There are a number of ways to approach a 51.9-mile run from Mount Rainier to Puget Sound.
You can grab a group of friends, pull on some pinstriped boxer shorts with exposed prosthetic buttocks and start running under the name “Rears in Gear.” (Yes, this happened last year.)
You can go solo and test your body’s limits by running the entire Rainier to Ruston Relay on your own. (Ninety-three people did that last year.)
Or you can choose your own level of seriousness somewhere in between.
It’s the wide range of participants that’s helping this ultra-marathon continue to grow in popularity as it prepares for its 12th running Saturday.
What was started by trail advocate John Selby as a race among friends, is expected to lure more than 1,000 runners this year. The event is now the top fundraiser for the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition, a nonprofit volunteer organization helping Pierce County expand, maintain and patrol the multiuse trail.
Just like the trail, race director Richard Pasquier says volunteers are vital for the relay. Because the race stretches across most of the county, numerous volunteers are needed the first Saturday of each June.
“It wouldn’t happen without the volunteers,” Pasquier said.
He says volunteers range from people staffing aid stations and patrolling unpaved sections in the woods, to a nurse who checks runners along the course and ham radio operators who allow course officials to communicate, even in areas without cellphone reception.
Pasquier says there will be more than one volunteer for every 10 participants in this year’s race.
For the first time, more than 100 people have registered to run the course solo, but relay teams continue to dominate the field. While some of these teams are stocked with blazing fast runners, most are just out to enjoy the trail on National Trails Day, Pasquier said.
Teams can be as small as two people or as large as six.
The hope of the organizers is the R2R, as they call it, will help drum up support for the trail, including the coalition’s dream of expansion.
On Saturday, Pierce County dedicated a short section of trail linking Puyallup’s Shaw Road Bridge to the Foothills Trail.
The dream is for users to one day be able to easily use the trail in the manner the runners will on Saturday, for them to be able to travel all the way from Tacoma to Mount Rainier without having to use roads.
A bridge — arguably the most impressive span on the trail — over Lower Burnett Road is complete and waiting to be linked up and used for a spur from South Prairie to Buckley.
A new 8-mile trail in Sumner, the Link Trail, is close to connecting the Foothills Trail and Puyallup’s Riverwalk Trail. And to the north it links to King County’s Interurban Trail, which runs to Tukwila and also connects to the Green River Trail.
Pasquier is so impressed with the new section of trail in Sumner he’s pondering using part of it for next year’s R2R course.
“It’s pretty amazing what Sumner has done,” Pasquier said.
Sumner already left its mark on the relay last year when Pasquier commissioned the Tacoma Glass Museum to craft a new trophy called the Mayor’s Cup. Any community along the route is welcome to form a team specifically to compete for the trophy.
Last year, Sumner’s team finished the run in 6 hours, 3 minutes, 30 seconds to win the trophy.
Sumner is back to defend its title, but so far its only competition is Puyallup. As of deadline, none of the other communities, including Tacoma, has entered a team.
This is the second year the Rainier to Ruston Relay won’t include a half marathon. The 13.1-mile race became its own event last year, using the incomplete Buckley-to-South Prairie spur trail. The race starts in Buckley and ends in Orting.
Last year 110 people ran the B&O Half Marathon, much fewer than Pasquier hoped. He’s expecting more participants this year for the July 26 race.
While the B&O doesn’t raise as much money as the Rainier to Ruston, Pasquier said it’s just as important right now as trail supporters push for the completion of that section.
“We really want to get more people out there for the half marathon,” Pasquier said, “so we can showcase that portion and show that people want that section completed.”Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org thenewstribune.com/fitness theolympian.com/fitness @AdventureGuys