Time flies when you’re running around and having fun.
The Salmon Run Series, a five-race set held every Wednesday starting the first Wednesday of July at Tsalteshi Trails, is now in the midst of its sixth season.
Not only has the series grown up, but many of its competitors have as well.
And even its creator.
Consider that Allie Ostrander, who just finished her second year at Boise State, was not even a cross-country champion in the state of Alaska when the series started in the summer of 2012 before her sophomore year at Kenai Central.
These days, Ostrander’s resume is flourishing so fast that it pays to check social media before attending the race to see what congratulations are in order in case you happen to bump into her spinning tunes, marking the course, or dragging the start and finish flags back into storage.
July 5, the feat was bagging her first Mount Marathon women’s title on July 4. Wednesday, it was being named the Mountain West Female Athlete of the Year.
“I never even saw this getting this big or even continuing for this long,” Ostrander said. “It just started out as a Caring for the Kenai project.
“Everyone loved it, so I felt responsible for keeping it going so they’ll have this opportunity to enjoy the trails, meet other people and enjoy physical activity.”
A number of Ostrander’s original ideas from 2012 keep the series attracting numbers that can range from nearly 100 to nearly 200.
She decided to do the series at Tsalteshi Trails, which offers nearly limitless choices for five-kilometer courses.
“It’s amazing to have this venue here on the peninsula and I think it’s kind of underused, especially in the summer,” she said. “It’s getting to be more and more popular and I really appreciate that.”
Ostrander also wanted to make participating simple and relatively cheap for runners, while still benefiting a good cause. This season, Tami Murray, development director at Kenai Watershed Forum, said funds are going to the Adopt-A-Stream program.
Races are $15, or preregistration is $10 online. The one-kilometer kids race is $5.
“I just wanted it to be something that people could show up for and have it not be a hassle or some sort of big planned event,” she said. “Just a casual Wednesday night — getting out and running with your friends and family.”
But what Ostrander could not have anticipated is the way her increasing fame has drawn kids of all ages, and even their parents, out to run with a Nike Cross Nationals and NCAA Division I steeplechase champion.
The one-kilometer kids race was launched in 2014 and runners are now graduating from that to 5K.
“Especially the young kids — they want to see Allie,” Murray said. “Allie runs with them and makes sure she brings in each group of kids.”
Ostrander has gained a reputation for being assiduous in everything she does, and popping from group of group of kids is no exception.
She said she loves the fact that her fame is growing running locally.
“It doesn’t weird me out,” she said. “It makes me excited. I want to be able to be a positive example for kids in Alaska and I take that responsibility pretty seriously.
“I like to see kids move up from the 1K to continue on with the 5K. It’s cool to see that culture of enjoying running and seeing it as something fun rather than a chore.”
A good example of the strength of the series comes from Julie Laker of Kasilof and her sons Jack, 11, Chase, 9, and Leif, 6.
Jack has always run the 5K and even went to a running camp put on by Ostrander when she was still at Kenai Central.
Chase started out at 1K and has graduated to 5K.
“When he started doing the 5K I had to run with him and encourage him,” Julie said. “Now he’s way ahead of me. That’s part of why this is so cool. It really encourages young people.”
Leif has run the 1K race for the past three years.
But Julie is the first to admit the boys aren’t in the races because of Ostrander.
“She’s more my hero than theirs,” she said. “She started out like us, running for fun, and then she put so much into it.
“It shows what somebody can do if they put in the work and keep after their dreams.”
Lance Chilton, who will be a sophomore at Soldotna High School, won Wednesday’s 5K and left little doubt it was because of Ostrander.
“She inspires me and made me get into running in the first place,” said Chilton, who has a goal of getting the Stars cross-country squad to state this season. “I went to one of her cross-country running meets and she impressed me.”
Chilton said the meet was during Ostrander’s sophomore year in Seward. He played hockey at the time, but since has switched to cross-country, cross-country skiing and track.
But Murray and Ostrander are quick to point out the Salmon Run Series was already tapping into a community of running families that were going strong before Allie O. became a household name.
Tucker Mueller, who will be a sophomore at Kenai Central, was at Wednesday’s race with sister Amelia, 13; mother, Meg; and father, Marcus.
Tucker will run for the Kardinals cross-country team for a bit this fall before leaving to attend school in Spain.
“We’re a running family,” he said.
And that was before all of Allie’s success.
“I’ve known her before she was famous famous, I guess you could say,” he said. “Our families are pretty tight.”
So that puts Ostrander’s success in a different light.
“It’s still a little hard to process, I guess,” he said. “It’s not surprising when you think about it. Allie just always had a lot of potential.”
Dylan Hogue, who will be a freshman at Soldotna Prep, also said his family was running before Ostrander came to the fore.
The family got into it in 2015, when Dylan’s father, Doug, participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon and Dylan tagged along to race a 5K and a 10K.
Dylan, who will run for the Stars this fall except for the weekend when he takes on the Lost Lake Run, was racing Wednesday with his mother, Amy, and brother, Ethan, 12.
“I just enjoy running and it’s a good way to get out and run without running by myself,” he said.
The great trails system. Running families. Volunteers willing to do all the work it takes to put on a race for five straight weeks.
It’s easy to take the Salmon Run Series for granted, but not for Hawaii’s Alan Ryan, who has run a Salmon Series Race in 2012, 2016 and this year while up here on fishing vacations. Ryan is an assistant cross-country running coach at Division II University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“This is awesome,” Ryan said. “It’s ideal. I’d love to have something like this in Hawaii.”
For starters, Ryan loves Tsalteshi, which he calls real cross-country running and not “track on grass.” He said a lot of cross-country takes place on golf courses where it is easy to get permits and entertain spectators.
“These are ski trails,” he said. “They’re always up and down with a lot of turns. There’s nothing flat on them. It’s true cross-country.
“It challenges runners by breaking their rhythm.”
Ryan, who has done some race directing himself, also said it’s easy to overlook how rare cheaper races are. He said races take a lot of work to put on, so it’s not unusual for organizations to want to see a bigger return for their efforts.
And finally, he said the Kenai Peninsula, which is relatively isolated from the Lower 48 just like Hawaii, is lucky to have an asset like Ostrander.
“In a small town like Kenai, she’s someone everyone can look up to,” Ryan said. “Until someone takes the first leap, nobody thinks they can do it.”
The fundamentals of the series that are in place, including sponsorship from Central Peninsula Hospital and donated snacks by Country Foods IGA, should be good enough for the race to build on as Ostrander takes less and less of a role in the series.
“I’ve been slowly handing over more and more responsibility to the Watershed Forum so we’ll see where it goes the next few years,” she said. “I kind of thought last year was going to be my last year but then I roped myself in this year so we’ll see.”
Murray has been a volunteer at the races for quite some time and has taken over organization of the races. New ideas this year have made the series even stronger.
The hospital put down $6,000 up front this year, so hospital employees and any two family members can do the race for free. Murray wants to get other businesses in the wellness program.
Bibs are being reused this year. At the end of the series, one of the bibs that has been used all five times will be selected, with its owner getting a $100 Tesoro gas card.
Also this year, T-shirts are for sale.
Murray also would like to move the races to Tuesday to avoid busy Wednesday nights in Soldotna, which include the Music in the Park Concert Series. That will also give regulars at the Thursday Soldotna Cycle Series a better chance to recover and do both events.
But some things won’t change about Ostrander or the series.
“Most years, if I’m home, I’ll want to be here,” she said.
Salmon Run Series No. 3
1 Lance Chilton 20:35.2; 2 Maison Dunham 22:42.9; 3 Ryan Alan 23:11.1; 4 Matti Silta 23:33.2; 5 Alex Bergholtz 23:52.4; 6 Tucker Mueller 23:57.2; 7 Savai’i Heaven 24:00.4; 8 Joey Klecka 24:01.1; 9 Michael Scheffert 24:40.9; 10 Gavin Haakenson 24:45.5; 11 Cameron McCormick 24:49.7; 12 Mike Bergholtz 25:00.7; 13 Kent Peterson 25:44.0; 14 John Paul Dammeyer 25:47.5; 15 Carl Kincaid 25:51.3; 16 Michael Tallent 26:13.6; 17 Jon Iannaccone 26:36.0; 18 Jeff McDonald 26:43.4; 19 Jack Laker 27:03.5; 20 Jordan Chilson 27:15.4; 21 Ben Hanson 27:21.5; 22 Zion Alioto 27:40.1; 23 Elizabeth Hardie 27:58.8; 24 Marcus Mueller 27:59; 25 Melissa Smith 28:43.2.
26 Carly Reimer 29:03.6; 27 Dylan Hogue 29:30.1; 28 Joseph Dammeyer 29:58.0; 29 Sara Bundy 30:09.2; 30 Jodi Hanson 30:15.5; 31 Alice Main 30:30.2; 32 Loren Hollers 30:31.4; 33 James Dammeyer 30:40.1; 34 Isabella Dammeyer 30:50.0; 35 Kaiden Peterson 30:58.9; 36 Chase Laker 31:00.6; 37 Chad Arthur 31:15.5; 38 Roy Stuckey 31:38.7; 39 Noelle Lattin 31:52.8; 40 Alek McGarry 32:12.2; 41 Carter Cannava 32:33.3; 42 Riley Peterson 32:40.9; 43 Patty Moran 32:41.3; 44 Ian McGarry 32:59.0; 45 Jeff Perschbacher 33:07.6; 46 Aubree Renfro 33:35.3; 47 Julie Laker 33:38.9; 48 Chase Martin 33:53.0; 49 Ariana Cannava 33:55.9; 50 Kat Sorensen 34:10.2.
51 Christine Bergholtz 34:14.0; 52 Heidi Kidd 34:36.4; 53 Carrie Wawrzyck 34:40.9; 54 Bob Ball 34:57.6; 55 Henry Heft 35:17.2; 56 Amy Kaucic 35:29.4; 57 Joel Moss 35:32.4; 58 Elizabeth Earl 35:34.2; 59 Rob Carson 36:08.2; 60 Dominic Alioto 36:19.9; 61 Karalyn Veihdeffer 36:22.8; 62 Kate Swaby 36:26.4; 63 Emma Clare Dammeyer 36:32.2; 64 Maria Dammeyer 36:34.1; 65 Patti Berkhale 36:34.5; 66 Dana McDonald 36:39.3; 67 Sarah Hollers 36:54.9; 68 Landen Showalter 36:55.3; 69 Amelia Mueller 36:55.7; 70 Meg Mueller 36:59.2; 71 Bobbi Lay 37:15.3; 72 Elliot Hanson 37:52.2; 73 Frank Alioto 38:12.7; 74 Katie Mae Tallent 38:43.7; 75 Emily Moss 39:12.2.
76 Madison McDonald 39:12.7; 77 Stephanie Kobylarz 40:34.1; 78 Maria Sweppy 41:25.9; 79 Amanda Taylor 41:44.8; 80 Parker Cannava 44:25.3; 81 Katrina Cannava 44:25.9; 82 Jennifer Dennis 45:37.4; 83 Robert Carson 46:10.2; 84 Colton Dunham 46:20.9; 85 Ethan Hogue 46:24.4; 86 Bill Hanson 47:08.5; 87 Suzanne Alioto 48:48.0; 88 Amy Hogue 48:59.0; 89 Teagen Kobylarz 53:14.1; 90 Thomas Kobylarz 53:14.6; 91 Audrey McDonald 57:45.6; 92 Eden Alioto 57:47.1; 93 Shawna Mackey 58:07.1; 94 Doreen Borkowski 58:07.9.