They have run every Sound to Narrows race
It’s a club so exclusive it will shut its doors before it accepts new members.
It started with about 300 members in 1973 with the first running of the Sound to Narrows. On Saturday, the 12-kilometer footrace turns 40 and club membership now stands at 11.
It’s the Every Timers Club, and as the name suggests, only people who have run every Sound to Narrows can be members.
Membership dues are steep. Some have missed graduation ceremonies for their children and grandchildren to keep their streaks alive. Others have flown in from out of state, run during chemotherapy, put off hip surgeries and made hasty recoveries from heart surgery to be at the race.
“It is a very special group,” said 81-year-old Tacoma resident James White. “One of my proudest accomplishments has been being a part of it as long as I have.”
White is trading his membership for a new adventure. He’ll run this year’s race with his three children and then he’s moving to a retirement community in California with his wife, Margaret.
“This is it for me,” he said. “It’s probably good that we are moving (after 45 years in Tacoma) because if I stayed here I’d probably try to run every year no matter what.”
White says his hips hurt and the hilly course abuses his body a little more every year. “I think this (stopping the streak) is what my body is telling me to do.”
He’s yet to tell the other Every Timers, all of whom plan to continue beyond this year. The group meets Thursday night at Tacoma’s Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante for their annual pre-race celebration.
“We only meet once a year,” said Sam Ring, winner of the first race. “But we bond throughout the year when we are running every day. We think about this. It’s a surrealistic bond.”
Another reason the club will be sad to see White go.
“We have hardly anything in common except the Sound to Narrows,” Jack Hudspeth, a 77-year-old Pacific resident, said of the club. “But that’s enough.”
Fox Island, 67
Anderson’s motivation for running the Sound to Narrows each June is simple: “I’ve run every one and I don’t intend to quit.”
Anderson says the Every Timers “give each other encouragement and incentive to continue on.”
The race is Anderson’s motivation to exercise “when I might otherwise put it off.”
He started running as a child because his dad wouldn’t let him ride a bike. He ran competitively through college.
Anderson says his best finish at the Sound to Narrows was about 48 minutes.
University Place, 76
The most memorable spot on the 12-kilomter course, as far as Bahn is considered, is the final turn onto Vassault Drive. Runners are welcomed by a mile-long hill. He recalls a resident of one of the corner houses would blast “Chariots of Fire” on a stereo which, he said, “provided some much-needed motivation.”
Another year, a friend at the same location handed him an open beer to carry to the finish line. “Almost all of it had foamed out by then,” he said.
On a windy race day, Bahn tucked himself in behind a large runner and used the windbreak to catch his wife, Robbi. When she noticed what was going on she shouted “Hey Cordell, no drafting!”
“The runner looked back.” Bahn said, “then took off in afterburner.”
Justin Carr’s Sound to Narrows streak almost ended in 2007, but he says “it’s a tradition that I cannot give up.”
On April 16, 2007, Carr underwent emergency five-way bypass heart surgery. When he awoke his joy to be alive wasn’t the only thing on his mind. He had just 54 days left to get ready for the Sound to Narrows.
“I told the surgeon I would not miss the Sound to Narrows,” Carr said.
He kept his promise. “I finished that race,” he said, “walking and jogging and it took about an hour and 30 minutes.”
GEORGE B. CONNER
The Sound to Narrows has long been considered a litmus test for Tacoma runners, with breaking one hour on the hilly course separating the real runners from the people just out to have fun.
Conner went under an hour regularly in the early years, his best finish coming in 55 minutes, 15 seconds in 1976.
“For about the first 20 years (the reason for running every race) was for the challenge of it,” Conner said. “After that, I’ll be darned if I’m going to quit now.”
Conner says he loves the camaraderie of his fellow Every Timers and he won’t let anything keep him away.
Last year he missed his oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation.
Hudspeth discovered the benefits of physical fitness while serving as an Air Force jet pilot in Alaska. He jogged in place and did other exercise to stay fit and soon decided an active lifestyle might help buck the family’s history of heart disease.
“I believe there is a magic pill for good health,” Hudspeth said. “It’s exercise.”
One of his first races was the inaugural Sound to Narrows. He loved being in a group of peers challenging themselves on a tough course.
He’s made it a priority to be in the field ever since but it hasn’t always been easy. In 1994, he needed to have double hip replacement surgery. He put the procedures off for several months so he could run the Sound to Narrows. At the orders of his doctors he now walks the race.
As for fending off heart disease, his doctors says his heart is strong.
“I can’t say for sure that it’s the exercise,” Hudspeth said. “But if it’s not, I have no regrets because I enjoy having an active lifestyle.”
If Lobdell’s daughter, Beth, was born four days earlier, he might not have spent even one day in the Every Timers Club.
“My best memory: My daughter ... was at the first Sound to Narrows, but she was in utero,” Lobdell said.
By the time Beth was grown, the race was a family tradition that she even took part in from time to time. But in 1995 when she graduated from the University of Washington, the ceremony and TV personality Tom Brokaw’s commencement speech conflicted with the Sound to Narrows.
“I missed her big day,” Lobdell said. She was disappointed, he said, but she understood.
Lobdell said he started running to maintain good health. It’s the same reason he still runs. “Or, I should say, jog or maybe shuffle,” he said.
University Place, 64
Ring is the only Every Timer to win the Sound to Narrows.
The former University of Puget Sound, Bellarmine Prep and current Wilson High coach still remembers when he first heard about the race.
Ring picked up a copy of The News Tribune announcing the 1973 race and remembers thinking “I can win this.”
He realized he was right on Five Mile Drive when he heard the labored breathing from his toughest competitor.
“I put the hammer down and I got a gap,” Ring said. “And once you get a gap in distance running you have your opponent.”
Ring still recalls that moment every year when he passes that spot in Point Defiance Park. Ring, who once ran in the Olympic qualifiers, calls his first Sound to Narrows “one of the highlights of my competitive running career.”
MICHAEL E. THOMPSON
West Seattle, 67
Thompson started running as a graduate student at Washington State University in the 1960s as a way to avoid gaining weight and to take a break from his studies. He’s been running ever since because when he doesn’t run “I feel out of sorts and incomplete.”
His first competitive race was the first Sound to Narrows and he doubted whether or not he could finish. He finished and went on to run many races including seven marathons.
He can’t envision missing the Sound to Narrows. “Should I ever have to miss a Sound to Narrows it would be disastrous, no question,” he said. “It has become a main focus in my life and keeps me pounding the pavement daily throughout the year. (It) comes first and all other plans are secondary.”
Thompson said the annual Every Timers banquet has become an annual highlight.
“The remaining Every Timers have become my family,” he said. “I look forward to ... reminiscing about the good old days when we were all a whole lot faster. Now the goal is to finish.”
Moscow, Idaho, 52
Thomsen, the youngest club member, was 12 when his family ran the first Sound to Narrows. Over the years most of the family members stopped running, but he and his dad kept going.
“I had issues with alcohol and drugs from (age) 14 to 22 so my dad and I didn’t get along well during those times,” Thomsen said. “The race was probably our only common bond.”
His dad made it to the 30th race “and a part of me runs it for him too now. In fact, part of me runs it for all those Every Timers who have stopped – especially those who are no longer with us. ... It’s now such a part of my life, I can’t imagine missing it.”
Driving from Moscow for the race is no problem. For eight years he flew up from Phoenix for the ride. In 2010 when his daughter graduated from Moscow High, he went to bed at 10 p.m. the night before the race, slept four hours, then drove to Tacoma arriving just in time to run.
Growing up, he ran cross country and track at Mason Junior High where Ring was his coach.
JAMES A. WHITE
White says he won’t have time to celebrate after his final Sound to Narrows because he’s too busy packing for the move to California.
The celebration, he says, will take place on the course where he plans to split his time jogging and walking. His son, Jeff, is flying in from Colorado and his daughters, Julia and Janet, are visiting from California to run with him.
He says his body is too sore to train this year and he hopes weeks of packing up his home will be adequate training.
“I’ve been on my feet all day packing,” he said. “I’ll probably just go to the start line and see what happens.”
Before the first Sound to Narrows, Wilson drove the course in an old pickup truck with his friend Rich Broeker. As they drove up Vassault at the end of the course, they figured something wasn’t quite right.
“We concluded that they wouldn’t have us finish up a hill like that,” Wilson said. “It would be inhumane.
“We were wrong in a big way.”
Most still consider the race’s final mile to be inhumane, but it hasn’t kept Wilson away. He runs every year because “I still can.”
Some years just getting to the starting line has been the biggest challenge. In February, 2008, Wilson was diagnosed with colon cancer. He also had cancer in a lymph node. He promptly had surgery to remove a section of colon and started six months of chemotherapy.
One of his first concerns about chemo was “will I be able to do the Sound to Narrows?”
He was only half done with chemo on race day.
“With the encouragement of a support group made up of my sons, a granddaughter, old friends and neighbors, I made it. We all made it,” Wilson said. “I will be forever grateful for their support.”
Oh, and by the way, he adds, “I have also been cancer free for nearly four years.”
Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via firstname.lastname@example.org
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