Rainier to Ruston Relay gains options, popularity, purpose

THE OLYMPIANMarch 18, 2012 

The path from Mount Rainier to Ruston Way might be downhill but organizers of an emerging local race have spent nearly a decade running uphill.

The Rainier to Ruston Rail-Trail Relay turns 10 on June 2, and thanks to that decade of work it is finally coming of age. For the first time, the 50.8-mile race is in position to meet its original goal: raise money for further construction of the Foothills Trail.

In its first seven years, the race lost about $6,000, but a surge in interest since 2010 has this year’s race poised to raise $10,000 or more for the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition, race director Rob Hester said.

The Foothills Trail is a multipurpose trail stretching from Puyallup to Carbonado with a leg extending to Buckley. Supporters, who’ve been working on converting the old rail bed to a trail since 1986, hope the trail will one day link Puget Sound to Mount Rainier.

The race uses the trail (20.3 miles), roads (7.6 miles), sidewalks (5.6 miles) and unpaved trails (17.3 miles).

Race founder John Selby said Hester is one of the primary reasons for the race’s recent success. By promoting the race, adding events and improving communication, Hester has helped the race grow from 240 runners in 2009 to 770 last year.

This year more than 1,000 participants are expected. Participation is capped at 1,200 people.

New this year is a half marathon. Additionally, runners can choose to run all 50.8 miles, form a relay team to cover the course, or to run or walk an extended marathon (27.7 miles).

Entry fees are $20-$60 depending on the distance, but the fee increases by $5 for most races on April 1. Registration is available at RainierToRuston.com until May 30.

All participants receive a medal, and all finishers of the 50-mile solo race get a black powder-coated railroad spike. The top three male and female finishers get gold, silver and bronze spikes respectively. The spikes were donated by Burlington Northern.

Most of the races begin at the Carbon River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. The marathon finishes in Orting. The half marathon starts in Buckley and finishes in Orting.

Hester believes a lot of the race’s appeal is that it is more accessible than other ultra-runs such as the popular Hood to Coast relay in Oregon. Hood to Coast bills itself as the largest relay in the world. It starts at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and finishes 200 miles away at Seaside.

The race spans two days.

“With Rainier to Ruston, you are done in the afternoon and you get to sleep in your own bed,” Hester said.

Most Rainier to Ruston participants take part in the 12-leg relay. The legs range from 2.7-6.3 miles and teams can have two, three, four or six runners. Racers hand off by ringing a bell hanging above the course.

“It’s something that almost everybody can do,” said Hester, who ran the solo race twice before taking over as director.

It’s also a challenge that seems to resonate with participants no matter what distance they choose.

“The first part of the course is in a wooded area, and you get to run along rivers for awhile,” Hester said. “There is a lot of variety and beautiful scenery. But I think the idea of going from the base of Mount Rainier to Ruston Way is something pretty cool.

“It’s a pretty amazing feeling when you finish and then turn back and see Mount Rainier.”

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs each Sunday. Submit questions and comments via craig. hill@thenewstribune.com, facebook.com/adventureguys or twitter.com/adventureguys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventureandthenewstribune.com/fitness.

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