Rotary Unity Run draws runners from across the nation
The participants in the 2011 Rotary Unity Run were all in agreement that the foot race on the paved bike trail between Kenai and Soldotna is a great community event.
What community is another question.
Sure, a good chunk of the 152 runners at the race put together by the Rotary Club of Soldotna were from the central peninsula. But the run also gave a snapshot of just how attractive the Kenai Peninsula becomes to those from elsewhere in Alaska and the United States come summertime.
While the women's winners of the five-kilometer and 10-mile races hailed from Alaska, just one of those victors was from the Kenai Peninsula. The men's winners were a college student from Utah and a recent transplant from Texas.
James Tangaro, 45, just arrived on the peninsula from San Antonio to take over as the plant manager at the Tesoro Alaska Refinery in Nikiski.
Tangaro got a close-up look at his new community by running the 10 miles from Kenai Central High School to Soldotna High School in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 7 seconds, for the victory. Scott Huff was second at 1:20:59, while Tom Bennett crossed third at 1:21:16.
Upon crossing the finish line, Tangaro exclaimed, "I'm a local now."
He started at his new plant on July 11 and expected to be fully moved to the area by the end of the month. While the talk among locals was all about Saturday morning's temperatures climbing to a "hot" 70 degrees, Tangaro said he had no problem with the heat.
"It's a good 40 degrees warmer there," he said of San Antonio. "This is really a nice, beautiful day."
Tangaro, who looked at Saturday as a great opportunity to meet the running community specifically and the community in general, said he is looking forward to all the new running adventures Alaska will provide.
"The guys at the plant have already been telling me about all the trails," he said. "They've been telling me about Lost Lake trail and Skyline. I've got a laundry list."
Having grown up in Butte, Mont., Tangaro also is not fearing winter.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back into cross-country skiing," he said.
The men's five-kilometer race was won by Rex Shields of Springville, Utah, in 15:38. Cook Inlet Academy graduate Lars Arneson was second at 15:57, while Shields' brother Ty was third at 16:33.
Shields frequently comes to the peninsula in the summer to work for his grandparents, Kearlee and Beth Wright, owners of the Best Western King Salmon Motel in Soldotna.
Shields, who is training hard for his junior cross-country season at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, has previously finished first and third in the 10-mile Unity Run.
He wanted to get his brother a win Saturday, so he ran with Ty for the first two miles.
When it became clear Ty would not be beating Arneson, Rex reeled in Arneson in the last mile.
Heather Gaines, a 32-year-old graduate of Nikiski High School, gave the winner's circle some local flair. Gaines finished in 1:12:43, while Carrie Setian was second at 1:13:40 and Danielle Bellfuss was third at 1:17:10.
Gaines said she didn't do a complete warmup due to a mixup with the starting time, but that didn't stop her from getting off to a strong start.
She did her first half mile so fast that even Tangaro was behind her. Her first mile took her 6:30, while her second was 6:51 on the way to averaging 7:16 for the race.
"I like to start fast," she said.
After the fast start, Gaines said she focused on pushing herself on the hills. That's because on Saturday, she'll be seeing a whole lot of hills doing the Crow Pass Crossing, a 24-mile run that takes the punishing Crow Pass Trail from Girdwood to Eagle River.
Gaines, who adds the Unity Run to triumphs within the last calendar year in the Everything but the Red Run, Kenai Peninsula Run for Women and Homer Spit Run, said her goal is to finish the crossing in 4 1-2 hours.
The victory in the women's five-kilometer race went to Lori Deschamps, 40, of Anchorage. Deschamps is a multiple winner of the Alaska Gold Nugget Triathlon.
She beat runner-up Becca Ford's 20:08 by about three minutes. Lauren Bauder was third at 22:06.
The women's 5K also had plenty of national flavor as Tricia Reinhart finished second in the 50-54 age group with a time of 24:42 in her road race debut.
Reinhart is from St. Louis, but she's staying at Poachers Cove in Soldotna from June to September with her husband, John Reinhart.
Tricia's father-in-law, Chuck Reinhart, has been a member of the Soldotna Rotary since 1952. Tricia has always been an avid indoor runner, and was skeptical about doing the Unity Run when Chuck brought it up.
"I said, 'I don't want to do it,'" she said.
She struck a deal with her husband. For the three weeks leading up to the race, he would bike alongside her while she ran.
"He was biking next to me for three weeks, yelling, 'You can do better than that,'" she said.
She also got help from neighbors Troy Summers, a former Olympic boxing coach, and Lois Summers, a massage therapist for the 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team, which won nine gold medals and included bronze medalist Evander Holyfield.
While Tricia enjoyed the first road race of her career, she admitted at the finish line that her mind was wandering to a run of a different sort.
"I just want to catch a king salmon," she said. "I love fishing."
Complete results from the run were not available Saturday. They will be printed in the Clarion, and posted at www.peninsulaclarion.com, when they become available.