Experiencing the Vashon Ultra for the first time

“My body wasn’t conditioned enough for this race. But I’ll be ready next year for the 10.75-mile run.”

Allison Shirk (Courtesy Photo).

Allison Shirk (Courtesy Photo).

This year was my first year to run the Vashon Ultra and I want to commend the organizers and participants on such a great event. It was so well organized and welcoming.

I’ve been a runner throughout my life on and off. The thing about running is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a gym membership or any expensive equipment. You just need a good pair of running shoes and you are off. People tend to either love running or hate it. I find it meditative and I like the feeling of knowing that if I need to run down the ferry dock at Fauntleroy, or through the airport to catch a flight connection, I’m not going to strain myself.

About a year ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she was going to set a goal of running a 5k and asked, “who was in.” I raised my virtual hand. Yes! I love a good challenge. I started training and I ran my first race a few months ago. It was the tunnel to viaduct 8K in Seattle and since I had fond feelings for that concrete elephant, I knew I had to do it. I was impressed by how many Vashonites were there too. I ran the 8K (5 miles) in less than an hour and was able to run the whole way without walking. I was super happy with myself.

Fast forward to last month when I read that right here on Vashon was a ten-mile trail run, the Vashon Ultra. Feeling confident, I signed up and began trying to increase my distance. About a week before the run, I was able to hit six miles without walking, but not enough training time to get to ten miles.

On the morning of the event, I was feeling pretty nervous when I showed up to pick up my runner’s number. Around 9 a.m. a ton of Vashonites I know began showing up and I felt more confident and excited to be a part of a group who do this run every year. Everyone was amped up and chatty. No one seemed solemn or remorse as though they were about to run themselves to an early grave, so I figured I would be okay.

The run started and everything was going great. Then about two miles in on the trail, I got attacked by ground hornets. They stung my left ankle twice and one decided to take a ride on my back for a while. A runner behind me was kind enough to get the hornet off. At the two-mile post, my fiancé was there to cheer me on and help me with the stings, and I was off again. I hit the five-mile mark feeling strong and knowing I was halfway there. At the checkpoint, the volunteers had snacks and drinks ready, and even some aromatherapy spray. I downed some electrolytes, freshened up with some citrus mist, and headed on my way.

All along the way, there were volunteers cheering us on and offering support. The other runners on the trail were also super supportive of each other. In addition to those who were running ten miles, there were these mega-athletes running a 50K. Every once in a while, one would zoom by saying, “You’re looking strong, keep it up.” Wow.

By the time I hit mile eight, my knees were burning and the trail was a steady up and down. My knees were screaming, “No!” at me and I had to walk most of that mile. I just had the strong feeling that if I kept pushing too hard on the hills, I’d fall or injure myself. The very last thing I wanted was to not finish the race. I started running again and hit ten miles and it wasn’t the end. The finish line wasn’t there.

I felt a little cheated by that but I pushed onward, knowing that sometime soon I would see the familiar parking lot of Island Center Forest and the road to the Open Space where the finish line was. I knew my family was waiting for me at the end and that kept me going. I was going to run through that finish line no matter what.

Finally, I could hear the crowd and I knew I was close. I spotted my son waiting for me and I started smiling and waved at him. I could now see the finish line and my daughter and Pete my fiancé waiting for me. Then the emcee announced my name and the crowd cheered, “Go Allison!” Tears streamed down my cheeks and I crossed the line. I sat on the grass in a mix of pain and happiness and a million other emotions. A little girl came up to me and gave me a medal. My family hugged me.

I realize now that I didn’t train hard enough. My body wasn’t conditioned enough for this race. But I’ll be ready next year for the 10.75-mile run. More than anything, I’m just so impressed with the folks that organized the race, all the volunteers that make the run possible, and the men and women who run the Vashon Ultra every year who were so welcoming and encouraging. I’m hooked and I’m incredibly appreciative to be in such good company.

Congratulations to all the runners and huge props to those that circled the course three times for a 50K finish. I’m very inspired by you all!

—Allison Shirk is co-director for the nonprofit organization Vashon Events and executive director of Spark the Fire Grantwriting Classes.

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