To race, to race virtually, or to not race at all. That’s been the question.
As the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the world, organizers of central Kenai Peninsula racers have had to decide how to change their events to match the times.
Some, like the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, have decided to cancel their event. Kenai’s Solstice Run, with 5- and 10-kilometer options, was scheduled to launch this year, but now will launch next year.
Others, like Cook Inletkeeper, Kenai Watershed Forum and North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, have decided to do races virtually. Inletkeeper’s Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride is in the books, while a virtual Run for the River by the Watershed Forum and Summer Solstice Virtual Fun Run by North Pen Rec will happen later this month.
Still others are trying to venture ahead and hold something resembling a live running race. The Watershed Forum is trying to figure out how to hold the Salmon Run Series on Wednesdays from July 5 to Aug. 5.
Virtual Mouth to Mouth
Kaitlin Vadla, regional director for Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio, was returning from a Grand Canyon vacation in March as the new coronavirus pandemic was beginning to shut down all but essential services in Alaska.
Among the many things Vadla was wondering was what would happen to the Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride this year. The race, held on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, has a 10-mile fat bike or run that goes from the mouth of the Kasilof River to the mouth of the Kenai River on the beach. There’s also a 3-mile run on south Kenai Beach.
Vadla said she’s fortunate Megan Youngren, a past race champion, was already thinking ahead. Youngren quickly became volunteer race director and was tasked with figuring out how to do a virtual race.
“I bugged Kaitlin about it,” Youngren said. “It’s an important race for me. I knew I wouldn’t race in it if I was race director, but I didn’t want it to go away.
“A lot of things are going away this year. I wanted to provide a little of that same push for the community to enjoy themselves and get in some competition.”
Youngren and Vadla decided on a virtual race that would take place throughout the month of May. Racers could sign up on the web and then complete a 3-mile run, 10-mile run or 10-mile fat bike. The normal courses were suggested but were not mandatory.
About 60 people ended up participating in the event’s seventh year. The event drew 67 in its first year. That stood as the record before Mouth to Mouth moved to Memorial Day weekend and drew a record of 143 in 2017, then 118 in 2018 and 136 in 2019.
“It exceeded my expectations for this year,” Vadla said. “When we first started this thing seven years ago, those were comparable numbers to the in-person event.”
Another pleasant surprise came when local businesses still jumped in to help.
“It was much smaller this year, but people still helped out,” Youngren said. “I didn’t want to put too much strain on anyone this year because everybody is in such dire straits.”
Some businesses that helped with prizes or awards are Declination Roasting Company, Raven Earth and Glass Works, Kenai River Brewing, Where It’s At! Mindful Food and Drink, and Cycle Logical.
Runners or bikers kept track of their bikes or runs on a workout or social media app, then emailed them to Youngren, who put them on Inletkeeper’s website.
“I’m competitive personally so a big thing for me is when I go out and work hard I want to see my name with my result,” Youngren said. “I think that’s true for anybody who works hard.”
The race fee for adults was $30, but racers could submit an improved time for $5 and Youngren said it was neat to see some do exactly that.
Vadla said a big purpose of the race is tying racers to this beautiful place they call home. Responses from the racers indicate the virtual version still did that.
“So many people came and tried it, sometimes into a head wind or the rain,” Youngren said. “When they’d submit their time, they were still so happy they did it.”
Both learned from the experience and would approach the race differently if it must be virtual again next year. Because the event was planned at the height of the shutdowns, Vadla and Youngren had no idea how many would do it.
Vadla said she’d try to involve more community partners, while Youngren said she’d try and have more standardized courses and make the event more interactive.
For this year, the race served its purpose.
“I’m so happy everybody went out and worked hard and had fun,” Youngren said.
Event canceled, but virtual run remains
The Kenai Watershed Forum canceled the Kenai River Festival, and North Pen Rec canceled Family Fun in the Midnight Sun, but runs attached to both events survive in virtual formats.
The Run for the River virtual event will be June 13. Anytime on that day, racers can run 5K or 10 miles and post their distance and city on Facebook. Times are optional. Racers also can post a picture of themselves, and the best picture will get a prize.
“We did it because we had to make the really tough decision to cancel the river festival and we knew we had such a strong running community,” said Rhonda McCormick, race director. “We knew people would be disappointed not to run for the river.”
Actually, people that don’t want to run for the river have an option, too. McCormick said nonrunners who would still like to support the festival can sign up for the “I did not Run for the River” option.
On the Run for the River shirt, there will actually be a red “I DID NOT” in front of the race logo.
“I did that tongue in cheek, but I have quite a few signed up for it,” McCormick said.
As of Tuesday, McCormick had 60 signed up. There were about 250 runners last year and the race has a high of 360. McCormick’s goal for this year is 100 and she thinks she will reach that.
“The other thing about a virtual race is we’ve emailed all former staff and interns,” McCormick said. “A few of them have forwarded it to a runners group in Florida or a triathlon group in Oregon, so we’ve had people sign up from Florida and Oregon.”
McCormick said she plans to do a virtual race as well as a real race next year to let people from out of state continue to support the event.
Thanks to Crowley, the T-shirts will be Dri-FIT. Registrants get entered in a drawing to get free admission next year. There is the prize for the best photo but that’s it.
McCormick said the money made will go to help get the festival, which would have had its 30th anniversary this year, going next year.
“We just appreciate our faithful runners and look forward to the run,” McCormick said. “We’re hoping more people spread the word. If they’re Outside, we’ll mail them the shirt.”
The North Pen Rec Summer Solstice Virtual Run will be June 19 to 21. Runners must post results to the North Pen Rec website by June 21.
“I think many of us are trying to figure out the best way to continue to offer stuff to the community while prioritizing the health and safety of the community,” Rachel Parra, director for North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, said.
Unlike the other virtual runs, North Pen Rec will release a trail map and give runners a specific option for the course.
“We’re trying to get people out to use the trails,” Parra said.
Coming back from virtual realm?
The five-race Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails was created by Allie Ostrander in the summer of 2012. Tami Murray, coordinator of the Salmon Run Series, said the event raises funds for the area of the most need for the Kenai Watershed Forum.
“We are hoping we can do it,” Murray said. “We just need to follow all the health mandates in place at the time.”
Murray said the series will hold itself to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Alaska standards for large groups and gatherings.
“That means a number of steps,” Murray said. “We have to get everybody’s name and contact information in case they have to do contract tracing if somebody does have it.”
Those attending the event would have to be told about things like social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizing and staying home if showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Murray said she’s trying to figure out the best way to do registration, bib pickup and racing in the safest way possible. Nothing has been decided upon yet.
Some ideas are online-only registration, different stations for picking up bibs, having runners wear face masks, staggering the starts and keeping the course up a few days so people can do a virtual run if they want. A mitigation plan also must be submitted to Tsalteshi Trails.
Murray said the event can’t become so complex that it costs the Watershed Forum money to run.
“We plan to move forward with it as long as we can do it in a socially and fiscally responsible manner,” Murray said.
Virtual Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride
Women — 1. Jennifer Tabor, 50 minutes, 40 seconds; 2. Adele Pribbenow, 1:23:00; 3. Laura Sievert, 1:28:39; 4. Kenna Bates, 1:34:59; 5. Gail Moore, 1:46:02; 6. Amy Baxter, 1:47:54; 7. Yennhi Tran, 1:55:31; 8. Mindee Morning, Reean Pitts, 1:55:33; 9. Rosy Thompson, 1:56:00; 10. Jackie Dolet, 2:01:54; 11. Carrie Wawrzyk, 2:06:25; 12. Lauri Lingafelt, 2:10:01; 13. Larissa Arbelovsky, 2:11:54.
Men — 1. Matt Brown, 45:48, 46:51, 51:51; 2. Scott Huff, 56:33; 3. John Tabor, 1:01:03; 4. Joe Martin, 1:10:39; 5. Dylan Hogue, Robert Carson, Ethan Hogue, 1:16:16; 6. Rob Carson, 1:30:00; 7. Hollis Swan, 1:32:21; 8. Dan Pitts, Kelly Sederholm, 1:55:33.
Girls — 1. Lucia Carson, 1:30:00.
Boys — 1. Jack Laker, Chase Laker, 1:16:16.
Women — 1. Chisato Johnson, 26:37; 2. Kathy Trinh, 28:55; 3. Julie Laker, 32:06; 4. Sarah Youngren, 35:32; 5. Marly Perschbacher, 36:08; 6. Jamie Beever, 40:45; 7. Amy Hogue, 43:50; 8. Yvonne Oren, 52:03; 9. Penny Vadla (+1:12), Patty Youngren, 1:09:47.
Men — 1. Dan Rapp, 22:06, 24:30; 2. Toma Johnson, 26:57; 3. Kent Peterson, 27:47; 4. Thaddeus Lingenfelter, 34:28; 5. Jeff Helminiak, 34:53.
Women — 1. Tara Schmidt, 1:29:21; 2. Emily Heale, 1:33:58; 3. Amanda Cherok, 1:34:17; 4. Sondra Stonecipher, 1:44:12; 5. Kathy Trinh, 1:50:44; 6. Kristie Cotroneo, 1:55:00; 7. Jennifer Tabor, Laura McIndoe, Sara Moore, 4:15:41; 8. Becky Hutchinson, 4:54:29; 9. Linda Loranger, 5:12:27.
Men — 1. Ryan Peterson, 1:23:04; 2. Bill Taylor, 1:32:12; 3. Hollis Swan, 1:33:51; 4. Sean Goff, 1:34:55, 1:35:59; 5. Dan Balmer, 2:24:01.
Youth — 1. Jack Laker, 1:30:00.