What started as a way for a few friends to get together for a fun run and draw some attention to Pierce County’s emerging Foothills Trail has since turned into a major fundraiser and community event for the trail’s completion. It was ten years ago, avid runner and Foothills Rails-to-Trail Coalition board member John S. Selby came up with the idea of the Rainer to Ruston (R2R) Relay. And since its humble origin in 2003 when just a few of Selby’s hardy friends attended, R2R has gained some serious steam attracting almost 750 participants in 2011, its 9th year.
For years before the event’s inception, the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition had been looking for ways to get people out on the trail on National Trails Day to help promote it. They had tried various events, but none of them were met with much success. But all that changed in 2003 when Selby, a veteran of running 17 Hood to Coast Relays (the largest and most famous running relay in the country) thought that a relay would be a great way to draw public attention to the Foothills Trail. He was right!
“During the first two years, I organized a private relay with my family and friends,” recalls Selby. “I laid out the course and made maps, but the other team was afraid of getting lost-or getting beaten-so we ran cooperatively in pairs.” Starting from the Carbon River entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and finishing at Dickman Mill Park on Ruston Way over 7 hours later, the teams then threw their “batons” which were actually stones from the Carbon River into Commencement Bay.
In 2005 Selby and the Coalition opened the event to the public. “I made better maps, started a website, got permits, took registration fees, recruited volunteers, and built bell stands to draw public attention to our event,” says Selby. And he adds, “As they say, the rest is history!” For now this event attracts hundreds of folks competing in various relay categories, including two solo Ultra race distances (a 50 Mile and a 50 Kilometer); and not only does R2R bring attention to the trail, but it raises thousands of dollars to help make its completion a reality.
Currently 21 miles of the 50 Mile Foothills Trail is maintained and paved weaving together several greenbelts. It can be accessed from a handful of developed trailheads in the communities of Puyallup, Orting, South Prairie, and Buckley. The section from South Prairie to Mount Rainier National Park is primitive but can be hiked, walked or run. The section from Puyallup to Tacoma doesn’t exist yet and will be a challenge for trail builders to complete through this urban environment. The R2R course includes all of the paved and unpaved portions of the trail and utilizes roads and sidewalk in Fife and Tacoma. The last couple of miles along the Tacoma Waterfront are on paved paths through a series of shoreline parks.
So how does R2R work? Runners and walkers can participate in two ways as part of a relay team or as a solo ultra distance competitor. Relay teams can consist of 2, 3, 4 or 6 runners completing 12 legs of about 4 miles apiece. Relay teams exchange a baton at each leg, which in this race replicates a railroad depot where participants pass through an arch and a ring a bell at the exchange. Relay Walkers complete a 15.6 mile course which consists of the second, third, and fourth legs-the wildest sections of the trail. Solo ultra runners can do the entire 50 miles or compete in a 50 kilometer (31 mile) race which begins in South Prairie and ends at Marine Park in Tacoma with the other ultra runners and relay runners.
“I believe that R2R is different than other relays in that this race is not just a race, but a celebration of the Foothills Trail,” says current Race Director Rob Hester. “Its mission is to bring awareness to the trail in the hope that participants will support completing the trail with donations and perhaps even political action.” Hester had run the race twice as a solo 50 mile Ultra before becoming director.
I ran this year’s race as a 50K Ultra Solo. Beginning in South Prairie with 25 other Ultra runners we headed to Tacoma on a nicely paved path through pastoral countryside. We ran along what was once part of the Northern Pacific Railroad line that tied together old timber and mining towns. As we approached Orting we crossed the Puyallup River and then ran beside it passing by farms and suburban neighborhoods. Relay Runners began passing us in Puyallup from where the trail ended and we took to the streets. We wouldn’t be running on pathway again until reaching the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma. It was then waterfront running with great views of Mount Rainier hovering in the distance! We finished on the inviting green lawns of Marine Park.
Hopefully the missing links to this trail – which will eventually provide a 50 mile non-motorized path from Tacoma to Tahoma (Mount Rainier) will be completed soon. That’s the whole idea of R2R – to raise funding and awareness for this great trail. This year’s race saw a record turnout with 749 participants. This included 107 relay teams, 42 walkers, 26 50K Ultra runners, and 53 50-Mile Ultra Runners, all being cheered on and supported by 130 volunteers.
Next year’s race will be a banner year as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Foothills Trail Coalition and the 10th anniversary of R2R. Hester is expecting another record turnout. It all happens on National Trails Day, Saturday June 2nd, 2012. Consider being part of this great event which promotes fitness and camaraderie — and completion and awareness of a great trail.
More information on the race can be found at www.rainiertoruston.com.