It didn’t look much like the normal Salmon Run Series, but it was a Salmon Run Series, and that’s enough for now.
The annual five-race series started Wednesday in Soldotna. Differences were everywhere due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The Kenai Watershed Forum, after canceling the Kenai River Festival this year and going to a virtual Run for the River, was more than happy to put on the event in its altered form.
“I’m very pleased with how everybody acted,” Tami Murray, organized of the series, said. “Everybody did what they’re supposed to do.”
The Salmon Run Series was started by Allie Ostrander in 2012 on her way to running stardom. The event raises money for the Kenai Watershed Forum program of the most need.
Until Wednesday, every race had been at Tsalteshi Trails. Murray said she didn’t go to Tsalteshi this year because the Watershed Forum usually brings in a portable toilet for the series and didn’t want to be responsible for the sanitation hassle.
Murray also wanted to try out some city routes. Wednesday’s race started in the parking lot for Lucy’s Market and River City Books before ending in the parking lot of Kenai River Brewing. Walgreens also provided parking and Soldotna Parks and Rec provided use of trails.
According to Murray, all the pieces for the series didn’t come together until a week before the first race. She thanked the businesses and city of Soldotna for making it happen.
“I want to get back to Tsalteshi and use those trails,” Murray said of future years. “At the same time, I saw some names on the list tonight I’d never seen before.”
Another big difference was the number of runners turning out. There were 40 listed finishers for the 5-kilometer event, including some who did the virtual option.
Last year, the Salmon Run Series got 122 runners in its first week before ticking off 94, 77, 67 and 87 runners in successive weeks. Considering social distancing is so important, though, Murray was fine with the numbers.
So was Jason Parks. Parks took the win in 16 minutes, 21 seconds, while Galen Hecht took second at 17:09. The two bumped elbows at the finish after the race.
Parks is a radiation oncologist at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center, so preventing the spread of the coronavirus also is very much on his mind.
“I was a little concerned because it was a race, but it was definitely OK because it was so spread out,” Parks said. “If there would have been 300 people here, it would not have been feasible.”
The last race Parks ran was the Kenai River Marathon, which he won in late September 2019. He said he originally took this spring off of racing to prepare for his oral boards, but those were canceled.
Parks then set his sights on the Lost Lake Run in Seward in August, but that was moved to a virtual-only, nontimed event.
One of the few positives in all the coronavirus shuffling for Parks came due to the new pod format at the Salmon Run Series. A pod of about 20 runners took off, then a second pod, including Parks, took off 30 seconds later.
“It made it kind of fun,” Park said. “I had people staggered I could pass all the way through the course.”
The Salmon Run Series suggested runners wear masks at the start, then remove them once the pod separated on the course. Murray said all but a few runners wore masks at the start. Those who didn’t did a good job of staying separated from the pod at the start.
Erika Arthur was the first women’s finisher at 20:30. Arthur, who will be a senior at Soldotna High School, got off of work about 10 minutes before the race began.
“I thought we had to wear a mask for the whole race,” she said. “I was happy to take it off after about 100 yards. It definitely felt a little funny.”
After having the end of her junior year disrupted by the coronavirus, Arthur said wearing a mask was worth getting to race again.
“I’m really happy,” she said. “It was something outside and something the community could get together and do.”
Murray said it was important to her the Salmon Run Series continued to provide the community outdoors activity, even if it was in an altered form.
Katie Turner of Soldotna ran the race with daughter, Arabella, and son, Nolan, in a stroller. Turner finished the race even though one of the stroller tires went flat during the race.
Turner draws blood at Central Peninsula Hospital. She said all the masks, the outdoor venue and social distancing made her feel safe at the event. She said Nolan has been talking about doing the 1-kilometer kids race at Salmon Run Series all winter.
“I’m really glad they did this,” she said. “It’s great for the community. I think it’s important to build healthy communities and it helps to start them young.”
Chris Morin of Kenai also said Wednesday was a healthy, safe event. Morin was doing the Salmon Run Series for the first time, drawn by running in the city instead of at Tsalteshi Trails.
At 69 years old, Morin is in a risk group for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been in adults 65 and older.
Despite that, Morin said she felt safe Wednesday.
“It was like one of my normal runs,” she said. “I was by myself on the trails. It was just me and my music.”
The race Wednesday will start from the parking lot of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Salmon Run Series Week 1
1. Jason Parks, 16 minutes, 21 seconds; 2. Galen Hecht, 17:09; 3. Dan McIntosh, 18:31; 4. Alex Young, 18:48; 5. Mitchell Andrew, 19:07; 6. Anchor Musgrave, 20:06; 7. Erika Arthur, 20:30; 8. Tyler Hippchen, 20:58; 9. Will Steffe, 21:14; 10. Mikaela Hall, 21:36; 11. Tony Eskelin, 21:48; 12. Kyle Martin, 22:43; 13. Wyatt Dement, 22:52; 14. Brett Toering, 23:01; 15. Kaytlin McAnelly, 23:32; 16. Nataleigh Shane, 23:32; 17. Annie Burns, 23:32; 18. Jenna Brown, 24:03; 19. Cameron Blackwell, 25:12; 20. Katie Delker, 25:14; 21. Krista Arthur, 25:20; 22. Hannah Delker, 27:36; 23. Karalyn Veihdeffer, 28:34; 24. Bob Ball, 28:45; 25. Jamie Nelson, 28:55.
26. Christine Morin, 31:47; 27. Maria Sweppy, 35:15; 28. Kristen Downum, 35:26; 29. Heidi King, 37:50; 30. Suzanne Alioto, 38:25; 31. Frank Alioto, 38:34; 32. Angie Welborn, 41:39; 33. Robin Morris, 41:43; 34. Katie Turner, 41:48; 35. Kenzie Toering, 44:56; 36. Ashley Toering, 44:59; 37. Lyndy Wackler, 48:12; 38. Trina Samples, 48:13; 39. Johna Beech, 58:46; 40. Yvonne Oren, 58:46.