Tristan Saito doesn’t have fond memories of the running involved in the marathon he ran a few years ago.
“For me, it was horrible while I was running it,” Saito said. “But it was great afterwards to know I was capable of doing something like that.”
When Saito and his wife Terri moved their family to Kenai from Fairbanks in May 2005, the pair of marathoners didn’t realize the city was lacking one of the intense fitness contests.
“We were surprised that there was not (a marathon) already in Kenai,” Saito said.
Last spring, the two started kicking around the idea of starting a marathon for the Kenai Peninsula, so they and other ambitious area athletes could run themselves ragged without driving a car to Seward the only Kenai Peninsula community with an official 26.2-miler. It is a shame in Saito’s estimation that locals have to go so far to go so far. The reward of completion is worth every painful mile, he said.
“We hope everybody can get a piece of that,” Saito said.
The couple was already behind a large group. In this case, the group included the city of Kenai, the Kenai Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.
Those organizations had started grooming a group of volunteers to help out with a peninsula marathon since late March.
Saito and his wife were glad to be the ones behind. The former Fairbanks residents and veterans of the Golden Heart City’s grueling Equinox Marathon quickly became board members for what would become the Kenai River Marathon. Saito said organizing the race is itself a massive endurance test.
“We were really relieved, because it would have been a huge undertaking for the two of us,” he said.
The Oct. 1 marathon will be the first in Kenai area history. Interested runners can compete in the 26.2-mile race, a 12.6-mile half marathon or as part of a four-person relay team that lets each member complete 10 kilometers of the course.
Shorter distance area races, like the Kenai Peninsula Run for Women, have made all the difference in bringing together the long one, Saito said.
“There are quite a few smaller races around here we’ve been able to pull support from,” he said.
Volunteers and volunteering will be an important part of pulling off the event, according to race manager Bob Frates. Frates is also Kenai’s Parks and Recreation Department director, and he said the spirit of volunteerism the community saw during the Arctic Winter Games showed what a large base of potential volunteers the area has.
“We’re hoping we can get that base jazzed about helping out with this marathon,” Frates said. “It’s really a tie-in to the Arctic Winter Games; it’s about community pride.”
Duties entrusted to volunteers will include handing out numbers, timing the event, passing out T-shirts or setting up and staffing water stations one every four miles for thirsty competitors.
Whatever slots volunteers can’t fill, Frates and city employees will fill.
The city of Soldotna and employees with the Kenai Peninsula Borough will be needed for the event, too. Emergency medical technicians will be needed in case of overheated runners. The police departments and Alaska State Troopers will be needed to secure the course.
The marathon route starts at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and runners will travel from there to Soldotna on the Spur Highway and zig-zag through some residential neighborhoods before hitting the Sterling Highway. After crossing the Kenai River bridge, they’ll turn onto Kalifornsky Beach Road, run to Bridge Access Road, then turn towards Kenai to loop back to the city.
Keeping everyone on track and keeping that track open and safe will be worth the effort, Saito said, just like the marathon itself.
“It’s gonna be a challenge, but it’s gonna be great to see it all come together,” he said.
The Kenai River Marathon will begin at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 1 at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The full marathon costs $45, the half marathon costs $35 and each four-person relay team pays $60.
To register, visit the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center or the Kenai Mail Station in Kenai.
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