Van Wert 4 mile race returns

By Jose Nogueras - [email protected]

Top local and several national runners will be on hand for the Van Wert 4 Mile race in Van Wert Saturday. The event was not run last year due to the pandemic.

Top local and several national runners will be on hand for the Van Wert 4 Mile race in Van Wert Saturday. The event was not run last year due to the pandemic.

VAN WERT — Van Wert welcomes back some top-notch runners Saturday.

After a year off due to the pandemic, the Van Wert 4-Mile, presented by Van Wert Health and Van Wert County, will feature local runners as well as participants from local high schools and middle schools and least five U.S. Olympic Trials marathon qualifiers, NCAA national champions, NCAA All Americans and Big Ten champions.

Justin Dickman, organizer of the annual event, said like everything it was uncertain the run would continue but knew it was best for the community and area runners.

“There was always doubts of having it back,” Dickman said. “I have had a lot of changes in my life and with the pandemic a lot of races were concerned about coming back and some races are still not back in person so I am really glad we are going to be back.

“It is not like we are entirely back to normal but it is kind of feeling like it. I think it is important to the community. I think it is important to the runners. It has been hard to find races to run. I you were not a high school or college athlete it was really hard to find races to run so this is a great opportunity for elite runners and members of the community to find something close with a hometown feel with a really cool race environment.”

Dickman has seen the community embrace the race since its inception in 2018 and this year in order to continue the tradition, his team has gone door-to-door individuals on the race route to come out and support the runners. Dickman, who will compete in the race, is a Van Wert High School and Ohio Northern Univeristy graduate.

“It was kind of funny the first year because when you were running you might as well been seeing aliens and then the second year people were out there cheering and engaging and you would have like music playing or a sprinkler running and ringing cowbells and hopefully that continues to grow this year,” Dickman said.

The race features teams of elite and sub-elite post runners, including Pittsburg Track Club, Great Lakes Elite from Michigan, Red Cedar Running Club from Michigan, Wolf Creek Track Club from Pennsylvania, and Playmakers from Michigan. On the women’s team competition, Playmakers New Balance is aiming to defend their title. Notable elites in the women’s field include six-time NCAA Division I All-American, 4-time Big Ten Conference Champion and 2006 Big Ten Athlete of the Year, University of Michigan alumni, Erin Ralston. NCAA Runner Up, Alsu Lenneman from Eastern Michigan University (15:43 5k) who trains in Michigan and originally from Russia will be making the trip to Van Wert. Another former Ohio State graduate and Olympic trials qualifier, Molly Bookmeyer of Columbus leads the women’s elite field as she boasts 1:12 half marathon and 16:15 5k PRs.

Several Playmakers women will be making the trip from Michigan including Melanie Brender who competed for Michigan State University and was a member of a NCAA National Championship Team. Mel also was a professional runner for Hanson’s- Brooks ODP and is an Olympic trials qualifier with a 1:14 half marathon and 16:35 5k PR. Hope Van Dyke is a Calvin graduate has a 5k PR of 17:42. Playmakers runner, Albion grad, and NCAA D3 All American, Jess Shaw will also highlight the elite field with a 17:03 5k PR. Lincolnview school record holder and Purdue-Fort Wayne bound runner, Madison Langdon will be highlighting the field for local females in the race field.

The men’s team race returns both defending team champions, Playmakers and Wolf Creek Track Club. The Playmakers team includes CMU graduate Charles Smogoleski (14:37 5k PR), Brendon Moloney of Aquanas College (24:52 8k PR), Jerome Recker of SVSU (1:07 half marathon) and Olympic trials qualifier Johnny Crain of North Central College (1:03 half marathon).

Red Cedar Running Club from Michigan will also be bringing a strong contingent including Olympic Trials Qualifier Mitch Klinger (14:08 5k), Andrew Benkvosky of Olivet College (1:07 half marathon), Andrew Mangiapane (14:39 5k), and Spencer Nousain (14:37 5k). Juris Silenieks, an Olympic Trials Qualifier, former Sycracuse Orangeman NCAA XC Team National Champion will lead a strong contingent from the Pittsburg Track Club looking to play spoiler in the men’s team competition.

Van Wert 4 Mile champion and Van Wert native Jame Ngandu who is a former Division II cross country and track 10k champion with a 5k PR of 13:46 will be back toeing the line with his training partner Victor Shitsama who currently runs for Oklahoma State University (13:53 5k). 2019 Champion and recent 2:11 marathoner, Nathan Martin looks to have a showdown on the streets of Van Wert where he currently owns the 4 Mile course record in a blazing 17:40. Nathan Martin also brings a highly talented team from the Great Lakes Track Club from Michigan .

Even though the race features some highly competitive and big time runners, Dickman adds that this is a race for everyone.

“If you like to race this is the race for you to do,” Dickman said. “I like to make it as runner and spectator friendly as possible. People in the past that have run it say they love it and hopefully we can continue to do that. A lot of people come to watch it because we have such incredible athletes of ages and ability level. Whether they are Olympic qualifiers or NCAA champions or seventy year olds that are still getting after it and still chasing their personal best. Or even a dad or mom pushing a stroller. That is what makes it a cool event.

“It is a race for everybody and I mean literally everybody.”

Dickman said he didn’t really have trouble attracting participants.

“You know we are a small race to begin with,” Dickman said. “We pack a lot of punch in terms of our field because there is a lot of elite runners that come and a lot of die-hard local runners that always come out. Would it be awesome to have a thousand people at this race, yes, but we are in the 200 people range which I think we will be there again.”

Local high school cross country programs have the opportunity to raise money for their program by bringing at least 10 members to participate in the 4 Mile or 1 Mile. In particular, the race organizers will use the results to identify the fastest runner associated with each high school team and, subsequently, subtract 10 seconds off of the fastest runners time for each community member that affiliates themselves with the cross country program on the race sign-up form. The winning team will receive a $250 donation to the program.

Dickman said he borrowed this idea from a school in Columbus.

“Initiation is the best form of flattery,” Dickman said. “I have a friend that coaches girls cross country team in Columbus and there is a local running store that does this with a mascot named Dash where they have someone who is a mascot run for a mile and then you get a second off every person that signs up for your team and so this team that he coaches has 40 girls and they all come and their parents come and so do their siblings and it makes it a cool atmosphere for the program. It makes it a cool atmosphere for the community and it is cool because there is a lot of people there for different reasons.

“This year the Delphos run club has really stepped up and they are really supporting the Delphos St. John’s cross country program and Lincolnview is really involved and we hope to have a couple more teams that are really involved….. For smaller programs we don’t want to discriminate against them. If you can have 10 people that are anyway associated with it we will make a donation to your program.”

In 2019, Van Wert narrowly edged out Lincolnview for the donation. Additionally, any high school cross country program that brings at least 10 members (community members, family, alumni, & athletes) will receive a donation. Over the past few years, the Van Wert 4 Mile raised over $3,000 for local community organizations including local cross county teams and trail development programs.

This race would not be possible without the support and financial contributions from several local businesses including Van Wert Health, Van Wert County, Straley Realty and Auctioneers, 540 Martial Arts, Peelle Law Offices, the Marketing Junkie, Chief Supermarkets, and Ruler of Van Wert.

A 300 meter children’s run will begin at 7:35 p.m. A 1-mile fun run and walk are available for children and adults alike beginning at 7:40 p.m. Registration opens at Egress Stadium at 6 p.m. and the 4 Mile will begin promptly at 8 p.m. with all races starting and finishing at the Van Wert County Courthouse on Main Street running south on Walnut Street, around Franklin Park and around Washington Place. For more information or to sign up today see the race website at

Top local and several national runners will be on hand for the Van Wert 4 Mile race in Van Wert Saturday. The event was not run last year due to the pandemic. local and several national runners will be on hand for the Van Wert 4 Mile race in Van Wert Saturday. The event was not run last year due to the pandemic.

By Jose Nogueras

[email protected]

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