Published on May 7th, 2015 | by Daniel Rahe


Running in Tacoma: a love story

Originally published in September 2011.

Tacoma is a glorious place for a runner.

With its many miles of sleepy residential grid streets, it is easy to navigate away from traffic. The city’s hilly location and turn-of-the-century grading makes for great terrain variation. The moderate weather, though frequently wet, rarely presents truly unpleasant running conditions. There are even popular running clubs in this town, for those who enjoy sweating in unison.

I have been running in Tacoma for a few years. At first, I stuck to short “out and backs” along the main roads, since that was all I was familiar with. I didn’t want to get lost. But as I became more confident and as my distances began to increase, I used online maps to plan my runs, concentrating on good mileage and a few decent hill climbs.

My two lanky German Shorthaired Pointers, Hunter and Fitzie, are my frequent companions. We quickly learned which houses to swing widely around, for fear of excitable dogs behind flimsy fences. I also learned the hard way that one’s stopping distance is increased dramatically when being pulled along by two eager hounds in rainy conditions on concrete.

Tried and true routes

University of Puget Sound Area (North Tacoma)

After four years of running at least three times a week, there are a few routes I would not hesitate to call my favorites. My standard is a simple loop around University of Puget Sound, along Cedar from 6th Avenue to N. 29th Street, then south along Orchard Street to S. 7th. As I go, I enjoy evaluating the quality of yardwork on display. Some gardens inspire me with their perfectly-spaced terraces and judiciously placed local flora, though my garden will always look a greenhouse threw up. If the sun begins to take its toll, I often stop to switch my iPod to my go-to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club playlist. Then, feeling like a dark and brooding outsider, I rock my way back home.

Ruston Way Waterfront

On days when I don’t have a care in the world, I find myself running from my neighborhood down the N. 30th Street hill to the Ruston Way waterfront. In the springtime, the sidewalk is often underwater in places, and the grass is spongy with goose crap. But the route is pleasant, and the presence of other pedestrians keeps me feeling focused and friendly. Turning around at the sidewalk’s end, I then grudgingly soldier my way up either 29th or 30th Street, trying to imagine how embarrassed passing drivers will be for me if they see me stop to take a breather on those vertical slabs of asphalt.

An alternate return route from the Ruston Way waterfront climbs through Puget Park. It is a refreshing departure from the urban hustle, a trail snaking its way through dense trees in a dramatic gulch. Here, away from the whirring cars, there is no one to watch you gulp for air or wipe snot from your nose. When you reach the top of the hill, you may find yourself wanting to run back down to do it all over again.

Point Defiance Park

Seen along a trail in Point Defiance Park

Seen along a trail in Point Defiance Park

The Puget Park trail is not the only runner-friendly forest trail in town. Point Defiance Park has a veritable maze of trails weaving through its vast interior. The soft surface is easy on feet and legs, and the towering trees provide constant shade. Frankly, the trail system can be a bit confusing; but a friend of mine, Jim Duggan, started a trail running group for people who want to learn their way around the park. A small group of 10 or more runners generally gather at the Fort Nisqually parking lot every Saturday or Sunday at 9, and then Jim leads them on a 5 mile jaunt at an easy pace. You can learn more about it on Facebook here.

Tacoma Runners

Jim’s group is an offshoot of the city’s marvelously inclusive mega-group, Tacoma Runners. If you’ve seen 50-100 sweaty people in shorts crowding your favorite bar on a Thursday night, then you’ve encountered Tacoma Runners. It all began with a simple inquiry on Twitter, first reaching six beer-thirsty runners. Now, I’m sometimes certain I’ve met every runner in the Pierce County area through Tacoma Runners. Many of us have become close friends, cheering each other on at races and marathons. The routes are always short (3 miles) and well-planned. The range of running ability is wide, so finding a pace partner is easy, even for beginners. At the finish, there is beer and sweaty high-fives.

The Tacoma Runners prepare for a run through North Tacoma and Ruston

The Tacoma Runners prepare for a run through North Tacoma and Ruston

Now, with summer coming to an end, I am futilely trying to deepen whatever tan I may have developed. I look to the onset of autumn with some regret. I love the blue sky days of late summer, and each one’s departure leaves me fearful of hoping for another. Sometimes, that urgent appreciation is all it takes to move me to don my shorts and shoes for an afternoon run. Ostensibly, I’m training for my first full marathon, but really, my running time is when I feel the most sane.

I cannot keep the rain from returning or make my life more stable, but I can force myself to complete the next mile, the next measured breath, the next hour of focused determination. Despite all the effort, I’m not changing the world when I run – I know that – and that’s okay; but I am being made more aware of the organism I am – in desperate need of air, with pulsing blood and heavy bones and an endless sweat reservoir. Somehow, that knowledge changes me.

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About the Author

Founder of Post Defiance, Dan is a father, surveyor, writer, and runner.

2 Responses to Running in Tacoma: a love story

  1. EphraimJF says:

    Great write-up Dan! As a recent transplant I’ve been discovering Tacoma over the past 8 months and perhaps my greatest find has been the Tacoma Runners groups.

    My wife is actually organizing a 5k this Saturday (Sept 17) around the University of Puget sound: The first ever Logger 5k!

    We still need volunteers for the 5k – basically you just stand around for a couple hours and get an awesome free t-shirt – and folks can learn more online and contact the organizer (my wife):

    Also, I recently wrote a post “25 awesome things about Tacoma, from a new resident” that aligns nicely with yours:

  2. Christina Jobe says:

    What a great write up about the city I love to run in. Another great scenic route is Chambers Bay in UP. Not only is it a great view of the water and PGA course it’s a challenging 3.5 mile path with large hills on either side of the course.

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