The Brewery to Bathroom .5K “The race for the rest of us” is the perfect satire of the typical fundraising 5K, right down to organizer Alana Martin herself.
Before the Kenai Peninsula Relay For Life event Sunday morning, like any good organizer, Martin inspects the 326-foot course, which goes from Kenai River Brewing Company to the bathrooms at Soldotna Creek Park, and back.
Martin has planted demotivating signs along the route such as, “Look, you can’t make everyone happy. You are not bacon,” and, “If we’re not meant to have midnight snacks why is there a light in the fridge?”
Thinking up those signs must have taken effort, right?
“I’m not that smart,” Martin demurs. “I got them from the internet.”
She does get serious when she arrives at the turnaround spot, a refueling station operated by Kenai Lions Club that includes doughnut holes, cookies, strudels and Peeps.
“Worst-case scenario, we don’t want them to do more than .5K,” Martin instructs. “Turn around and go back.”
Like any satire, though, once the cheekiness and laughter is brushed aside, something serious lies beneath.
Since it was started last year, the .5K has quickly become the second-biggest fundraiser for Kenai Peninsula Relay For Life. The relay event on the first Saturday in June raised $38,000 toward the $55,000 goal, while the .5K raised $5,700 by the start of the race. The relay fiscal year ends Aug. 31.
Kristin Mitchell is a physician who has lived on the central peninsula for 20 years. She crossed the finish line with Geri Ransom, a Kasilof nurse who has two brothers battling cancer. Mitchell said she has taken care of more people than she can count with cancer and the .5K event suits that group.
“When people are dealing with life-threatening illness, there’s a lot of seriousness, but there’s also a lot of laughter, celebration and fun,” she said.
This year, the event had 164 preregister for the recommended donations of $20 per individual or $50 for family of four. That group and about 40 more day-of registrants gathered outside the brewery for what Martin called a “reverse pep talk” that turned out to be anything but that.
After Martin thanked all who had come together to make the event possible by reading off of a mac and cheese box — “I really love mac and cheese, so I knew I wouldn’t lose it” — Johna Beech, chair of Kenai Peninsula Relay for Life, took the microphone.
While encouraging everyone to have fun, Beech also said runners should think about why they are doing the event.
“My why used to be for all of you,” said Beech, who has been involved in Kenai Peninsula Relay For Life since 2009.
Then Beech told the audience her Aunt Kris died in February after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in September 2018.
“That hurt I feel, I don’t want somebody else to go through it,” Beech said.
Volunteer Nicole Murphy of Kenai, whose grandfather passed away from cancer, then led the crowd in some lightening of the mood and prerace stretches. After arms were limbered up to drink water or other libations, the throng reported to the starting line.
Kids never know how to pace themselves in any running race, and the .5K proved no exception, with a pack of youngsters bursting from the line. The flaring of exuberance made the day’s couch-to-couch “participants” look all the smarter. They had paid $30 to get the T-shirt and swag while staying home on their couches.
The rest of the crowd ambled from the gate, but temps were tipping into the 70s, and just a few minutes in, Nikiski’s Alan Bute had problems. He clutched his hamstring, howling in pain. A five-minute massage, costing a $5 donation, from Logan Simons of Boreal Massage in Soldotna was back at the starting line and too far away to save him now.
Luckily, a donation of just $5 got Bute and his grandson, Bennett Martin, a spot on a couch on the side of the trail, where he spent a few minutes recovering and avoiding the $10 fee to quit the race on the spot.
Hammy problem solved?
“We’ll see,” Bute said. “Maybe I’ll need this again on my way back through here.”
Other competitors were doing a better job with in-race fueling. Halfway to the bathroom, Kenai Watershed Forum had a rehydration station “with healthy runner energy snacks,” according to the forum’s Rhonda McCormick.
At Wednesday’s Salmon Run Series 5K, McCormick had dished up barbecued red salmon. The .5K Sunday version of healthy runner energy snacks had morphed to doughnut holes and cookies.
Kenai’s David Sorensen was more than happy to partake. He was there to support his girlfriend, Christina Nitecke, who works at Peninsula Radiation Oncology.
“It’s good to get out in the community and raise awareness,” Nitecke said. “It gets people out that maybe don’t do the longer races.”
There was more health food to come at the Kenai Lions Club refueling and turnaround station, at least according to Hal Smalley, a Kenai Lion.
“As long as they eat it here, it’s healthy,” he said. “If they eat it elsewhere, it’s not under our control.”
Jason Warfle of Kenai and his son, 2-year-old Mason, made sure to eat healthy and eat right at the station. Warfle is Martin’s brother-in-law, so he also had inside information on why Martin was so good at spoofing a 5K. It turns out many in the family are into endurance events like triathlons.
“This is the only thing like this,” Warfle said. “It’s so different than anything else. It’s the opposite of competitive. Everybody is just out here for fun.”
And to raise money for cancer.
Before the event, Beech had said: “It is my personal mission in life to find a cure for cancer and live in a world where nobody has to hear, ‘You have cancer.’”
At the post-race social at Kenai River Brewing, Beech said the picture is more textured than that.
Relay For Life gives all the money it raises to the American Cancer Society, which is the No. 1 funder of research for a cure, second only to the United States government.
While a cure has not been found, Beech has had a front-row seat to all the advancements since getting involved in 2009. When Kenai Peninsula Relay For Life started some 20 years ago, cancer patients could not get treatment on the central peninsula, as they can now.
Beech knows somebody who has the exact same cancer this lady’s mother had 20 years ago, and this lady marvels at how far treatment has come in that time. Beech also had the opportunity to meet Mary-Claire King, the American Cancer Society Professor of Genome Sciences and of Medical Genetics in the Department of Medicine at the University of Washington, who has done major work in identifying breast cancer genes.
“I’ve been in it for 10 years and I’ve seen what has happened,” Beech said. “I love being around the survivors. They have such an incredible outlook.
“They’re the most incredible people. They’ve looked death right in the face.”
Or, in the words of one of Martin’s demotivators: