A few months ago Justin's classmate told us about the perfect Ultra course: relatively low elevation gain, well supported with multiple aid stations, and within reach of Seattle. Justin jumped on the opportunity to sign up and then a few days later I also signed up for the 50k with hesitation. I put in lots of miles on the trails and gained experience racing a few mountain courses, but the idea of doing an Ultra so soon after getting into the sport of trail running didn't exactly sound like fun so I ended up switching over to the 10 mile race. I decided to assure myself an injury free season and leave ultras for the future.
This race was still a mile stone in my family as the date approached. My dad was going through chemo, and amazingly training through treatment sessions. He had the trail itch, and Justin and I were fueling him every time we came home from a long run or a race. Two weeks before his last chemo treatment (which is currently happening today) he went for a 26 mile confidence boost of a run and signed up for the Vashon Ultra.
Justin and I recently joined Seattle Running Club so we were excited to be representing a team. We threw on our jerseys with pride and hit the island trails. The Vashon Ultra was by FAR the most mellow trail vibe we have encountered yet. I loved the island attitude that permeated through the few hundred runners who showed up at the start. There were no sponsored runners and everyone was there to soak up the trails. The 50k racers took off around 830AM and then the rest of us (10 mile racers) had about an hour to kill. I started my warm up and checked out a bit of the course which was super up-rooted and marshy in areas. Thankfully it was shaded, because the sun would reach a high 79 that day. The course was set up as three ~10 mile loops. Each loop had two aid stations and was estimated to have 750 ft of elevation gain. My race did a single loop and headed back to the finish line while the 50k-ers ran three loops. Compared to our previous races that had over 4,000 ft in far less distance this race was tame.
Once the gun went off we cruised down a cement downhill toward the Vashon Island Woods. Almost immediately I found myself on my own in front of most of the crowd. Two men sped off ahead of me and I settled into a rhythm, wondering if any other competitive women were in the field. When I reached the 5 mile aid station there wasn't a soul in sight behind me so I stopped for a drink of water and chatted for a minute with the volunteers. I have to say I'm glad it didn't end up being a cut throat crowd of any sort because I had a heavy week of physical strength training and completed my first track workout so it probably would have been a mistake to overdue it with an all out race. When I took off from there I decided to treat the race as a tempo workout and make sure I felt good through the finish line.
The course was the spitting image of fern gully, offering the densest forest I've run through in Washington. At times the trail was wide and I was able to lengthen my stride, but other times it veered to a single track and I was ducking my head under mossy overgrowth and ferns that spilled onto the trail. I'm glad no one was on my heels so I could stop and go with the rhythm of all the roots and switchbacks. The trail was really choppy, which didn't necessarily bother me, but I only imagined there would be a few spills in the 50k crowd on their third lap. The finish was a little punishing with a straight uphill before reaching the finishing stretch. I crossed the line and broke the female course record by almost 3 minutes. Not bad for a Saturday morning work out! I was handed a schwag bag full of local items from Vashon Island including wine, hard cider, caramels, coffee and wool socks. After the finish line I laid my eyes on the most impressive food tent I have ever witnessed. There was brick oven pizza, vegetable soup, fresh fruit, homemade apple crumble bars, brownies, nachos, guacamole - you get the picture. The perfect stomach quencher for any hungry runner and one hell of a sales pitch for future registrants.
I skipped my cool down out of anxious anticipation for Justin to reach the finish line. This has distracted me from my own races in the past because it is always exciting watching Justin run. Even in the last half marathon we ran in February I remember my friends telling me they were going to cheer for me and I said "Don't cheer for me, just tell me what place Justin is in and how he looks." Talk about a mind block, but I guess that happens when your husband is a national caliber runner.
I stayed close to the race officials at the finish line who were radio-ing volunteers on the course to make sure Justin was on track. The race director turned to me and said "He's on his way to breaking the course record." I so badly wanted to jump up and down and squeal in his face, but I played it cool and gave him a nonchalant nod, "Ya, he's pretty fast." It would still be about an hour until Justin finished but a few of the race officials jumped on the computer and googled Justin's name. "He ran 4:50 pace at beat the bridge?", "Looks like he's a former steeple chase runner," and "who's his sponsor?" were a few of the comments that came out of the finish tent. About 20 minutes out, one of the officials radio-d that there was a young man in a black singlet not doing so well by the aid station who was keeled over cramping. One of the officials came over to tell me this information and I had an inner panic. Justin was wearing a black singlet and was one of the younger men in the race. I asked them for more information such as hair color or race number and they said they didn't know because the runner walked off down the trail. This information was a stab of anxiety into my chest; I almost lost it but made sure to keep in tune with the island way of life and stay chill. I walked over to a shady tree and decided to wait things out on my own - if that man was Justin, I knew he would still make it to the finish line even if he crawled.
Finally when Justin was half a mile from the finish there was a radio to the director and everyone got riled up that he was minutes from finishing. He crossed the line while shattering the course record by over a half hour and posting one of the fastest 50k times in the nation thus far. He quickly became the icon of Vashon Island that day while multiple strangers came up to him to ask for a picture and congratulate him.
Ah, what a day so far! But it wasn't over, the most important racer was yet to finish - my dad.
We estimated my dad was probably at the tail end of his second lap. Justin got some water and refueled as much as his stomach could handle. We sped back to our friend's house to shower and pack up our stuff and made it back to the finish line to support the rest of the runners. 10 apple crumble bars later and probably an entire pizza and I felt like I was rolling around in the grass in gluttony while I waited for my dad. The six hour mark began creeping up on the clock and I wondered if my dad would funnel down the finish shoot soon. His goal was to get under seven hours, but he usually underestimates himself. He nicked the clock right before six hours and had a great finish as he continued running past the finish line. I went running to him in a flurry of excitement. He was gasping for air and looked at me and said "son of a bitch!"
It was a great day to be alive. As we all sat down at the dinner table that night, everyone was glowing on cloud nine from all the achievements made that day on Vashon Island.
A big thanks to race director Kevin Kim-Murphy and all the amazing volunteers on the course - including the family that set up an "unofficial aid station" with salted watermelon and water. Thanks to all the local vendors who pulled together an incredible food spread and a massage tent for all the runners.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.