After no in-person races in the summer of 2020, in-person races are returning in force to Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna this week.
“Events are a pretty core part of encouraging membership and providing value to members and the broader community,” Mark Beeson, president of the Tsalteshi Trails Association and organizer of the Soldotna Cycle Series, said. “They are not a huge fundraiser, but they are a pretty important part of our identity and we’re excited to be back doing it.”
Tsalteshi did Spook Night in the fall, the Youth Ski Program in the winter and is currently doing a youth mountain bike program, but the only in-person adult races since the start of the pandemic have been the Ski for Women and Tour of Tsalteshi.
That’s not to say the trails will have to be brought out of mothballs to start hosting regular events again.
“We saw a really big uptick in usage starting in March (2020),” Beeson said of the trails. “Then in the winter, we saw a pretty broad uptick in usage. Everybody seemed pretty happy to be getting outside and usage went through the roof.
“Using the trails seemed like a nice release valve for a lot of folks.”
Two series start at Tsalteshi this week — the Salmon Run Series on Wednesday and the Soldotna Cycle Series on Thursday.
The Salmon Run Series, started by Allie Ostrander in 2012 when she was on her way to running stardom, is a fundraiser for the Kenai Watershed Forum.
Last summer, for the first time, the series was not held at Tsalteshi, opting for courses in Soldotna instead. The first two weeks of the five-week series were held in-person, but then an increase in COVID-19 cases on the central peninsula meant the final three races were virtual-only.
This summer, all five races — Wednesday plus July 14, 21 and 28, and Aug. 4 — will be held at Tsalteshi Trails. Four of the races will be held at the trailhead at Skyview Middle School, while the July 28 race will be held from the trailhead on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
“I think people are happy to go back to Tsalteshi,” Galen Hecht, who organizes the Salmon Run Series, said. “I’m a runner and there are so many bikers and runners around town that love Tsalteshi. It feels like a central hub of activity in town.”
Hecht, also Stream Watch Coordinator at the watershed forum, takes over organizing the series from Tami Murray. Hecht said he has definitely had an easier time organizing this summer as vaccinations have made the public health crisis less urgent.
Hecht said organizers will encourage runners to socially distance, hand sanitizer will be available and there will be no public feeds, like the end-of-the-season barbecue. Other than that, things are back to normal.
“To get folks together outdoors and running again is so awesome,” Hecht said. “It was definitely a challenge doing the virtual races, but quite a few still ran.”
Each week, the series starts at 6 p.m. with a 1-kilometer kids race. There is a $5 suggested donation for that race.
The 5K races start right after, with each race costing $15 or the whole series available for $70. There is a discount available for members of the Tsalteshi Trails Association and the staff of Central Peninsula Hospital.
There also is virtual option available. If virtual runners race that week’s course, they will be included in the actual race results if times from running apps like Run Keeper and Strava are submitted by 10 a.m. Thursday. Runs of 5K done on something other than the course will be listed separate from the race results.
“People seem excited,” Hecht said. “I have a feeling we’ll get a flurry of registrations through next week and that will continue through the series.”
Registration is available at the race and at kenaiwatershed.org until 3 p.m. on race day.
The Soldotna Cycle Series will be every Thursday through Aug. 26. After doing no in-person mountain bike races last summer, Beeson also plans on a five-race Chainwreck Cyclocross Series as well as the Gauntlet and some type of event to end the Cyclocross Series.
“I think people are excited,” Beeson said. “I’ve definitely heard quite a number of people ask if we are doing it, so I equate that to being excited.
“I’m reasonably excited, but it’s a lot of work.”
Like Hecht, Beeson said the biking races will be back to normal.
“It seems like the best understanding of the data is that at stuff outdoors where you’re not clumped together, like a concert where you’re tightly packed in a fixed space, there’s an extremely low risk of transmission,” Beeson said.
The cycle series, which starts at 6:15 p.m., will once again have 6K and 12K options, but there will be no kids ramble this season.
At tsalteshi.org, racers can buy a pass to the Soldotna Cycle Series for $35 and a pass for every bike race at Tsalteshi this summer for $80.
At the race, trails association members can register for $5 and nonmembers can register for $10.
Beeson said there will not be a virtual option for the bike races.