Tyle Owens (orange helmet) leads a group of racers at the Soldotna Cycle Series at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska, on July 18, 2019. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Tyle Owens (orange helmet) leads a group of racers at the Soldotna Cycle Series at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska, on July 18, 2019. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Tsalteshi summer racing won’t be the same

Mountain bikes, Salmon Run Series get new formats

The Salmon Run Series and Soldotna Cycle Series, two popular mainstays of the Tsalteshi Trails summer, will both happen in altered form this summer due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Tami Murray, coordinator of the Salmon Run Series, said the series will take place in the five Wednesdays from July 8 to Aug. 5, but will not happen at Tsalteshi Trails. Instead, the series will take place on different routes in the city of Soldotna.

Mark Beeson, who organizes the Soldotna Cycle Series, has gone instead to what he is calling the “2020 Alternative Calendar.” This will be a series of events, challenges and routes, but none will involve gathering and racing in a group.

Salmon Run Series

The Salmon Run Series was started by Allie Ostrander in the summer of 2012 on her route to running stardom.

Each year, the series has featured five races at Tsalteshi Trails that raise money for a program in need at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Murray said the series has set up a portable toilet at Tsalteshi in the past, but Murray said the series didn’t want to worry about keeping that sanitized.

“I also like the idea of using some of the other community trails we have,” she said.

The races will look different this summer due to the mitigation plan of the series.

Registration will all be online, with expedient bib pickup handled by masked volunteers. Organizers will encourage the use of the same bib week after week.

The races will go off in pods of 20 to 40 runners, with the fastest runners in the first pod and progressively slower pods going off at 30-second intervals. There will be no finishing chute to collect runners at the finish line.

Murray said runners will be encouraged to start the race with masks and take them off as the pod starts to separate.

The responsibility will be on the runners to socially distance before and after the race.

“We’ll watch it and if people aren’t socially distancing we’ll just cancel it,” Murray said. “We think the community is savvy and they’ll want to keep doing the race.

“If we’re having low participation, we’ll also cancel it.”

The event also will include a kids race before the main running races where families will be responsible for social distancing.

“We just wanted to keep the series alive,” Murray said. “Hopefully, next year, we’ll move back to Tsalteshi, but we’re sort of excited about moving it around, too.”

The cost will be $15 per race, or $40 to register for all races. After the Watershed’s Run for the River had 120 participate in a virtual race, Murray said the series also is thinking about a virtual option.

Details about the courses will be coming in the next few days on the Salmon Run Series Facebook page. Murray said those who have run in the series in the past three days also will be emailed details.

Soldotna Cycle Series

Beeson also is the president of the Tsalteshi Trails Association. He said use of the trails just outside of Soldotna has increased during the pandemic.

“There’s been a huge uptick in outdoor recreation generally, and Tsalteshi is definitely a part of that,” he said.

Thus far, Beeson said he doesn’t know of a group that will be holding a standard race on the trails this summer. Beeson said any group that wanted to do so would need a COVID-19 mitigation plan.

Beeson said the Soldotna Cycle Series is something he organizes himself, not for Tsalteshi. He made the call to move to the virtual format this summer. Mountain bike racing started at Tsalteshi with a race involving 10 riders in 2012 and has exploded in popularity since then.

“I would love to do in-person stuff at some point but I’m being conservative,” Beeson said. “We’ve had upwards of 100 people racing at some of the events. That’s kind of a lot of people breathing hard in one area.”

Beeson said Tsalteshi has promoting healthy outdoor activity in its mission statement, so he doesn’t want to take any chances of having an event that transmits the new coronavirus.

“I haven’t gotten any negative feedback,” Beeson said. “People definitely want that competition, but most people understand we have to make conservative choices as an organization that does not have a mammoth budget.”

Ever since the pandemic started impacting Alaska in March, Beeson has been trying to think of activities that would work in an altered format.

“I want to give people something to do with their bikes,” he said. “It’s nice to have a goal. I always relished coming up with weird events and seeing if they work. If they work, I’ll stick with them.”

Beeson said the biggest challenge in coming up with alternative, virtual event is making up for the lack of a social draw.

“One thing you miss is the big community gathering point,” Beeson said. “What I’m thinking about is, ‘What makes it fun for everyone else, not just the five or 10 people racing for first place?’”

The first event, which runs through July 1, will be done in the enduro style. The course for the event is available on Tsalteshi’s Facebook page. In the enduro event, there is a whole course that must be completed in a time period that doesn’t require really hard riding.

Within that course, though, there are segments where riders go hard. For riders tracking their rides on the social media app Strava, those segments will appear on a leaderboard.

“There’s no places, because it’s not a race, but we’ll do a leaderboard over the whole alternative calendar,” Beeson said. “We’ll have points based on how well we did and how hard you tried.”

Beeson said the events will happen in two-week intervals and will likely include scavenger hunts and marked courses, at some point. Event details will be on Tsalteshi’s Facebook page.

Because the events will cost money to organize, Beeson said a $5 donation can be given at tsalteshi.org. There is no entry fee because of the financial burden the community is feeling due to the pandemic.

Beeson said that financial impact includes Tsalteshi.

“I think like everyone else, COVID is having an impact on budgets,” Beeson said.

Bradley Walters leads the pack up Angle Hill on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at the Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Bradley Walters leads the pack up Angle Hill on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at the Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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