Many have run the Sound to Narrows more than Curt Corvin, but few have run it better.
In the early 1990s, the Lakewood resident was king of the hills, winning the rolling 12-kilometer race four times.
Few know the course better than the former world-class marathoner. Like many who’ve run and won the event, he calls the Sound to Narrows “the toughest 12K I’ve ever run.”
In 2004, Corvin offered a mile-by-mile look at the 33-year-old race for the 6,000 people who’ll turn out Saturday to run for personal bests, bragging rights or maybe even try to win. Here is what he said during our driving tour.
Mile 1: The down payment
The first mile of the race is downhill and loaded with temptation.
“A lot of people go out too quick, ” Corvin says. “They have a lot of adrenaline, they want to set a mile (personal record), they are trying to get on the front page.
“You need to resist this temptation or you are going to feel it. Not here, but later.”
Most of the people who start the race this way are going to burn out.
“You need to be careful, save your body and set up the rest of the race, ” Corvin says. “Think of it as a down-payment for the end of the race when you’re coming back up the hill.”
Mile 2: The pop quiz
Almost none of the Sound to Narrows is flat, but the most challenging parts are four long uphill sections.
The first of these hills comes during the second mile as you ascend from the entrance of Point Defiance Park to the zoo.
This, Corvin says, is where you’ll find out how prepared you are for the rest of the race.
“It’s a pop quiz, ” Corvin says, and a good place to make your first move.
“This is where you find out who is for real, ” Corvin says.
Corvin says not to be intimidated by the hills.
“Think of them as an opportunity, ” Corvin says. “Think of them as a chance to catch somebody or pull away from somebody. Don’t let them be a negative.”
Mile 3: The Monster
The third mile begins on a downhill slope leaving the zoo parking lot, but you won’t be going down for long. The Monster is waiting.
“That’s an appropriate nickname, ” Corvin says.
The Monster is an uphill climb that lasts about two-thirds of a mile on the park’s winding five-mile drive. Each turn in the road teases the runner.
“You think you are reaching the top, then you turn the corner and you are still going up hill, ” Corvin says. “This hill breaks a lot of people.” Be prepared for this stretch.
“You’re thinking, ‘I wish I’d run the 5K, ‘ I’d be almost done, ‘ ” Corvin says.
Mile 4: Half way
Instead, as you start the fourth mile, you are closing in on the halfway mark.
“Use that as a positive, ” Corvin says. “I think, ‘I’m halfway done. I’ve got two hills down, two more to go.’ ”
The fourth mile isn’t so tough, Corvin says, but if you have any energy in reserve don’t burn too much of it here, because the toughest part of the race is still to come
Mile 5: Great view
In the fifth mile, Corvin says your legs “feel like marshmallows.”
“You’re hurting, but you’re supposed to be hurting at this point, ” Corvin says. “Just remember the leaders are hurting at this point, too.”
Actually, the leaders were hurting at this point. By the time most runners are on the fifth mile the leaders are cooling down in the park.
On the fifth mile, the trees start to thin out, and the course is a little lighter. Openings in the trees allow magnificent views of the Puget Sound.
“Look at that great view of the Narrows” Bridge, Corvin says. “You won’t be able to enjoy the Narrows when you run through here during the race.”
Mile 6: Camp 6
The sixth mile is your last chance to prepare for the race’s brutal conclusion. The mile is relatively flat and winds past the Camp 6 logging museum.
“When I see Camp 6, I think ‘Almost to six (miles), ‘ ” Corvin says. “And mentally I start to prepare for the end of the race.”
At the end of the sixth mile, you exit the park on a gradual grade that appears to flatten out as Mildred Street turns around a bend.
“I feel sorry for those people who have never run the race when they turn that corner and see what’s coming next, ” Corvin says.
Mile 7: The Dip
Corvin calls what waits around the corner “The Dip, ” but that name is a bit of an understatement. It’s more like a canyon.
You drop quickly for about a tenth of a mile, then immediately start climbing out of the hole.
It’s a hard section of the course, but not the hardest. That’s coming as you follow North 51st Street and turn south on North Vassault Street.
“This is what you saved yourself for, ” Corvin says.
As you turn the corner onto Vassault, a mile of uphill running is in front of you.
“I imagine there is this big hand on my back pushing me up the hill, ” Corvin explains. “If you think about it enough, you can almost feel the fingers on your back. Some people think of two balloons, one on each arm, pulling them up the hill. The visualization really helps.”
The Finish: Don’t look up
As you climb the hill, a flashing yellow traffic light at the intersection of North Vassault and North 37th streets comes into view. The light marks the final turn toward the finish line.
“Don’t look at the light, ” Corvin says. “I made that mistake one year, and it almost killed me. It doesn’t seem to get any closer, and that can be discouraging.
“Just put your head down and keep running.”
Instead, Corvin says, use the cheering fans lining the street for motivation. In his case (Corvin’s best winning time was 36 minutes, 53 seconds) he also had the walking wave cheering him on as they were heading out on the course.
“When you finally make the turn toward the park, you know you’ve finally reached the flashing light, ” Corvin says.
Once you turn the corner, it’s time to sprint the final 100 yards downhill to the finish line.
“The crowd is screaming, and it pushes you, ” Corvin says. “Then you cross the finish line, and it feels great.”