VanOrden tops field at 35th annual Zem Benn Road Race
NORTH BENNINGTON -- Waking up on Sunday morning, Bennington's Tim Van Orden wasn't even sure he wanted to compete in the 35th annual Steve Zemianek Bennington Road Race.
But after thinking about it, he remembers why he runs in the first place.
"I decided like 40 minutes before the race to do it," Van Orden said. "I haven't been training like I normally train, so I thought I'm not going to do well. But Steve was my coach, and that's the reason I'm running now.
"He was my coach at [Mount Anthony Union High School] and then I was his assistant coach after college. So I really wanted to celebrate his name and honor him and help raise money for the scholarship. That's what this event is about for me now, a day to celebrate Zem and all he did for this community."
Imagine what Van Orden could do if he were training.
He ran the 3.8-mile course in 20 minutes and 33 seconds, winning his second Zem/Benn race in a row on a cloudless day at Park-McCullough House.
"You never know what to expect in this race, it's early in the year," said Van Orden, who turned 45 earlier this week. "I went out really fast, maybe too fast and I didn't hear any feet [around me] after a half mile. I wanted to see what I had in the tank. I felt good, so I just kept going."
Pawlet's Kelly Ahlfeld was second in 23:49, with Tyler White next in 24:02.
The race is named for former MAU track coach Steve Zemianek who passed away in 2000.
His daughter, Kathy, is the race director. She also raced, finishing second in her age group in 26:26.
"I think we had 300 [people] here today, it's a great turnout and a great day," Zemianek said. "[My dad] worked the finish line every year; it's hard even after 13 years to not see him here."
And as competitive as the event can be, most run the race with spouses or children or sometimes both.
Jeff Johnson, 41, the newly-minted principal at Shaftsbury Elementary School, ran the race with his wife and two children.
"It's a family tradition, we come every year to run," said Johnson, wearing a Shaftsbury Striders shirt, representing the fall running group at the elementary school.
"It's a huge community event, and I love to see it," Johnson said. "I've run it five or six years, my daughter is the same and my wife even longer than that. It doesn't have to be competitive, it's a nice life-long sport to stay in shape."
The money raised goes toward the Zemianek scholarship, awarded to an MAU senior track athlete since 2000.
"This is one of my favorite days in Bennington," Van Orden said. "It's usually nice weather, the leaves are coming out and I see people I haven't seen in a year or five or ten. The past comes to meet you and Bennington shines. I hope it continues to grow and we have more events like this."
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