Although running 13.1 miles doesn’t appeal to everyone, the Friends of the Kennebec River Trail Half Marathon continues to grow in popularity.

Now in its fourth year, the field continues to expand. From an initial group of 75 runners, the field expanded to 229 last year, along with another 120 who entered the accompanying 5K race and 17 teams for the half-marathon relay. Rail Trail board of directors member Sarah Dunckel said interest is up again this year although the total number of runners will be capped once more at 350.

“Last year we had to turn some people away,” Dunckel said. “We only had enough (timing) chips. Nine people ran and were not timed.”

The race benefits the 6.1 mile rail trail which opened in 2001 and runs along the west bank of the Kennebec River from Augusta through Hallowell and Farmingdale to Gardiner. Dunckel said last year’s race raised $9,000 which goes to promote the upkeep and maintenance of the trail. Leftover funds will be applied toward the completion of the trail to waterfront parks in both Augusta and Gardiner.

“It’s surprisingly expensive to do not a lot of work,” she said.

Dunckel said more than 300 walkers, cyclists and joggers use the trail each day and many non-profit organizations sponsor their own events.

“We’ve seen the number of races triple,” she said. “Every organization wants to raise money for their own non-profit.”

Many of the races are 5 kilometers in length and organizers have to make sure there are no conflicting races on that day. The trail remains open despite those races and only closes (from 7-10 a.m.) on the day of the half marathon. So far, 175 runners have signed up for the half marathon.

Interest has also increased in the half marathon relay, an event that consists of two-person teams, each running one 6.1 mile leg. Last year, 17 teams competed but 22 have already registered for this year. Runners exchange chips in Gardiner for the final leg. For those running the first leg, transportation will be provided back to the finish at the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot in Augusta.

The half marathon and relay begin at 7:30 a.m. at Old Fort Western on the east side of the river. Runners traverse across the Calumet Bridge and along water street to the rail trail at the MSHA parking lot. The race traditionally begins with a cannon volley but officials at Fort Western have volunteered to dress in Revolutionary War garb and begin the event with a musket volley.

The 5k race begins at 7:45 and all three races end at the MSHA parking lot. Prizes will be awarded for 5K race at 8:30 and the half marathon at 10 a.m. Dunckel is one of a group of 36 volunteers who oversee the events.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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