‘Hidden gem’ inspires Japanese Gulch Runners

Aug 14, 2019
Photo by: David R Pan Japanese Gulch Runners club founder Abram Elwell leads a run through the Japanese Gulch with members Amanda Mazzenga and Jeremiah Bonsmith.

When Abram Elwell started running on the trails in the Japanese Gulch, he was training for his first trail ultra marathon.

Elwell and some friends discovered the park, located in Mukilteo, and began running there on a regular basis.

“It was sort of like a hidden gem,” said Elwell, who works at Boeing’s nearby Everett facility. “Not many people knew about it.”

Two and a half years later, Elwell, his friends, and members of the Japanese Gulch Runners, a running club Elwell founded, meet for weekly runs after work.

What started as three or four friends getting together has turned into a community of more than 100 runners, who run at different times during the week.

Many are surprised to find an oasis of nature not far from Paine Field and the strip malls and office complexes along the Mukilteo Speedway.

Jeremiah Bonsmith, a Seattle resident who also works at Boeing, was at the Boeing Activity Center five months ago when he saw a poster for the Japanese Gulch Runners.

“I just had to come and join,” he said. “I like trail running … I’ve worked at Boeing for years and had no idea any of this existed. When I started running with these guys, it kind of blew my mind with the number of trails there were and how good they were.”

Amanda Mazzenga, another Seattle resident, works as an engineer in Mukilteo. A friend told her about the running club, and Mazzenga participated in the Gulch Countdown, a race organized by the Japanese Gulch Runners.

After meeting a lot of people at the race, Mazzenga decided to join the club’s weekly runs on Thursdays.

Trail running can be somewhat of a daunting task to start out.

“On a new set of trails, you don’t know where exactly to run,” Mazzenga said. “It was really fun to have a group where you can just follow the person that knows the trails really well, and they can teach you a lot about the area.”

Elwell noted that Seattle and Bellingham both have active trail running communities. He sees the Japanese Gulch Runners as a way to bring the Snohomish County trail running community together.

“We connect people and at a location that is sort of centralized,” Elwell said.

Some club members are serious athletes. Elwell, a father of four, runs in ultra marathons, which are races longer than the 26.2 miles of a standard marathon. Bonsmith has competed in triathlons and Mazzenga has run in a 50-mile race.

But there are plenty of club members who just enjoy getting out on the trails.

“We have a wide range of people,” Elwell said. “We have a lot of people who are casual weekend runners.”

Mazzenga added that the club is conducive to all paces.

“A few weeks ago someone showed up and said, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with you. I’ll run on my own,’” Mazzenga recalled.

But the person ended up running with some members of the group.

“It’s kind of nice that the group will accommodate anyone who wants to come out and run,” Mazzenga said. “It’s a lot better to run a little bit slower and get more people involved than go out really fast.”

The social aspects are a big part of the draw of the club. Elwell said that even when he’s training for an ultra marathon, he runs at a steady, slow pace conducive to talking.

“Most of the time when you run and train, you want it to be relatively low key,” Elwell said. “You want to do slow runs at a conversational pace.

“You don’t need to be a superstar to run with us.”

In addition to enjoying the outdoors, Elwell finds trail running to be appealing in many ways.

“There’s more variety. I think it’s better on your body – less impact on your joints,” he said. “You go up hills and down hills. There are twists and turns. Every step is something new.”

The next Gulch Countdown is scheduled for Jan. 4. The format is a series of 2.18-mile loops with the first loop having a 32-minute cutoff. All finishes within the cutoff then start the next loop together; with each additional loop the cutoff is reduced by 1 minute. After 12 loops – a marathon distance, loop times are decreased by 30 second until one runner remains.

For more information about the Japanese Gulch Runners see their Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JapaneseGulchRunners/. For more information about the Gulch Countdown go to: https://gulchcountdown.com/

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.