It made no difference that Dan McLean had never before run a Sound to Narrows race. For a rookie in the arduous 12-kilometer footrace, the former Kennedy Catholic and University of Puget Sound runner ran the 43rd annual event on Saturday morning as if he was a member of the Every Timer’s Club — a group of runners who have participated in every Sound to Narrows.
The 33-year-old easily handled the race’s signature dips and climbs and took first place in 39 minutes, 38 seconds, ahead of second-place Ian Andres and third-place Brent Felnagle.
“It’s almost like the Boston Marathon, which is notorious for the first half of the race being easy effort-wise, but it’s actually hard on your body because downhill running kind of destroys your legs,” McLean said.
“I wanted to make sure I ran pretty easy and saved my legs on the downhill so I would have something left for the uphill.”
Actually, it wasn’t only McLean who had never run this course.
The Sound to Narrows route had to be altered this year because of soil cleanup at Vassault Playfield. The 17.5-acre park at 6100 N. 37th St. in Tacoma has in the past served as the staging and finishing area for the race. But with the state Department of Ecology removing arsenic-contaminated topsoil from the park, race organizer Danette Felt was forced to get creative.
The race began and finished near the intersection of North 37th and Vassault streets instead of ending in the park. And instead of trekking Goldfish Hill, near Goldfish Tavern, the course ran through the main entrance into Point Defiance Park.
The latter is actually a change that Felt plans to make permanent.
“Sometimes you make lemonade out of lemons,” Felt said. “We thought, ‘Uh, this is going to be a lemons year.’ And actually, it was OK.”
Sherida Bird of University Place was the top woman finisher for the second consecutive year, finishing in 45:49 just as dark clouds faded and the sun appeared.
The former BYU and Boston University runner said she might not have edged second-place Kate Landau and third-place Nicole Cochran had she not caught up with her 9-year-old daughter, Claire, and her soccer team, the Tough Girls, who were finishing the 5K.
“That couldn’t have come at a better time,” Bird said. “I was just about done. But I saw them, and the whole team started cheering me on, and they cheered me into the finish. That was great.”
That and her time helped avenge a sour feeling after winning last year’s race, when she clocked in at 50:13. Bird was the first winner to not get under 50 minutes in at least the previous six races.
But Bird won’t three-peat. She said she and her family will be in Germany next year.
McLean wasn’t exactly a newbie to the course. He said he runs at Point Defiance almost every day and his runs range from four miles to 20 miles. He holds the 800-meter record at Kennedy, set in 2000, and won the 800 title at the 3A state meet the same year.
McLean took second in the 1,500 meters for UPS at the 2004 NCAA Division III Indoor Championships a year after taking fourth in the same event at the 2003 outdoor championships.
Now he can add Sound to Narrows champion to his résumé.
“I’ve lived in Tacoma for a long time, but I had just never gotten around to running this race before,” McLean said. “I’ve come to the race to support friends about three or four times, but every year it just seemed like there was something going on.
“But this year, I didn’t have any plans for the spring and I said, ‘I’ll do Sound to Narrows. That sounds fun.’ ”