Homer’s Stacey Buckelew, 41, won both the women’s marathon crown and the overall race at the Kenai River Marathon on Sunday by clocking 3:37:39, while Carsten Giessmann, 52, of Irvine, California, won the men’s title at 3:40:28. Buckelew also won the women’s marathon last year.
Jason Parks, 32, of Soldotna followed up his marathon win last year by winning the half marathon in 1:10:37, while Anchorage’s Samantha Wilson, 37, won the women’s half marathon in 1:34:47.
Kicking Asphalt, the team of Sean Goff, Rustin Hitchcock, Alex Bergholtz and Dan Serventi, won the marathon relay at 2:59:57. Including relay runners, the event had 191 participants.
Last year, Buckelew ran 3:27:30 in driving rain and wind to win. This year, she was about 10 minutes off that mark despite the absence of rain.
Buckelew said she’s been working from home since the start of the pandemic. She wasn’t training adamantly because she had a hard time convincing herself the race would not be canceled.
“I wasn’t sure they were going to do this due to all the COVID uncertainty,” she said. “I really appreciate that they were able to get together and pull this off. It encourages people to get out and exercise.”
Buckelew said the organizers and volunteers did a great job of putting on a safe event.
“It’s been a crazy six months,” she said. “I was a bit shellshocked. I work from home and haven’t been around this many people.”
Giessmann, who was born in Germany, used the marathon to scratch one more state off the list in his quest to run a marathon in all states. He now has only Minnesota left in his quest to complete a project he started in 1998. Giessmann has been hampered by race cancellations in both Alaska and Minnesota.
“I’m very happy the great people here got the race up and running,” he said.
Giessmann said after a rough start to his marathon career, he really started pursuing all 50 states about 10 years ago.
“At some point, I thought I’d like to see more of the U.S. and this would be a great way to do that,” he said.
Giessmann showed how far he’s come by winning a men’s marathon title for the first time. He said he’s normally in the top 10% and his PR of 3:20 came in Delaware many years ago.
He flew into Anchorage on Thursday and drove around for a few days, with the highlight coming when he spotted a family of moose. He was staying at Alyeska Resort on Sunday night and was flying out Monday.
Giessmann said the course, with its modest elevation gain and pleasant scenery, was pleasant except for a wind that gusted over 20 mph. He did say the wind wasn’t as bad as a marathon he did in Kansas at the beginning of March.
With a wife and 16-year-old son at home, Giessmann is grateful he’s able to pursue his project. He also finds it very worthwhile.
“Running is a great way to clear your head, especially in times like these with racial injustice, the fires in California at my doorstep and COVID,” he said. “You can take your mind off of all those things and focus on yourself.”
Once Giessmann does Minnesota, he’d like to do a marathon in under 4 hours in every state, needing just New Jersey and Vermont to accomplish that.
Then Giessmann said it may be time to try for a half marathon in every state.
“I’m getting there now,” Giessmann said. “All of this training is getting to me.”
Both Buckelew and Parks agreed it was nice to be back on the traditional course, starting at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The marathon loops through Soldotna, while the half marathon loops through Beaver Loop Road.
Not included was a rainy trip last year’s course took out and back on the Escape Route.
Parks said it was hope of doing the California International Marathon, and not lingering memories of the Escape Route, which had him opting for the half marathon this year.
Friday, he got an email that CIM had been canceled for 2020, but his fitness served him well in the half.
“I was a little bit injured last year and I wasn’t formally training,” he said. “This year, I was training full speed.”
His winning time was about two minutes faster than his previous PR in the race. He said he’s not sure why he’s running so fast right now, but he did say having a coach who keeps Parks from overdoing his training is a big help.
What wasn’t a big help was the wind.
“Fortunately, it was a looped course and the first half was a headwind and the second half was a tail wind,” Parks said.
He said his times running into the wind per mile were high 5:20s to 5:30, while having the wind at his back meant he was running 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster.
Soon after Parks finished, Wilson joined him as a winner of the marathon and half marathon.
Three years ago, Wilson won the marathon. She’s since had the third of her three children.
“There weren’t very many race options this year due to COVID,” she said. “I missed racing this season. The only race I did this year was in January.”
Wilson said her running group took a few months off in the spring, but she trained with the group this summer and surprised herself with a PR on Sunday.
“I was happy to see a good crowd,” she said. “With there not being many races this summer, I wasn’t sure how this would go.”