Runners take off at the start of the Salmon Run Series in Soldotna, Alaska, on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Runners take off at the start of the Salmon Run Series in Soldotna, Alaska, on July 8, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmon Run Series switches to virtual format

Rising positive tests prompt change of course

The organizer of the Salmon Run Series announced Thursday that the last three races of the five-race series will be done virtually due to rising COVID-19 positive tests on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Tami Murray, who organizes the runs, said the shift to a virtual event has nothing to do with the conduct of runners or a specific person testing positive.

“Everyone was acting in the correct manner,” Murray said. “As the days went by, the cases would rise and rise and rise every day. That gave us more reason to go to a virtual race because there were more cases.”

The first Salmon Run Series was held July 8 and the second was held Wednesday, with 40 finishers the first week and 49 the second week. From July 8 to Wednesday, Kenai had 15 total positive tests reported by Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services, Soldotna had 16 positives and Sterling had two positives.

On the day of the first Salmon Run Series, Kenai had six positives and Soldotna had three positives.

“It was actually after the first race that we started talking about it,” Murray said of going virtual. “We started to see the rise on the day of that first race and we thought, ‘Are we really doing the right thing?’”

After putting together a COVID mitigation plan that involved starting runners in pods and having them wear masks until they separated from other runners, Murray said she initially felt bad about making the decision. Once the decision was made, though, she said she immediately felt good about it.

“With the rise in cases in the community, we just didn’t want to be a contributing factor,” Murray said. “We’re very proud of the way everyone acted at the race. They were doing the right thing by physical distancing and wearing masks.”

The course for races three and four will start and end at Kenai Peninsula College. The course for race five will be the same as the first week, starting in the parking lot for Lucy’s Market and River City Books and ending in the parking lot of Kenai River Brewing.

Racers still register for the races at kenaiwatershed.org. The course for the third week will be marked. That course, or a different 5K course of the runner’s choosing, must be completed by 9 a.m. Thursday.

The course for the third week has a gated section that will open at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and close at 9 a.m. Thursday. If runners can’t do the course while the gate is open, they have permission to go around the gate.

In order to entice runners to race virtually, Murray will have a drawing for two Alaska Railroad tickets at the end of the series. The number of entries in the drawing will be based on the number of races completed, with the first two races counting as well.

Details about how to submit races will be available on the Salmon Run Series Facebook page. Murray said she is open to publishing a list of times each week, but that will depend how many submit times from the actual course each week.

The Salmon Run Series was created by Allie Ostrander in 2012 on her way to running stardom. The series raises money for the cause of most need at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Until this year, the series was always held at Tsalteshi Trails, but Murray changed to courses in Soldotna this year in order to avoid having to bring a portable toilet to Tsalteshi and worry about sanitation issues. Murray also wanted to check out some courses in Soldotna.

Though so much of the series has changed due to the new coronavirus pandemic, Murray said she hopes it can still encourage people to run. Seeing new faces out the first two weeks and having to close down was tough, she said. She also said there will be no virtual 1-kilometer kids race.

“Some people run all the time and 5K is not a big deal to them,” Murray said. “For a lot of people that don’t run, if you show them where 5K is, that makes it easier for them. I saw a lot of new faces this year so I’ll continue to mark the courses and do my best to try and get people out.”

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