Leader of the pack

Michael Lynes, 43, of Tacoma gets his daily workout at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. Lynes is a favorite again this year to win the Tacoma City Marathon after winning the event three times.
Michael Lynes, 43, of Tacoma gets his daily workout at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. Lynes is a favorite again this year to win the Tacoma City Marathon after winning the event three times. The Olympian

Bob Lynes remembers vividly the day more than 30 years ago when his son walked through the door of their Fairbanks, Alaska, home and asked to borrow his watch.

He slipped the timepiece off his wrist and gave it to a pre-teen Michael, then peeked out the front window to see what the youngster had in mind. Michael checked the time, set the watch on the curb and took off running.

“That was when I knew he was interested in running,” Bob Lynes said.

Several minutes later, Michael returned after running a 1-mile loop through the neighborhood and picked up the watch to see how he had done.

Bob doesn’t recall how fast that first mile was, but he knows Michael has been pushing himself against the clock ever since.

The next challenge for Michael Lynes will come Sunday morning when he tries to win the Tacoma City Marathon for the fourth time.

“I’d say he has a good chance to win again,” said Tony Phillippi, a race director. “He’s won them all.”

Today Lynes is a 43-year-old physical therapist carving out his place in Tacoma’s running history. He entered the first Tacoma City Marathon in 2007, shortly after recovering from hip surgery. He wanted to see how he’d hold up.

He won, beating more than 400 other runners.

The next year he set the current course record by covering the hilly 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 38 minutes. Last year he tried to beat the record but was two minutes slower. But he still won the race by almost 20 minutes.

Lynes says his running prowess is the direct result of a “genetic defect” passed on from his dad. Both love to run.

Bob Lynes, who lives in Washougal, is known as “The Beast” in his local running circles. He is 71 and runs as many as 3,000 miles per year.

“I don’t go very fast anymore,” the elder Lynes said. “If you saw me, you’d have to drive a stake in the ground to see if I’m actually moving.”

But Michael Lynes is clearly inspired by his father.

In February, Bob entered a 100-mile race in Texas and finished in 29 hours. (Michael’s twin sister, Amy, entered the 50-mile race.)

When Bob runs with his friends, they do things like run a lap around Mount Hood (42 miles), Mount St. Helens (30-plus miles) or Mount Adams (40 to 50 miles). On some occasions they even do all three on consecutive days.

“He does some pretty amazing things,” Michael said.

While Bob inspires Michael, he says the feeling is mutual.

“He got me into running,” Bob said. “I had to start doing something so I could keep up with him and his siblings.”

Michael ran his first marathon in Alaska when he was 12. It took him 4 hours, 4 minutes to finish while running in cotton sweatpants. His dad beat him by a couple of minutes.

“But that was the last time I finished ahead of him,” Bob said.

Bob worked for the U.S. Border Patrol and was transferred to Portland, where Michael grew up running at Camas High School. He went on to run at Highline Community College, then the University of Montana before earning master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Puget Sound.

Michael Lynes figures he’s won a half-dozen marathons in his career and probably just as many ultramarathons, races that are 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) or longer.

He enjoys his hometown marathon because it is “a great showcase for the city.”

“It is a boon for the city with relatively low impact,” he said. “People come here to run and spend money.”

Thanks to an aggressive promotional campaign for the race, Lynes will have to beat a field about 43 percent larger than last year’s to defend his title.

“We started (promoting the race) right after the marathon last year,” Phillippi said. “We’ve never done that before, but it has paid off.”

The event will have more than 2,000 combined participants for all distances, Phillippi said. Last year there were 1,400 participants, most of whom ran the half-marathon. This year’s full marathon will have more than 500 runners, up from 350 last year.

“The bigger field is nice,” Lynes said. “It’s good to have more people out there.”

Who knows who’s in the field, perhaps somebody who can push Lynes for the title or at least keep him company as he runs along the waterfront, through Point Defiance Park and back downtown via the Scott Pierson Trail.

Lynes, who plans to run a 50-kilometer race next weekend, says his goal is to win again, but posting a good time is just as important.

After all, he’s still racing against the clock.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497