In just five years, the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon has become a destination for many of the region’s better runners. Some of this can be attributed to the 45 volunteers who make sure everything runs smoothly and same goes to the Kennebec River Rail Trail itself, a scenic 6.5 mile stretch that runs along the river from Augusta, through Hallowell and Farmingdale, into Gardiner.

Started in 1996 along the railroad right of way that once connected Augusta to Portland, the stretch from Augusta to Gardiner was completed in 2001. Hundreds of walkers, runners and bikers use the trail each day to stay in shape or escape their daily grinds.

Proceeds from Sunday’s race — last year about $10,000 was raised — go to trail maintenance and upkeep. Any leftover money goes toward the completion of the trail, which is about a quarter mile short at both ends of its final destination at waterfront parks in Augusta and Gardiner.

“It’s quite pricey to finish it,” race director Sarah Dunckel said.

Dunckel expects about 400 runners to participate in the half marathon, 5K race and half marathon relay. Last year, 397 runners participated. Three hundred have signed up so far, but Dunckel said many wait until race day to see what the weather will be. Sunday morning’s forecast calls for warm temperatures and fog.

“We cap it at 400 runners because the trail gets narrow at certain areas,” Dunckel said. “We want the runners to have a good time.”

The team relay is in its third year and consists of two-person teams splitting the half-marathon distance. There were five teams entered the first year, 18 last year and Dunckel expects about 20 on Sunday.

Specialized pottery from Hallowell Clay Works will be awarded to the top male and female finishers in the half marathon while medals from American Awards will be awarded to runners-up and age group winners. T-shirts for the race come from Liberty Graphics.

“All of our prizes are produced locally,” Dunckel said.

Race amenities include water, coffee, bagels and baked goods as well as gift certificates from local restaurants and businesses. The races are chipped timed and begin at Old Fort Western in Augusta, with runners proceeding across the Calumet Bridge and up Water Street to the head of the trail. Half marathoners continue to Gardiner and finish at the Maine State Housing parking lot at the head of the trail in Augusta.

Jeff Jones of Farmington holds the Rail Trail half marathon record of 1 hour, 17.29 minutes, set in 2010 while Hallowell’s Magen Ellis ran a best time of 1:27.22 for females in 2010. Jaron Jones of Farmington set the 5K record of 17:11 in 2010 while Anne McKee of Hallowell set the 5K female mark of 20:17 last year.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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