Just like almost every year, the emcee asks how many runners are lining up for the state’s longest-tenured 12-kilometer race for the first time.
And Sound to Narrows logistics manager Dannette Felt scans the hands.
“I’m always kind of surprised,” she said.
Every year for the past 45, the Sound to Narrows continues to be a staple of Tacoma — with its arduous dips and climbs from Vassault Park through Point Defiance Park and back.
Staff members and volunteers spend hours setting up and tearing down the site every year for nearly half a century, but the way the event is coordinated and prepared for is constantly changing.
Felt is one of many workers who sat down and pondered what precautions should be made before more than 4,700 people competed in one of the many races Sound to Narrows offers.
Bomb-sniffing dogs were used in Tacoma after the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013, and garbage truck barricades were deployed this year to prevent anyone from driving into a crowd.
The event’s emcee is a facet of the races that has been changed frequently during the past couple of years. On Friday, Casey Catherwood’s joyous voice was heard throughout Vassault Park for the first time, but entertaining crowds is his forte.
Catherwood serves as the director of entertainment for the Tacoma Rainiers and has worked for the Tacoma Stars. Catherwood approached runners as they crossed the finish line, offering high-fives to some and conducting interviews with others.
“I’ve just always been a natural performer or entertainer, I guess,” Catherwood said. “I possess a strange ability to not be nervous in front of people. … It’s exciting, and I love it. This is community. It’s all about helping the community and having a great time.”
Getting all the tents, portable toilets and other attractions ready was an all-day affair Thursday. Race manager Trixy Dorn arrived at Vassault Park at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday after getting things ready from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. the day before.
So what makes so many people return to run Sound to Narrows year after year? A mixture of tradition and difficulty.
“It’s really a hard race,” Felt said. “It’s one of the toughest 12k’s in the country. So you kinda hang your hat on feeling really good about that.”
Senthil and Barbara Masilamani can’t remember how many times they had run the Sound to Narrows 12k, but they remember the last time.
On June 10, 2000, Senthil and Barbara were married in their sweat-drenched tennis shoes and athletic clothes, moments after completing the race. The couple walked up the final hill back to Vassault Park, where a minister, friends and family greeted them after crossing the finish line.
They hadn’t been back — until Saturday.
About one-and-a-half years ago, Senthil suffered spinal cord damage, which has put him in a walker and has limited his ability to move his arms and legs. When he had surgery in December, his doctor told him he needed to be more active. The Sound to Narrows 5K race was a perfect opportunity.
Saturday marked Senthil’s and Barbara’s anniversary, which is something that persuaded them to go back to Vassault Park after nearly two decades.
“After all of this, I regret not having gone here more often over the years,” Senthil said. “It’s part of a personal commitment to start coming back here every year.”
He said the course is challenging because there are so many hills that make it seem like the race is nearly over. Once you get over one hill, another one appears.
The course was difficult enough to cause Senthil to finish 15 minutes after Barbara in 2000. Senthil’s absence made Barbara second-guess his commitment to getting married after the race.
“I thought for sure he was hiding in the bushes,” Barbara said with a laugh.
Recent Bellarmine Prep graduate Luke Ostrander took second overall in the 12K race, finishing in 39:44. He will head to Brandeis University in Massachusetts to run for the NCAA Division III school in the Fall. Ben Mangrum was trying to be the first to win the Tacoma City Marathon and the Sound to Narrows in the same year — the Tacoma Double — but he dropped out of Saturday’s race about two miles in because of a hamstring injury. …Antonio Hernandez, 20, of Tacoma won the men’s 5K in 17:44 and Wilson’s High School’s Rachel McAmis of Tacoma won the women’s 5K in 20:42. … Ten men have finished all 45 Sound to Narrows 12Ks. The youngest is 56-year-old Mike Thomsen of Moscow, Idaho, and the oldest is oldest is 82-year-old Jack Hudspeth of Pacific. They meet in Proctor and have dinner the Thursday before the race every year. Anyone who walks or doesn’t complete the race is kicked out of the club.