Winning the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge never gets old for Vasilis Kariolis.
“It’s fun. I can’t complain – I still enjoy doing it. So why stop?” he asked with perfect logic.
Kariolis won his third straight Challenge on Thursday night, finishing in a time of 17 minutes and 48 seconds. That was good for a 10-second victory over David Keenan.
The 34th annual race was staged in nearly perfect conditions in the Delaware Park area.
The women’s winner was Gabrielle Leo in 21:08. Her margin of victory was a bit closer, as she finished six seconds ahead of Jennifer Boerner.
The race always attracts a strong field, even though runners have to be a member of a participating company in order to enter. Kariolis figured he was in for a difficult evening at first.
“I saw everybody who was on the line that we race 5Ks with all year long,” he said. “The gun went off and it seemed like everybody was feeling good through one mile. I just got that itch to see what more I could make of the race and tried to push it through the ‘S’ curves” of Delaware Avenue.
“I ran a little scared at the end, not looking over my shoulder. But I guess it worked out well in the end.”
Keenan finished second to Kariolis last year, so this was something of a rerun.
“He’s good, real good. But I’m going to get him one of these years,” said a smiling Keenan, from M&T Bank.
Dan Snitzer and Patrick Moran, both of Praxair, finished third and fourth with times of 18:34 and 18:35 respectively.
Kariolis has been quiet so far this running season, but Thursday’s race was a clear sign that he is rounding into top form again.
“Nothing too spectacular last fall, but I was training for Boston and had an Achilles problem and had to take some time off,” said Kariolis, who ran for Ernst & Young LLP. “This was my first thing of the year to get a benchmark for the second half.”
Kariolis has been a top runner for the past several years during and after his career at Canisius College. He believes the Corporate Challenge has an extra-special feeling to it because of the way everyone in his workplace takes an interest.
“You just aren’t a one-trick pony on the computer, auditing all day long,” Kariolis said. “I can come out here, run, and represent the firm. They can see what my passion is, what I enjoy doing, and what priorities I have in my life.”
The proverbial blanket could have been thrown over the elite runners in the women’s field. The first eight runners finished less than a minute apart. Former winners Jennifer Koeppel-Acker and Allison Carr were in that pack, but no one could catch Leo.
“The first mile, me and Jenny Koeppel did about a 5:30 mile and I kind of moved out from there,” said Leo, who ran for Wegmans. “It was nice to have the guys in front of you, pulling you along. It was nice to have a guy run with me for the last mile, pushing me. That helped a lot.”
Boerner was content with a second-place finish.
“We went out really fast, but I still had a kick in the end. I was satisfied with that,” she said.
Kimberly Vona of Lactalis American Group was third in 21:16.
Leo finished third in the race last year. This time, she was thrilled to cross the finish line first.
“I was coming off a break from training, and I’m just starting to get back into it,” said Leo, a runner at the University at Buffalo. “I expected to be around the lead, but this is a nice surprise.
“This is one of the biggest races in the area, and its country-wide. So it’s a good feeling. It’s definitely a nice honor.”
Almost 12,000 runners registered for the event from nearly 400 companies. Team results will be announced sometime next week. The winning teams earn a trip to one of the other Corporate Challenge sites to take part in an overall championship. The 2013 team winners will be in running in that event next month in London.