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A race through the woods will put runners to the test
The sun shone in patches on the tall firs, oversized ferns and dirt trails of Island Center Forest as Kevin Kim-Murphy guided a group of runners along a winding path — part of the course that will soon be featured in an Island race.
When dozens of runners converge on Paradise Ridge Park on June 26, they’ll be gathering not for a road race, but for the Island’s first-ever ultra trail run: an ultramarathon of 50 kilometers, or 31 miles — five more than a marathon.
The Vashon Ultra features the 50K and a shorter 10-mile event on a course no one has run before — a 10-mile loop that crosses through Vashon parks, nature preserves and five private properties. Those who compete in the 50-kilometer race will run the loop — which goes through the center of the Island, including Paradise Ridge Park, Island Center Forest and the Fisher Pond Trail — three times. It will likely take them four to nine hours to complete their trek.
Race organizers worked diligently to connect a circle of Vashon’s trails that sees runners hardly setting foot on paved roads, and they’re proud to present a race that showcases Vashon’s beautiful, often hilly, sometimes muddy, trail terrain, said co-race director Kim-Murphy.
“The trails are such a great Island asset, and we wanted to bring that all together” in a race, he said. “It’s already been a catalyst for people to think about the Island trails differently. I hope it gets people excited about being fit and active and out in our environment.”
The race has proven popular with Islanders and residents of other cities and states. With little promotion, all spaces in the two runs were filled by May 26, a month before race day. Fifty-seven brave souls have signed up to compete in the 50-kilometer run, and 66 will take part in the 10-miler. And nearly half of all the competitors are Islanders — a testament to the fact that the run feeds a desire of Vashon runners, said co-race director Bruce Cyra.
“I think it’s great,” Cyra said. “Once you start getting the word out, everybody just comes out of the woodwork, and you learn how many great distance runners we do have on the Island.”
Kim-Murphy and Cyra, both Island fathers with a long history of running for pleasure and for sport, plan to coordinate the race as well as compete in the 50-kilometer event.
“My goal has always been that we would run it,” Kim-Murphy said. “It’s going to be challenging, and I’m prepared to not finish it if I need to help, but I’m also prepared to run it fast so I can get it done and help. But fast means five hours.”
The two men are volunteering in the role of race director; with the help of their wives, Claudine Kim-Murphy and Lisa Cyra, who fill key volunteer roles, and a cadre of other volunteers, they hope to make the Vashon Ultra the first of a potentially annual event.
“One of the coolest parts of this event so far is how many people have stepped forward and said they’ll help,” Kim-Murphy said. “With everything — trail clearing, marking the trails, working at aid stations, flagging traffic. That’s amazing.”
The Vashon Island Ultramarathon and Trail Run, as it’s officially known, is operated by Heart of the Sound Triathlon, a nonprofit Cyra heads and which puts on a triathlon in Burton each year. Cyra has led that triathlon for the past four years, but the Ultra is his first foray into the world of ultra trail running.
Kim-Murphy, 40, a Web site developer and project manager, and Cyra, 52, an attorney, banded together to put on the Ultra because they had a vision that Vashon’s trails could make an excellent race course.
“I think it’ll be a great way to introduce our assets to people who may not otherwise know about them,” said Cyra, who competed last week in the Reno Tahoe Odyssey, a relay running event that Cyra’s team won.
While some people can’t fathom running 31 miles continuously, the sense of achievement runners get from completing the event is immeasurable, Cyra said.
“It’s an awakening — the realization that you can do something that’s extremely challenging,” he said. “It makes you think you can do anything you set your mind to.”
The run will be more supportive than competitive in some ways, added Kim-Murphy.
“There’s a community of people here on the Island who are active and enthusiastic and supportive of each other,” he said. “There’s this drive to push yourself to do something you’ve never done before, but there’s also this great community spirit — sharing in each other’s physical accomplishment.”
Runners in the 50-kilometer event range in age from 19 to 72, and come from as far away as Kentucky and Florida.
Many competitors are eagerly anticipating putting their body to the test.
“I’m looking forward to how my body responds to 30 miles,” said Islander Joseph Bogaard, 43, who plans to run the 50K. “I am a runner, but this ultra will stretch me quite a bit beyond what I typically run. It was hard to turn it down when it’s being organized by Islanders and it’s on the Island. It was too much to resist.”
Bogaard said he’s looking forward to running on a loop of trails assembled just for the run. He’s never raced in anything longer than a half-marathon, he said, but he’s preparing by putting in long practice runs.
Another Islander, Dave Straube, has run a dozen marathons and said he’s looking forward to the chance to run an ultra on the Rock.
“We have a nice spot here,” he said. “Even though we don’t have any major peaks here on Vashon, it’s suitably hilly, so it’ll be challenging enough. It’s nice that we can put together a significantly long loop without going on paved roads.”
In fact, race organizers spent months cobbling together the loop that now serves as the setting for the Vashon Ultra.
At first, planners had hoped to enter and exit Paradise Ridge through the side, traveling onto private property that is sometimes used with permission by the horse community.
But a few horseback riders voiced concerns that having a race through the trails they love could jeopardize the equestrians’ future use of the trails.
In response, race organizers altered the race course to minimize use of the private trails frequented by horseback riders, and the Vashon Ultra will enter and exit through Paradise Ridge’s 220th Street entrance.
One Islander said she was worried that a race could damage the trails other Islanders — from walkers and dog-walkers to bikers and horseback riders — love to use.
But Kim-Murphy said the race will be gentle on the trails it treads. Trail races are much different from road races, where a herd of people run together. In a trail run, the group spreads out so each person is navigating the trail nearly alone, Kim-Murphy said. And runners must travel more slowly because of the roots, rocks, humps and dips that mark their path.
“In general, my experience has been that actual damage to trails is incredibly less than either animal traffic or bicycles,” said Straube.
“The ultra folks don’t leave a trail of litter in the woods. It’s not a big trash-making event. Ultra runners want to go and run these places again, so they don’t want to leave stuff behind. Aside from the excitement of the day itself, there won’t be any lasting effect.”
The Vashon Ultra will be quite different than a “rock ‘n’ roll” road marathon, said Kim-Murphy.
“It will be a great, low-key event,” he said.
Runner Ted McDonald, more often known as Barefoot Ted, will come to Vashon the day before the Ultra to teach others how to run barefoot. His clinic will be offered at 5 p.m. Friday, June 25, at the Vashon High School stadium. The cost is $50. Go to the park district’s Ober Park building or visit www.vashonparkdistrict.org for more information.