The streak of sunny weather that accompanied the annual Kenai River Marathon for the last few years ended on Sunday as 272 runners battled the cold, wind and rain to reach the finish line.
The tenth annual race gave runners and walkers from near and far the chance to participate in a number of ways: a full marathon, a half marathon, a 5K fun run/walk and a full marathon completed by four-person relay teams.
What started as a small family fun run about 15 years ago has blossomed into a large community event that draws runners from all over the Kenai Peninsula and the country, said Kenai Parks and Recreation Director and Race Director Bob Frates. This year’s marathon attracted runners from 15 different states, he said.
“Just logistically, in planning, (there are) a lot more people involved, a lot more water stations,” Frates said of the evolving race. “It’s taken a lot more resources: pickup trucks to deliver all the goods to the water stations, so on and so forth. That’s been the exciting aspect of the race, is just getting the community involved.”
Funds from race registration go to the Kenai Community Foundation to help pay for projects and programs through the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department, Frates said.
Yet the best part about the marathon is getting to know the runners and their stories, he said.
“I love this,” Frates said. “To me and the few other committee members, there’s more to it than just the race. It’s the networking, it’s meeting runners from all over the continental U.S.”
For Michelle Mitchell, who finished sixth in the full marathon overall and second for the women with a time of 3:19:21, the Kenai River Marathon was a welcome back to the area after 10 years teaching in Moscow, Russia. What could have been a gloomy return to other runners was helpful to Mitchell, who said she thrives in colder running conditions.
“This is ideal for me. I don’t like it much more than 55 degrees if I have to run a marathon,” Mitchell said. “Even in Moscow by October it’s like it is here.”
Mitchell was a Russian bilingual teacher in Wasilla before making the move to Russia in 2005. What was supposed to be a two or three year leave of absence turned into a 10 year stay, and Mitchell hadn’t been back to the state until her return in July to teach Russian at the Voznesenka Elementary/High School.
“I never thought I’d be out that long,” Mitchell said. “I did the 49K in Anchorage a month ago, and that was kind of like my big summer race.”
For others, the weather was more of a nuisance than it was helpful. Anchorage resident Allan Spangler, the full marathon’s first finisher with a time of 2:36:42, said the weather didn’t present too many challenges other than his shoes becoming a little weighed down with water.
“It’s a fun race. It’s low key,” Spangler said. “It’s kind of the end of the season, you know. This is basically the last weekend where you might have some sort of summer-like conditions. Normally, it’s been sunny.”
This was Spangler’s second time running the full Kenai River Marathon. He ran the half marathon last year. The majority of Spangler’s races take place off of roads. The change of terrain necessitates a change in running style, he said.
“This is actually only my second normal marathon,” Spangler said. “I do a lot of trail races. I think in a trail race, you have to hold yourself back a little more. Like, if you get too tired in a trail race, you’ll lose a lot of time, just because of the technical-ness of going over little rocks and roots.”
Anchorage resident Jaime Bronga took first for the women in the full marathon with a time of 3:17:21. While the rain wasn’t very much fun for her, she said it was better than the alternative: overheating.
“I’ve never run this marathon before,” Bronga said, adding that the Kenai River Marathon was only her second ever. “It was a lot flatter, so it was much faster, so I’m happy with it.
Runners ranged in age as well as in where they came from. Soldotna resident Roy Stuckey, 72, and his wife, 65-year-old June Stuckey, both completed the half marathon. After completing the race first with a time of 1:58:58, Roy Stuckey waited at the finish line with his phone at the ready to snap a picture of his wife when she crossed it at 2:14:26.
“I did it a little faster (this year),” Roy Stuckey said. “I won my age group last year, (and) I’m hoping I get this year’s. Of course, there’s only a couple of us.”
For a complete list of marathon results, visit www.kenairivermarathon.org.