The streak of sunny days for the Kenai River Marathon continued Sunday as runners from across the country praised the pleasant fall weather that made for ideal race conditions.
“It seems to be a beautiful day every year on race day,” said Kenai resident James Tangaro, who finished fourth in the men’s half marathon. “The views of the fall and the colorful leaves are amazing. When you get on Beaver Loop Road you can set a good fast pace.”
The ninth annual Kenai River Marathon attracted 219 participants with four race options, a 5 K run, 13-mile half marathon, 26.2-mile marathon or a relay of four that runs the full marathon as a team. Each race started and finished at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center in Kenai.
Peter Svenning from Palm City, Florida, won the marathon with a time of 3 hours, 29 minutes and 2 seconds. Svenning, who was in Anchorage on a business trip, said he decided to come down for the race on the spur of the moment. He said the weather was comfortable compared to running in the Florida heat.
“The first 15 miles wasn’t too bad then I got a little tired,” he said. “This is a great temperature for running and the course was beautiful. I was able to keep up a good tempo. I’m glad I came down and got a good workout.”
Whitney Bennett, from Anchorage, placed second overall in the marathon nearly five minutes behind Svenning for first in the female division. Bennett, in her first trip to Kenai, finished her second marathon. She said she shaved 10 minutes off her previous best and averaged an 8-minute mile. Her running coach, Michelle Baxter, from Anchorage, won the women’s Kenai River Marathon last year and encouraged her to try the race.
“My plan was to start slow and then scoot up,” Bennett said. “At mile 20 it was a little painful and I slowed down quite a bit, but I made it through. This is a beautiful little town. It makes me want to live here.”
The course begins with a run through Old Town Kenai, which gives runners a glimpse of the mouth of the Kenai River and the surrounding mountains. Then the marathon route follows Bridge Access Road across the Kenai River down Kalifornsky Beach Road and through Soldotna then back up the Unity Trail along the Kenai Spur Highway for the finish at the Visitor center. After the race, competitors were rewarded with a beer from Kassik’s Brewery.
Former Soldotna resident Andy Liebner won the half marathon in 1:14:42 and finished with the fastest race pace, a 5:43-per-mile average. Liebner, a 2001 Soldotna High graduate, now resides from Cheboygan, Michigan. Liebner won the Class 4A boys state cross-country running championship in 2000.
Sharon Ehasz, from Anchorage, posted the fasted women’s half marathon time of 1:41:44. Anchorage resident Michelle Fabry placed second in the half marathon, despite battling a cold.
“I felt stuffed up and miserable the first few miles and almost didn’t run today,” Fabry said. “But I didn’t want to quit. I started out slow and then kicked up my pace halfway. When other people started slowing down, I got into a good pace.”
Ray Stuckey, 71, of Soldotna, completed his first half marathon in preparation for another half marathon he plans to race in Florida in January. He said he trained by running in the Salmon Series at Tsalteshi Trails and surprised himself by beating his per-mile pace goal by nearly two minutes.
“There were some people I wanted to keep up with but they were too far ahead and I could see them gradually get a little further over time,” Stuckey said. “It’s nice to have the beer as incentive at the end.”
John Sovocool from Cooperstown, New York, who finished in fourth place overall in the marathon, continued his goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. To this point he has competed in 86 marathons in 40 states. Sovocool, 58, said he likes to push himself and test his limits.
“I don’t like doing marathons. They are awful torture and I want to get them out of the way,” he said. “If it doesn’t take a lot out of you, is it an accomplishment? I want to see what I’m capable of. They don’t get any easier.”
Soldotna resident Susan Craig placed third in the full marathon with a time of 3:44:38. Lance Chilton, of Soldotna, won the 5 K race with a time of 23:06.
In the relay race, Team Tesoro placed first with a time of 3:12:30.
The relay team Mitscoots, comprised of Bryan Frapp, Jason Buckbee, Stephanie Winter and Rachel Nevendorf, finished second. Buckbee said the group works together at Central Peninsula Hospital and thought it would it would be fun to put a team together.
Frapp said the team name “Mitscoots,” is inspired by a friend who owns American-made sock company based in Austin, Texas. The four represented the team with neon green shirts and tall baby blue Mitscoots socks. Frapp said for every pair sold another pair goes to homeless people in need. The company also employs those less fortunate, he said.
Anchorage resident Nina Schwinghammer said the Kenai River Marathon is her favorite race to run. Two weeks ago she ran in the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks in the pouring rain. The conditions on Sunday were the complete opposite and more entertaining, she said.
“I got bumped by a car while crossing a road and a llama ran along with me as I ran by the ranch,” Schwinghammer said. “I was trying to get under four hours but nature called and I had to pee. I like how this is a good community-supported race and I appreciated the stations that handed out water.”
Johnna Beech, president of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, said the chamber has lucked out with the weather the last four years she has organized the race. Beech has participated in the race the last five years. She said she had a good pace and had a great time talking with other runners.
“I never tire of the runners’ comments about our enthusiastic volunteers and hospitable town,” she said. “It is nice to hear all our hard work noticed.”
All the proceeds of the race go to the Kenai Community Foundation to promote the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department. Last year’s race raised $5,000, which was earmarked for the Enchanted Forest design planned for Municipal Park, Beech said.
Iditarod legend DeeDee Jonrowe, from Willow, was thrilled after she crossed the finish line with a time of 4:18:42, which qualified her for the Boston Marathon. While she is preparing to avenge last year’s disappointing Iditarod race in which she scratched for only the third time in 32 years, she said she has always enjoyed coming to race on the Kenai Peninsula, whether with dogs or on foot.
“People are so nice here and I appreciate all the support from the volunteers, she said. “I have raced all over the world and nobody has anything on the Kenai.”