Note to thieves: Don't steal from an athlete who can outrun and outjump you.

A Minneapolis man found that out the hard way after he allegedly broke into a downtown Minneapolis hotel room where a group of University of Arizona cross-country runners was staying. The team was in town for the Roy Griak Invitational, one of the largest cross-country races in the country. It's hosted by the University of Minnesota.

Arizona senior Collins Kibet, born in Kenya and a top 800-meter runner who won the Pac-12 championship in 1:47.23, walked into one of the team's hotel rooms and was surprised to see that his teammates hadn't packed their bags and their belongings were strewn about.

And then, "Whoosh!" Kibet said. Out of the corner of his eye he saw someone dart from the bathroom and out of the hotel room.

It took only seconds before Kibet made the connection: Someone had broken in and rifled through the team's belongings. In the hallway, he saw the stairwell door closing at the end of the corridor.

Kibet did what comes naturally: He ran. With his pack on his back and dress shoes on his feet, he flew down five flights until he reached the bottom floor of the Courtyard Marriott, where he found a man with his teammates' bags.

"I got a knife," the man told Kibet, and then he ran. Kibet briefly pondered what to do, then gave chase, keeping his distance and calling 911. "I was not going to let him go," he said.

As Kibet gained ground, the man stopped and threw down a stolen bag. " 'Let me go,' " Kibet recalled the man saying. " 'No,' I said. 'You have our bags.' "

As Kibet stood his ground, six teammates who were eating breakfast across the street and spotted the confrontation were by his side. They all began to run, cornering the thief on a dead-end road.

The man pleaded, saying, "Let me go, man," recalled Bailey Roth, a junior, and "I have kids. Let me go." Then he slashed his knife through the air.

The man grabbed a wallet out of his pocket and threw it. Unfortunately for him, he'd grabbed his own wallet with his Social Security card, not one of the stolen wallets.

As he scampered up a 10-foot chain-link fence, Roth followed. Bounding over barriers is Roth's specialty — he's a top steeplechase runner who missed qualifying for this year's Olympic trials by a second. In the steeplechase, runners leap over obstacles and a water barrier. Roth also can run a mile in a little over four minutes.

He and another runner stayed on the thief's tail until he fled across Interstate 35W. The two runners circumvented the highway, taking a road below it in hopes of heading him off. As the man ran onto an entrance ramp, a State Patrol trooper was waiting. Minneapolis police officer Jim Walker arrived to make the arrest.

"They caught the perfect guy," Walker said. The suspect, Darren Clinton, 48, of Minneapolis, has a long rap sheet. He's now charged with burglary and terroristic threats in connection with the hotel incident.

Clinton is well known among Minneapolis officers, Walker said. "He has four cases against him right now for assault and burglary," he said. "He's been doing this for years."

But he was no match for the college runners, who recovered all of their belongings. Clinton was sweating and huffing and puffing, Walker said. The college runners hardly broke a sweat.

"It's never a good idea to get in a foot chase with cross-country runners," Walker said.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788