Elite runners invade Van Wert Saturday

By Mark Altstaetter - sports@limanews.com

VAN WERT – For former Van Wert High School distance runner Justin Dickman, coming home meant more than just taking up residency in his home town.

Dickman, who also competed collegiately at both Youngstown State University and Ohio Northern University, returned to Van Wert in April of 2018, after spending time in Michigan, where he and his wife Rachel Dickman resided. Rachel, who grew up in Michigan, competed at the University of Michigan during her undergraduate years of college and then competed for one year at Ohio State during graduate school.

Justin, now 32 years old, had a longtime desire of bringing an elite road race to Van Wert – the place where he grew up and trained throughout his high school days.

Last year, his dream became a reality as the inaugural Van Wert 4-Miler came into existence.

And it was a success.

Dickman, an attorney at Keister & Baker, LLC in Van Wert, wants to build on last year’s event.

On Saturday night, many runners of different levels will converge on the city streets of Van Wert as the second annual Van Wert 4-Mile will take place, in conjunction with Van Wert’s Towne Creek Live Festival. The Van Wert 4-Mile is presented by Van Wert Health.

The 1-mile and 800-meter fun runs will start at 7:45 p.m. The 4-mile race will begin at 8 p.m. The 4-mile race will start at Fountain Park on Main St., while the finish line will be in front of the historic old post office, the home of Keister and Baker Law Office.

In the 4-miler, the field will be comprised of all different levels of runners, including a group of elite athletes from all over.

“I’ve always thought, with the successful high school programs we’ve had (in Van Wert County), that there’s been a (running) culture in our community, but we’ve never had a big-time race,” Dickman said. “So, I’m kind of hoping this will get to the scale where we have like 400 to 500 people, but I know this will take some time. I want to have fast people, but I also want to have the numbers and a lot of people in the community out there.”

Dickman said he wants to promote fitness and an overall healthier lifestyle in the Van Wert community.

“The race is more of a community thing – to help build people’s awareness of health and fitness,” he said.

“Health, culturally, is a challenge in Van Wert. That’s one of the things we are trying to raise awareness for. We also want to raise money for trails in Van Wert County.”

At last year’s Van Wert 4-Mile, Kenyan James Ngandu pulled away for the win in a stellar time of 18 minutes, 6.61 seconds. There were two others who clocked sub 19 minutes on the 4-mile course. Dickman finished 15th overall with a solid time of 20:31.84.

On the women’s side, Kenya native Vicoty Chepngeno won in 21:12.08. Rachel Dickman was second in 21:50.57.

The elite runners will be the highlight of Saturday’s race.

“Our elite field is something a lot of people are interested in,” Dickman said. “I think people were kind of in awe of it. Hopefully, people are interested in coming back this year; and we have a lot of those people (elite runners) coming back.

“This year, we have at least six Olympic qualifiers coming. I think we’re probably more competitive as a field than the Columbus Marathon and Columbus Half Marathon. It’s kind of cool in that respect, and it’s a pretty fast course. Downtown Van Wert has no hills. There are some turns, but if you run smart and take the right tangents, you can run a fast time. It’s supposed to be warm, but that’s what’s nice about having an 8 o’clock race. The sun will be going down and hopefully the humidity will be going down a little bit, too.”

Tom Anderson is one of the top male early entrants for this year’s race. The Butler University product has clocked a personal best of 14 minutes, 10 seconds in the 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). He finished 16th at the 2016 Chicago Marathon. He was the U.K. U23 5,000-meter champion in 2012.

Mitch Klinger from Albion, comes in with a personal best of 14:15 in the 5K and is a 2020 Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon.

Caleb Kerr, a Purdue University grad, comes into Saturday’s race with a 5K PR of 14:16. Kerr, a 2020 Olympic Trials qualifier, has a PR of 2:18.57 in the marathon.

Last year’s Columbus Marathon winner and this year’s Glass City Marathon (Toledo) winner, Kenya native Elijah Rugut, looks to compete for this year’s title as well.

Brendon Moody, a former Van Wert and Heidelberg University standout, is scheduled to compete. Moody has an all-time personal best of 14:53 in the 5K. He has clocked a 2:23 in the marathon.

On the women’s side, Erin Ralston, a four-time Big Ten Champion, will compete Saturday.

Brooke Tullis, out of Toledo, comes in with the best 5K time in the field for the women (16:09).

“We have the Columbus Marathon champion coming this year, and I’m not sure if he will win, because it’s that deep of a field,” Dickman said with a smile. “There are probably five or six guys who could win it right now.

“On the women’s side, there are some really talented runners coming. Rachel (Dickman, 30 years old) is back. There is such a competitive elite field. We have a lot of high school runners coming too. Hopefully, they will have a good experience.”

Along with the elite field of runners, there will be a division for high school runners. The “High School Mascot Dash” is set up as an opportunity for high school runners and their supporters to earn an award and a money contribution to their program.

The “Tri-State Border Battle” is a division for post-collegiate teams. The top four runners for each designated team will account for the total team time.

And of course, individual runners are strongly urged to compete in the 4-mile race.

“It’s cool to see the community come out and support it. Our volunteers are awesome,” Dickman said. ““It makes for a unique atmosphere, that I hope we can continue for a very long time.”

For more information, visit@VanWert4Mile on Facebook.


By Mark Altstaetter


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