Just from looking at the crowd gathered outside the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Sunday morning, you’d have no idea that temperatures were in the twenties. Frost covered the grass, and a large number of people in the crowd were wearing nothing but shorts and light shirts. Granted, though, most of them were about to run at least 13 miles.
The Kenai River Marathon, half-marathon, and 5K events scattered runners all over the Kenai area on Sunday morning. The flagship event sends runners on 26.2 mile course around Kenai and Soldotna, while the half cuts across Beaver Loop Road. The 5K took runners on a tour of Old Town Kenai and down to the beach, then back up the hill to the start. About 190 runners signed up for the three events this year, a few more than last year.
“Relayers—we have nine relay teams this year. There’s 36 participants right there,” said Bob Frates, the director of the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department, who organizes the annual race. “And I think we have more 5Kers than last year.”
The city has adjusted the course in the past few years, but it’s still the same distance. This year’s was one of the coldest races in recent memory, but that can actually be good for runners—cold temperatures may allow them to race hard without overheating.
Though the majority of participants still come from the peninsula and Alaska, a few out-of-staters do arrive every year to run the event. Frates noted that there were participants this year from California, Oklahoma, and Texas, among others.
Despite the current COVID-19 surge, this year also looks different than last year. All marathon and half-marathon runners started together, with no masks. Last year, they were all wearing masks in the start area, and were able to take them off once they started running. On Saturday night, during the annual pre-race dinner, masks were not required, either. Frates says a number of racers expressed their appreciation for the organizers’ approach.
“We encourage folks to do what they want to do to be safe, and to ensure others around them are safe,” Frates said. “It’s refreshing, I think—that’s some of the comments I heard from the runners, saying, ‘Thank you for not making us wear a mask this year.’”
Megan Youngren of Soldotna took first place in the marathon, with a finishing time of 2:48:11. She led the next finisher by more than 22 minutes and led the next female finisher by more than an hour. She said it wasn’t her best race, but was a pretty good time overall—after all, she dropped more than an hour from the last time she raced the same event in 2018, though that time she attributed the extra time to bad cramps. Cold weather can lead to unpredictable cramps, and though she said she didn’t cramp on Sunday, planning is important.
“If you don’t layer correctly or if there’s wind, being a 25-degree race, you don’t know for sure that you’re not going to get up to mile 23 having a good race and then you’re not going to lock up,” she said.
Youngren also raced the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks last weekend, with a time of 3:11:57, breaking the previous course record by about four minutes. It was, however, a very competitive field—the previous course record on that day was broken by four different women, so despite breaking the record, Youngren came in second.
Second place for the women at the Kenai River Marathon went to Carma Reed with a time of 3:51:13, and third place to Susan Craig, with. time of 3:58:56. Pedro Ochoa won the men’s marathon with a time of 3:10:28, followed by Lee Frey with a time of 3:13:39, and William Bowman with a time of 3:14:28.
Patrick Lewis of Seward took first place in the half marathon, with a finishing time of 1:22:29. He led the next finisher by more than 15 minutes, and led the next male finisher by just under 20 minutes. Michael Foster took second place with a time of 1:42:25, and Don Connelly took third with 1:42.47. Meghan Cloud took first place for the women’s half-marathon with a time of 1:37:12, followed by Kristin Davis with a time of 1:43:46 and Kat Sorensen with a time of 1:43:50.
Sebastian Reed took first place in the 5K event, with a finishing time of 22 minutes and 27 seconds.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.