in 28:01, while Susana Emond of Minneapolis was third in 28:21.

“Gwen is incredibly talented,” Rundhaug said. “I know she’s doing some triathlon training, so she’s obviously (in shape). I knew she would be running well.”

It was the first time running Crazylegs for Jorgensen, who came to UW from Waukesha. She had a unique career, starting out as a swimmer for three years before becoming a decorated runner.

She was an All-American in track as a junior in the 5,000 meters, finishing seventh in the NCAA outdoor championships. She qualified for the finals in that event as a senior last year before being forced to drop out midway through the race with a leg injury.

That capped a successful senior year in which she won Big Ten Conference indoor track titles in the 3,000 and 5,000, was the conference runner-up in cross country in the fall and maintained a grade-point average of 3.90 during graduate studies in accounting.

“I just kind of wanted to come out and use the gift I’ve been given,” Jorgensen said. “I felt like I was able to do that. I just wanted to have fun and wanted to see what kind of shape I was in.”

While Jorgensen might not be in peak shape, she quickly showed how serious she was about this race, which is run from the Capitol Square to Camp Randall Stadium. She ran the opening mile in a little more than 5 minutes.

“I saw the first mile split and I was like, ‘Oh, no, that’s really fast,’ ” Jorgensen said.

After that, the only glimpse the other female competitors got of Jorgensen was her back.

“She started out hard from the beginning,” said Rundhaug, who won the 2009 Crazylegs in 27:46. “I could see her ahead of me. I was hoping maybe to catch up a little bit. I ran a little bit slower than last year. I haven’t done any racing since last year.”

Both Jorgensen and Rundhaug minimized the competitive aspects of the race.

“I think we were both just trying to run our best and have fun,” Jorgensen said. “It was good to push each other throughout.”

Jorgensen works for an accounting firm in Milwaukee, where she also resides. The bulk of her training recently has been on a bicycle for an upcoming triathlon.

One of the best things about the Crazylegs for her was an excuse to come back to Madison.

“It’s just fun to come back to Madison, visit the town and get back to the community,” she said.