The history of Sound to Narrows
By Sam Ring, winner of the first Sound to Narrows
The Sound to Narrows (S2N) road race was created by The News Tribune sports reporter Dick Kunkle. Just how he conceived this idea is open to speculation. Known is that he fostered the idea from the Bay to Breakers (B2B) race in San Francisco that was sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner newspaper. That race had a lengthy history, as 1973 was the 63rd edition of the race. Whatever the reason for bringing the idea to Tacoma — the need for a community event, an athletic contest offered free to everyone, or some other, unknown reason — Dick Kunkle was a visionary who put together a great community event.
Kunkle was a champion for the amateur athlete. Not the elite NBA types he covered and complained about as the Seattle SuperSonics beat writer for the Tribune, often stating, “I only need to be there the last two minutes to cover these games.” He also created the long running state high school track meet, Star Track, which ran for 20 years at Lincoln Bowl. Those who competed and coached at Star Track still consider it the best run track meet in state history. I was standing with Brooks Johnson, Stanford coach and USA Olympic coach when he said, unprompted, “This is the best high school meet I have ever seen. Hats off to Dick Kunkle. It’s no wonder the Sound to Narrows became a great success.”
History of road racing in the Tacoma area
In the early spring of 1964, a race was sponsored by the Sixth Avenue Business Association to celebrate Washington’s diamond anniversary. Originally, the race was to be run down Sixth Avenue, but to the surprise of the runners attending the eight-mile “marathon,” they would instead be running entirely in Wright Park. No reason was given for the change. According to the News Tribune article recapping the race, the “next action slated by the Sixth Avenue group will come in October when they sponsor a steeplechase. The proposed fall event is scheduled to cover the entire length of Sixth Avenue with the steeplechase barriers placed along the length of the course.” This race never took place. But it is interesting to note that this proposed route would start overlooking Commencement Bay and finish overlooking the Tacoma Narrows at the Narrows Bridge.
In the early seventies, prior to the S2N, Carl Glatz sponsored a series of road races, under the banner of the Puget Sound Running Club, which would later become the Fort Steilacoom Running Club. The events were run in area parks and local roads. No awards, no police on the routes, no T-shirts — simply a competition opportunity. Participation in these events was the first attempt to incorporate all persons who wanted to run, an idea picked up by the S2N race. Kunkle wrote an article appearing in the News Tribune shortly before the first race titled “Ordinary Runners on the List,” writing that among the 382 entrants, the majority entered were running “just for fun” — a theme that has followed the race for years.
History of the S2N route
The original Sound to Narrows course was patterned on San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers (B2B) road race, which ran across San Francisco, Embarcadero to Golden Gate Park, and San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. With this idea in mind, Kunkle’s first thoughts were 11th Street Bridge (now the Murray Morgan Bridge) to the Narrows Bridge right across Tacoma, perhaps running up 11th Street and at some point joining 6th Avenue continuing to the bridge. This idea was nixed early on, as cooperation from the city to close streets simply was not there. Remember that road racing in that era was not part of the community’s fabric. Kunkle was set on the idea that the S2N route would include the old Aquarium Building, in Point Defiance Park, located on Commencement Bay just below the Narrows Bridge, making the run similar in concept to the B2B. He also tried to keep the S2N close to the B2B distance of 7.8 miles. The first route was Point Defiance Park to the Narrows Bridge. The highway department nixed that attempt because of potential overcrowding near the bridge, with 300 or so competitors. Certainly future numbers would have nixed that area as well.
The next route idea was to cut it short and run to Optimist Park on North 15th and James Street. This route was scrubbed by Metro Parks, as once again the “large” numbers were too much for this little park to handle. The complete loop behind the Zoo that was run in counter-clockwise direction was added during the first few years to make up the difference of not going to Optimist Park. With no other viable choices, Vassault Park became the finish area. The original information sheet stated the race to be 7.4 miles ending at Vassault Park.
Not being one to not give up on his original vision, Kunkle added a perimeter run around Vassault Park to make it 7.6 miles, closer to the B2B distance. It is interesting to note that original road races, particularly in New England, were town to town, or destination to destination, and whatever the distance, that was it. The athletes’ only point of comparison from year to year was that particular run. This was also the case for the S2N, as no thought was given to a pre-determined distance. Today, all courses are certified by a complicated process to assure that they meet the acceptable distances 10k, 12k, etc. Take note: because of the hills in the S2N, it is very difficult to compare it to any other 12k course.
A fun run the second Saturday in June
Kunkle conceived the S2N idea in the early 1970s, before the running boom was firmly established. One has to admire his salesmanship in convincing Tom Cross of Pierce County Parks, Dinwiddie Furmeister of The News Tribune and Steve Orfanos of the Metropolitan Park District to sponsor this event. Doctors were available for a quick physical at the starting area if you didn’t have a medical certificate clearing you to run, busses were available to shuttle runners back to the start area and police were along the route to provide safe passage. This was the first attempt at an athletic event of this magnitude in our area. Could they have envisioned it would be going strong nearly 50+ years later with thousands of participants of all abilities enjoying a run for fun on the 2nd Saturday in June.