The closure of Tacoma’s Vassault Playfield means Saturday morning’s Sound to Narrows is modifying its 12-kilometer course for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The tweaks are supposed to be one-year-only changes, but one of Tacoma’s most accomplished runners hopes one of the changes will be permanent.
“I’m politicking right now,” said Sam Ring, winner of the first race in 1973 and a participant in all 42.
The changes were necessary this year because Vassault Playfield is closed to allow grass to grow after the state Department of Ecology removed arsenic-contaminated topsoil last year and replaced it with new soil.
Each year, runners start with a mile of downhill on Vassault Street to Point Defiance Park where they are greeted by the Gold Fish Hill, a climb to the zoo.
“It’s really rugged,” said Ring, the longtime Wilson High track coach.
When race director Danette Felt asked for ideas to adjust this year’s course, Ring suggested eliminating Gold Fish Hill and instead making a flat entrance into the park via Waterfront Drive.
“To me, this is a better transition,” Ring said.
But don’t be fooled by this new flat section. The Sound to Narrows, famous for its hills, will end up having slightly more uphill than usual.
The other changes to the 12-kilometer course include moving the finish out of the playfield to near the intersection of Vassault and North 37th streets. To make up for this lost ground, the portion of the race through Point Defiance will include a side trip uphill to Fort Nisqually.
The Nisqually Hill was part of the course in the race’s early years, Ring said. “It was nice when we were racing against people from out of town because we knew it was there and they didn’t,” Ring said.
Felt says race organizers will consider Ring’s suggestion to eliminate Gold Fish Hill in future races. But she hopes to hear feedback from others in the 5,000-runner field.
“If people like it, we’ll look at it,” Felt said.
She says participants can submit feedback via the race website and Facebook.
The Sound to Narrows’ shorter races have also been altered for Saturday’s race. The 5-kilomter runners will race down and then up Vassault, a course much hillier than previous years, Felt said.
The change to the 5K also means the race will not use Pearl Street as it has in the past.
“We’ll have a smaller footprint than usual this year,” Felt said.