The Rotary Unity Run returned Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna.
Next year, the run hopes to really be back.
After not having a run in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday’s event returned with 11 participants in the 1-mile, 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer events. In 2019, the 5K and 10K alone had 49 participants.
“We have to start planning it really a year in advance, and of course a year ago we had no idea what was happening,” said Rachael Nash of Kenai River Rotary of Soldotna, which puts on the event with the Tsalteshi Trails Association. “We planned on it being a smaller event.
“We just weren’t sure if people were going to be comfortable meeting in person and eating food cooked by strangers.”
Nash, past president of Kenai River Rotary of Soldotna and chair of the Unity Run, said the good news is when Kenai River Rotary of Soldotna started seeking sponsors about six months ago, a number still felt comfortable signing on, including main sponsors Central Peninsula Hospital, Nancy Field with State Farm, and Sweeney’s Clothing.
The event, which has been going since 2003, raises funds for Tsalteshi Trails and for Kenai River Rotary of Soldotna to support community literacy projects, tree planting, projects at ARC Lake and international literacy projects.
Nash said the plan next year is to go for a bigger event with more advertising and the big barbecue afterward.
“I think that was always part of the fun,” Nash said. “You could run the race with your family since there’s the 1-mile option, then stay for the picnic afterward and just be around your fellow community members and catch up.”
Five of the runners opted for a tough 10K at hilly Tsalteshi Trails. Shelby Dykstra of Soldotna won at 51 minutes, 5 seconds, while Elias Wheeler was second at 51:48.
Dykstra used the race to prepare for her fifth Alyeska Climbathon in Girdwood, which will be held in-person on Sept. 11 this year. During the event, runners have 10 hours to climb the North Face Trail at Alyeska Resort as many times as possible.
“My mom and I own a personal training and bike studio, so I just love being outside,” Dykstra said. “I’m training for a race, so this was a great trail run.”
Dykstra said this was her first trail run of the year, and the first time she’s done the Unity Run.
“Hopefully next year, it’ll be bigger and better,” Dykstra said.
Wheeler, of Soldotna, said the Unity Run spurred him to get back into running after taking the last two months off.
“A week ago, I was like, I kind of want to get back into it and the best way to get back into it is a little competition,” he said.
Wheeler never had done the event before, but he wants to do it again, particularly to support Tsalteshi Trails Association.
“I like to run these trails,” Wheeler said. “I run these trails all the time. So shoutout to Tsalteshi Trails Association. They do a great job with these trails — I run them, ski them, bike them, everything.”
Rustin Hitchcock was declared the winner of the 5K event at 28:55. He showed up a few minutes late, but the time was taken off by organizers.
Hitchcock ran pushing daughters Aida, 10 months, and Talya, 2.
When asked how the hills went, Hitchcock replied: “Which one?”
“Talya kept saying, ‘Daddy, you can do it. Why aren’t we moving?’” Hitchcock said.
Rotary Unity Run
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
1 mile — 1. Sophie Rozak, 15 minutes, 2 seconds; 2. Sarah Rozak, 18:47; 3. Elaine Larson, 26:02.
5 kilometers — 1. Rustin Hitchcock, 28:55; 2. Tatum Rozak, 30:16; 3. Lisa Nugent, 33:25.