by Jim Flint
GREENSBORO – An enthusiastic field of 70 runners and seven walkers turned out for Sunday’s twelfth annual Caspian Challenge. Sponsored by the Greensboro Association, the 5k and 6.8-mile road races kicked off at 8:30 a.m., from the Tolman Corner ballfield. Pleasantly cool temperatures in the mid-50s, accompanied by clear skies and low humidity, made for ideal racing conditions.
The Greensboro Association’s race director, Eric Hanson, debuted a unique synchronized start for this year’s event. The 5k runners lined up on the left side of Lakeshore Road ready to head north on the out-and-back course. The 6.8-mile “Lake Loopers” started on the opposite right side of the road facing south. At the starter’s command of “ready, set, go,” the two groups passed each other running in opposite directions.
Greensboro’s Charlie Kehler was the first athlete to return back to the Tolman Corner “field of dreams.” The rising Craftsbury Academy junior’s time of 17:11 shattered the old 5k mark of 19:33 set by Mason Castle in 2018. Kehler appears to be in great position to defend the Vermont D-IV state cross country championship title he and his Charger teammates won last year.
Dot Martin, from Montpelier, topped the women’s 5k division in 25:58. Martin is a well-honed senior runner. She won the women’s Lake Loop division at the inaugural Caspian Challenge on July 28, 2012.
“It was nice to see running buddies who I haven’t seen as much over the last few years of injuries and COVID,” said Martin. “I love the course and the rolling hills, now that I am able to run them again. The view of the lake on one of the hills is the best!”
An Orleans County Sheriffs’ Department cruiser led the 37 Lake Loopers from the ballfield down Breezy Avenue into Greensboro Village. The runners spread out as they climbed the first hill out of the village to the water stop at Highland Lodge.
Last year’s runner up, Will Sangree, was in control of the Lake Loop race right from the start. Sangree crossed the finish line in 41:06 for the victory, improving on his 43:07 effort at last year’s Caspian Challenge.
Colton Niemi earned runner-up honors in the lake loop, finishing the race in 42:39. Niemi grew up in Greensboro. He attended Lakeview Elementary School, Hazen Union High School, and Vermont Technical College.
Niemi competed in varsity soccer and golf for the Hazen Union Wildcats, graduating in 2020. At Vermont Technical College, he competed in soccer.
After earning his degree in 2022, Niemi picked up running to stay fit. He was inspired by the example of his mom, Wanda Niemi, who is an avid runner. In 2014, Colton and Wanda raced together at the third annual Caspian Challenge 5k. Wanda completed the 5k race this year.
Emma Podolin, from Stannard, won the women’s Lake Loop division in a personal best time of 48:53. Podolin took three minutes off her previous winning time of 51:58 at the 2019 Caspian Challenge. She was the women’s runner up in 2018.
“I was excited to be able to run this race, as the past few years we’ve been away or it was interrupted due to COVID,” said Podolin. “The weather could not have been more perfect, and I think we saw that in many people’s quick times. I was feeling strong through the whole race, which was a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t sure how a newly healed knee injury would hold up in a longer race.”
Podolin kept East Hardwick senior Roger Prevot in her sights for the first couple miles, then caught up with him on North Shore Road. They pushed each other through the last four miles of the race. Prevot, who has run the 6.8-mile race many times, finished just ahead of Podolin in 48:47. The 64-year-old runner was the fastest Lake Loop finisher over age 40.
“It was fun having a buddy on that longer dirt portion on the back and side of the lake,” said Podolin. “Always a pleasure to have a race right in our backyard.”
Prevot said the event was “a celebration of the best of Vermont summer weather, with easier running and smiles all-around.”
Rose Modry, from Greensboro, was the fastest female Lake Loop finisher over age 40. Modry completed the course in a personal best time of 51:04. She was the fourth woman to finish, behind Podolin, Annabel Sangree (50:11), and Lacey Parker (50:36).
“There was a strong turnout of runners and a really positive atmosphere,” said Modry. “I was in a strong pack with two other runners, which propelled me through the hills.”
Race coordinator Hanson coordinated the distribution of prizes from community sponsors including Highland Lodge, Jasper Hill Cheese, Hill Farmstead Brewery, Willey’s Store, Skida Hats, Mountain View Country Club, and Gebbie’s Maple Products. Finishers enjoyed maple ice cream from Kingdom Creamery as a treat.
“Road conditions were safe with repairs noticed in some places,” said Stew Arnold, of the Greensboro Association, referring to the flood damage earlier in the month. Arnold indicated that proceeds from the race will benefit continued development of the Rail Trail in Greensboro Bend.