There’s only one weather condition that can stop the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge from taking place.
“Lightning,” race coordinator Dan Loncto said moments before the start. “And we’ve been on the phone with the National Weather Service all day, and they assured us – not a chance.”
Therefore, the 33rd annual race went off as scheduled Thursday night in Delaware Park in spite of an all-day soaking rain. When it was over, Vasilis Kariolis and Allison Carr returned to their familiar spots as champions of the event.
Kariolis, representing Dopkins and Company, won the Challenge for the second straight year. His time was 17 minutes and 27 seconds over the 3.5-mile distance, an impressive 24 seconds faster than his winning performance in 2012.
Kariolis finished 11 seconds ahead of David Keenan, running for M&T Bank.
“I knew it was going to be rainy, but it was like a runner’s favorite time to run,” said Kariolis, a former standout for Canisius College. “It’s not a spectator’s type of day, but it makes running the race perfect.”
If Kariolis forgot about the fact that he was defending champion at this race for a moment, he had some co-workers who were more than willing to remind him of it.
“I work at a small firm where I can walk around and people know I run,” he said. “It seems everyone has an interest in each other, and they know what I can bring to the table.”
The year has been going well for Kariolis. In fact, the Corporate Challenge might have felt a little like a training run because of who was right behind him.
“Myself and Dave Keenan and some of our other buddies have been training together since January,” Kariolis said. “We just ran the Buffalo half-marathon on Memorial Day weekend. We tried to keep our fitness up for these two weeks, and tried to do something good. It’s been a good first half of the year, and now it’s on to summer and fall.”
Kariolis, Keenan and Seth Yernye of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara jumped out at front at the start, but Yernye fell back after the first mile and hung on for third. Then again, Yernye was running with a little extra pressure on Thursday.
“I was told my job was on the line,” he said with a laugh. “I hope third will mean I keep my job.”
Meanwhile, Carr took home the third Challenge championship of her career. She finished in 20:35, hanging on for a five-second win over last year’s winner, Jennifer Koeppel-Acker. Carr ran for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Koeppel-Acker represented Amherst Central Schools.
Carr has won many races in her outstanding career, but winning this one left her almost breathless afterward.
“It was close. I went out probably faster than I should have, but I was trying to stick with it and hold it as long as I could,” she said.
Koeppel-Acker fell behind Carr in the early going, and spent the rest of the race, in her words, chasing down that bright shirt in front of her.
“I had somebody to shoot for. It was really nice to help me run a little faster, to have that goal to push me along,” she said.
Koeppel-Acker finished just ahead of Carr in last year’s race. This year’s runner-up wasn’t shocked that the tables were turned in 2013.
“She’s a great role model for the girls out there,” Koeppel-Acker said. “She’s a strong athlete; she’s always been a strong athlete for years.”
Carr may have surprised herself by her performance Thursday. She said 2013 hadn’t been too kind to her before this race.
“The year has been going by slowly, just trying to get through stuff. It’s part of being old, I guess,” she said. “This winter I was off for a couple of months because my knee went out – my good one – and it’s really kind of iffy sometimes. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Sometimes I take off some time for extra rest.
“It’s always a surprise for me to win. I never take it for granted. Anything can happen.”
While almost 13,000 runners registered for the event, exactly 8,356 started it. The Corporate Challenge used timing chips for all runners for the first time, so the number of actual starters has never been known before now. Therefore, it’s tough to know if a larger number of people than normal stayed dry in the hospitality tents during the race or just stayed home. Even so, Delaware Park was crowded with people before, during and after the race.
“I’ve done this for 29 years. It’s never rained for more than an hour before,” Loncto said. “This was really something.
“We didn’t do much differently. We delayed as long as we could putting out the T-shirts. Everything else was the same.”
Carr added, “A lot of people cancelled, but I love this weather.”
A portion of the proceeds from the race will be given to YMCA Buffalo Niagara’s “Send a Kid to Camp” program.