As the Vashon Island ferry glided across Puget Sound in the background, and the smell of pulled pork wafted through the air, the runners gathered under a small picnic shelter and ate, talked and celebrated.
Clearly, even if it wasn’t the site of more than 50 organized runs this year and the park Olympian Steve Prefontaine once called the most beautiful place he’s ever run, Point Defiance Park would still be a perfect place for a running party.
So on Sept. 7, nine local running clubs gathered at the park to celebrate what event organizer Paul Morrison called “a great year” for the South Sound.
The South Sound has a rich running history, but even against that backdrop the last 12 months stick out.
Highlights like new running stores, record turnout for races and new events seem to show a growing interest in running in the area.
“I think it’s getting huge,” said Tony Phillippi, a Tacoma-based run organizer. “A few years back I would drive around and wouldn’t see a lot of runners, but now it seems like I keep seeing more and more.”
While the turnout on Sept. 7 wasn’t huge (about 40 runners participated in the free event that cost organizers $1,500), it might have had something to do with the fact that people were too busy running.
That morning there was a 5-kilometer race at Point Defiance and another just an hour later at nearby Dickman Mill Park.
Certainly this abundance of opportunities for people to enjoy running in the South Sound is worth celebrating.
Here are some of the other highlights from the last year:
• In October 2012, Tacoma got a second running specialty store in the form of Fleet Feet in the Proctor District. The store immediately started hosting running clinics and training groups, said Morrison, the store owner.
• Above Fleet Feet, the Tacoma City Marathon Association found a new home, further solidifying the marathon as a permanent fixture. Morrison and Phillippi formed the association and brought back the marathon in 2007 after a 26-year hiatus.
The office space is also home to the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics running clubs. The clubs and the TCMA combine to employ two full-time workers.
“It’s really nice because before this we were essentially working out of our homes,’ Phillippi said.
• In January, Tacoma Runners – a club run by Sarah Cutting, Derek Young and Rob McNair-Huff – took on the ambitious goal of staging a free 5-kilometer run at Point Defiance Park every Saturday morning. The club already puts on weekly Thursday night runs that start and finish at local restaurants and bars.
• The Tacoma City Running Club launched an elite running group and the club debuted what might be the South Sound’s fastest race, the Independence Day 5K. The July 4 race from Tacoma’s Vassault Park to Point Ruston’s Grand Plaza is almost entirely downhill. Four runners, including winner Dan McLean, covered the course in less than 15 minutes.
• In May, less than three weeks after terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon, the Tacoma City Marathon had a record turnout with more than 2,300 participants.
• The Rainier to Ruston Relay, a 50-mile race from Mount Rainier National Park to Tacoma, grew so large in its first 10 years (more than 1,000 runners), this year it had to split in two. After staging its 11th relay in June, it held its first stand-alone Foothills B&O Half Marathon in late July.
• SDR Racing Club, a new club whose initials stand for “Speed Distance Recovery,” started in Bonney Lake with the intent to train experienced runners. The club is led by Scott Drennan, a former cross country coach at Sumner and Orting high schools.
• South Sound Running, owned by Olympia’s Greg Klein and Joan Marchioro, opened its third store this summer. The new store is at 115 S. Meridian Ave., Puyallup. There also are stores in Tacoma and Olympia.
The next 12 months look promising too.
The Oct. 12 Defiance 50K is expected to sell out and Phillippi says preregistration for the 2014 Tacoma City Marathon is on record pace.
Whether or not there will be another party next September remains to be seen, but Phillippi says, “I think next year will be even better.”Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org thenewstribune.com/fitness theolympian.com/fitness @AdventureGuys