NEWRY, Maine — Not everybody trained all year for the North American Wife Carrying Championships the way Dave Castro and his wife Lacey did, but most of the 50 couples that participated Saturday at the annual event at Sunday River still had a good time.

“It’s hard to tell because the course is a little different every year,” Dave Castro said waiting to see if his time would hold up. “I feel pretty good, I don’t know if I have any more.”

The event, in its 13th year, drew a crowd of spectators of between 1,500 and 2,000 people.

But in the end, defending World Champions Taisto Miettinen and Kristina Haapanen, who traveled from Helsinki, Finland — home of the World Wife Carrying Championships came out on top with a time of 52.58 seconds.

Miettinen said the course in Maine was a little different from the course back home. The big difference?

“It’s more flat on our course,” Miettinen said before his qualifying heat. After the final race Miettinen said the hardest part of the course was the first uphill obstacle and said the water hazard — more of a mud pit — was more challenging than the plastic-lined water obstacles on the World Championship course in Finland.

The Finnish race also is based on the best first time, where the North American Championships feature a final race where the top finishers compete.

The prize, besides a check for $530 and some trophies crafted to look like the timber hurdles, is the winning woman’s weight in beer.

Miettinen and Haapanen displayed some Finnish sportsmanship by sharing their prize with the Castros and the second place couple, Jesse Wall and Christine Arsenault of South Paris, Maine, who got into the final race with a time of 53.22 seconds.

“Against Taisto, we went in hand-to-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder and he got that big long leg in front of my stomach and I just couldn’t quite get over it,” said Wall of the first log hurdle on the course. “I got stuck there. We lost some time to him.”

Miettinen said the beer was a thank-you gift for the Castros and the other folks who helped arrange their trip to Maine. The couple planned to stay the week in the U.S. and were going to make a trip to New York City before heading back home next Saturday. Miettinen figured the prize money would come in handy on a shopping trip in the Big Apple.

Castro, a former assistant football coach at Lewiston, and his wife won the event two years ago and came in second in 2011, ended up in third place Saturday with a qualifying time of 53.66 seconds.

Castro said they put in their best effort and had a good time just the same and despite finishing two spots behind the Finns.

“You train all year long for 50 seconds but that’s the way it goes,” Castro said.

That’s pretty much the way Jason and Robin Esposito, of Wells River, Vt., felt, too — all except the part about training all year long.

Robin said the couple was at Sunday River during a vacation in August and they heard about the race and decided to come back to participate.

“We entered the race and everything but we didn’t even practice until we got here,” Jason Esposito said. “You know we ran around the parking lot a little bit when we got here.”

The couple finished in ninth place. Jason attributes it to his work as a roofer. “He trains all the time, at work,” Robin said with chuckle.

The race itself involves two-person teams — usually husband and wife — with the husband carrying the wife as she drapes herself over his shoulders.

Racers on the 260-yard course start running up a hill, cross a timber hurdle, wade through a mud-water pit, climb over a big pile of sand and then bolt for the finish line.

But the uphill start didn’t seem to slow the Finns much, the couple won their heat and went on to win the North American title for 2012.

Both the ultra fit and the somewhat flabby got in on the action and not everybody racing were super close — or even knew each other at all for that matter.

Melissa Quigley and Chris Poirier, met for the first time in person on Saturday morning.

“This is kind of a blind date for us,” said Quigley, who became Poirier’s partner in the race after his original partner couldn’t make it.

“I got the word out on Facebook and connected with another lady I knew and she couldn’t do it but she recommended Melissa,” Poirier said as the couple practiced before the race. “We texted yesterday for the first time and spoke words together for the first time about 12 minutes ago.”

The new friendship didn’t work out so bad as the couple finished in fifth place, missing the podium by a couple of seconds.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.