Outdoors

Race your way to fitness in 2015

I spent a few weeks last summer training with a group of amateur athletes who told me they’d found the key to getting fit and staying that way.

“Racing to fitness,” they said.

By continually participating in races, they kept a sense of purpose about their exercise routines. And even though they weren’t necessarily always competitive in these events, that wasn’t really the point. They pushed themselves, felt better about themselves, shed a few inches and, most importantly, stayed consistent with their exercise (something most struggle with as they work on their New Year’s resolutions).

There’s a price for this, of course. You can expect to pay $25 or much, much more to enter most races. But if racing keeps you motivated and fit, maybe it’s worth it.

Want to give it a go in 2015? There are plenty of races around the South Sound to spice up your exercise program. Here are a few ideas:

THE BIG RACES

May and June offer a string of South Sound road races that are both steeped in history and emerging as regional classics.

Want to do any or all of them? Better start training now.

The established classics are the Capital City Marathon and the Sound to Narrows. Capital City (May 17, capitalcitymarathon.org) is the South Sound’s oldest marathon and half-marathon. The Sound to Narrows (June 13, soundtonarrows.org) is the state’s oldest 12-kilometer race.

The new (relatively speaking, at least) spring classics are the Tacoma City Marathon (May 3, tacomacitymarathon.com) and the Rainier to Ruston Rail-Trail Relay and Ultra (June 6, rainiertoruston.com).

The Tacoma City Marathon celebrates its ninth running this spring (11th if you count the races run in 1980 and ’81). The event, which offers various distances to appeal to more runners, has grown to more than 2,000 participants.

Rainier to Ruston is a 51-mile race from Mount Rainier to Tacoma that’s mostly downhill. While you can run the entire distance on your own, most participants compete in relay teams of up to six people.

For those that consider a 5K to be long enough, you can find a race every weekend.

SATURDAY 5K SERIES

Tacoma Runners celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. Perhaps the club’s biggest contribution to the South Sound running scene has been its Saturday morning 5K race series.

The races are no-frill, low-key affairs, but they offer runners the chance to race every Saturday morning in Point Defiance Park for free.

Just register online at tacomarunners.com, print your barcode (this will be scanned at the finish line to generate online race results), and show up at the park Saturday at 8 a.m. Runners of all levels are welcome, say race organizers; they just ask you try to finish in an hour or less.

Even more popular are the club’s Thursday night social runs (where beer is the recovery drink of choice) that has grown from seven runners in 2010 to as many as 200 in the summer and more than 60 in the winter. The runners pound the pavement for about 3 miles, rain or shine. They leave from a different restaurant or bar each week. Check the website or the club’s Facebook page for locations.

ORGANIZED BIKE RIDES

Most organized bike rides do away with the timing chips, finisher medals and competition you’ll find at a running race. Let’s face it, how much of the field really shows up at a half-marathon with realistic aspirations of winning even an age-group medal? Not many.

Bike rides like those staged by the Capital, Cascade and Tacoma Wheelmen bike clubs offer the camaraderie and chance to push yourself that you’ll find at a running race. And if you’re slow, who cares? Nobody will know because there won’t be results posted online after the race.

The organized riding schedule gets underway Feb. 22 with Cascade’s Chilly Hilly. The club will offer a new ride April 18 called the Ride for Major Taylor. Want to do the famous (and crowded) Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic in July? Mark your calendar for Feb. 10. That’s when registration opens to the public.

Some South Sound rides worth training for: Capital Bicycle Club’s Two-County Double Metric Century (June 28) and Tacoma Wheelmen’s Peninsula Metric Century (June 7), Vashon Island’s Passport to Pain (TBA), Redmond Cycling Club’s Ride Around Rainier in One Day (July 30) and Cascade’s High Pass Challenge (Aug. 31).

Looking for something a little easier? Some of these rides have shorter courses, but also consider the Wheelmen’s 40th annual Daffodil Classic (April 19) and Pierce County Parks and Recreation’s Tour de Pierce (June 28).

CROWN OF THE SOUND

The Tacoma City Marathon Association will stage four half-marathons in 2015. In 2014, they held six and issued the first Crown of the Sound challenge. Finish four or more of these events and win a special medal. There’s no charge to enter this challenge beyond what you’ll pay to register for the races.

More than 170 people earned the medal last year.

The challenge shrinks a little bit this year as the TCMA does away with the You Go Girl Half Marathon. Also, the Oct. 10 Defiance 50K is out of the series. Its 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) alternative is 5.4 miles longer than a half marathon.

So in 2015, runners need only finish three of four marathons to earn the medal. The series schedule includes the March 14 St. Paddy’s Half Marathon, the May 3 Tacoma City Marathon, the Sept. 12 Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon and the Dec. 12 Donner and Blitzen 21K.

For more information, visit tcmaevents.com.

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