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Why Tukwila is better than Tokyo

The 757 touched down on the runway at Sea-Tac airport at 10:29 a.m. The cabin doors opened, and I was off …

Illustration by Jeremy Collins

The 757 touched down on the runway at Sea-Tac airport at 10:29 a.m. The cabin doors opened, and I was off running.

I had exactly 2:44 in which to leave the airport, find myself a workout, return and check in before it was wheels-up for a 10 1/2-hour flight to Tokyo, sardine-ed into an economy seat for longer than a standard work day.

My game plan: take advantage of the fitness room at the nearby Marriott. I had stayed there years earlier and made mental note of the heavy-duty treadmills.

All went smoothly at first. The cab ride cost only six dollars—still less than a one-day membership at the closest LA Fitness, which I had also considered. I casually walked through the lobby with my bag of workout clothes. Act like you belong here, I whispered to myself as I avoided eye contact with a receptionist.

 

After changing, I stood outside the workout room. My plan had hit a snag; I needed a room key to access the promised land of treadmills. I tried in vain to get the attention of a guy who was spinning on the elliptical while watching CNN.

 

A housekeeper approached.

“Do you have a room key?” I asked, motioning toward the workout room lock. She shook her head and walked by.

Then I had a sudden crisis of conscience. On a simple level, I was trying to steal access to a workout. Last time I checked, theft was illegal, even in liberal Washington State. My craw filled with guilt, and I headed back upstairs to the hotel receptionist.

Sheepishly and humbly, I pleaded my case. “For what it’s worth,” I said, “The last time I stayed here, I didn’t use the workout room.” She listened to my pathetic request, and excused herself to call a manager. I had done my polite best, but I was also seeking permission while already dressed to run.

She reappeared and, for a split second, my hopes rose.

“I’m sorry,” she explained. “We can’t let you in there if you’re not a guest.”

My chances for a run faded faster than Seattle’s November sunlight. The hair on the back of my neck bristled as I imagined sitting for 10-plus hours with another passenger’s seat reclined against my knees.

Then, an epiphany: “Could I, uh, check my bag here and run outside?” She approved with a hesitant smile and took my overstuffed duffel.

I stepped outside, beyond the automatic sliding glass doors, into the crisp autumn air of Tukwila, Washington. A jet flew overhead toward the airport, a reminder that I didn’t have much time. I narrowed my gaze, and focused on running a route that would be easy to retrace.

The run began predictably, as all paved runs do. Tukwila, Washington, is a town filled with 70s-era homes, chain-link fences and menacing dogs airing their bitter grievances. Every other home had a pick-up truck past its prime, and every fourth one displayed a Teamsters sticker. A church advertised weekly bingo. I crossed a busy street with a KFC.

The hills challenged my appreciative legs. Still, mindlessly slapping strides onto the pavement, I counted the minutes until I could declare this run “done.”

Suddenly I spied a grove of trees and a staircase vanishing down a steep embankment. Could it be a trail? I shouted in glee to find myself in a forest preserve.

This was so much better than watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN. I veered off one gravel path, onto a narrower dirt ribbon. Leaves the size of dinner platters carpeted the moist earth. I crashed along through them, breathing in the sweet scent of their rot, devoid of any thoughts of airports, trans-oceanic flights or work meetings.

Another staircase delivered me to another road, and I sadly headed back, emerging a few blocks from the Marriott.

Later, 35,000 feet above the northern Pacific, I filled out my customs form for arrival in Japan. It asked if I was bringing any organic matter into the country. I smiled, thinking of the mud and leaves still stuck to the bottom of my running shoes.

Garett Graubins prefers trails to hotel treadmills, but also thinks that trail races should offer wakeup calls, turndown service, and continental breakfasts.