Vashon Ultramarathon and Trail Run unites friends, families

  • Tuesday, April 10, 2018 11:51pm
  • Sports
Bob Norton in the Vashon Ultra (Courtesy Photo)

Bob Norton in the Vashon Ultra (Courtesy Photo)

Islander Anne Van Holde cherishes her runs in the woods with her longtime friend, Leslie Ferriel. Most of the time it is just to spend time together and talk, sometimes to get ready for the annual trail run.

This year’s ninth annual Vashon Island Ultramarathon & Trail Run on Saturday, June 2, is emblematic of not only trail running culture, but also the events’ magnetism for uniting friends and families. Ferriel and Van Holde have been running together a few days a week for four years.

“It continues to be a transformative experience for both of us. I never really thought I would be running in my 60s, so I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do that. Leslie and I sometimes talk together, but often are quiet together as well,” Van Holde said.

Ferriel adds that they have done the 10-mile trail run the past three years.

“The first year was a definite learning curve for training, but it paid off, and we both did well,” she said. “I feel much as Anne does, but perhaps rely on her companionship more to get me out. Once in a while I’ll go by myself, but I don’t think I would have covered anywhere near the miles alone that we have together.”

They both find joy in the trails of Island Center Forest and are grateful for the management of the amazing trails.

Van Holde adds, “I also think running in the forest is a huge part of the attraction for me. I love moving through the center forest and watching the changes throughout the season. I see owls, hear ravens raucously communicating with each other, and watch the understory come to life in the spring.”

Another reason people are drawn to the events is to reconnect with friends, old and new. This year, 80-year-old Bob Norton will return from California to his birthplace to run the 50k (31 miles) for the fourth time and reconnect with his childhood friend David Church.

“We have known each other since we were about 4 years old,” Norton said.

Norton and Church both grew up in Ellisport and attended the old Burton Grade School by Judd Creek, with Norton’s family moving to California in 1951. Church went on to graduate from Vashon High School in 1956. Norton stays with Church in Ellisport when he returns, and Church comes out to the finish line to cheer on his childhood friend.

Many islanders have made the two runs, a 50 kilometer (31 miles) and 10 miler, an annual event, turning the day into a reunion with family and friends.

There are also many off-islanders who return year after year, drawn by the fun attitude and vibe as well as the lure of the island’s trails; about one-third of the runners are from Vashon, one-third from Seattle and one-third from other locations, this year from as far-off as Austria. Other local returnees include Richard Staehli, Jim Cross, Dan Chasan, Kirk Starr, Casey Lawrence and Nick Keenan. Off-island returnees include Karen Wiggins (five 50k finishes) of Belfair and Matthew Glew of Renton (seven finishes), who has run every Vashon 50k since its inception but for 2015, when a wedding was scheduled the same day.

Islanders Debbie Banner (five 50k finishes) and her friend Tory Hayes (three 50k finishes) enjoy their time spent running together, once when it really paid to be with a loyal companion. While near the end of a 10-mile training run, the two were running fast downhill in Island Center Forest when Hayes tripped and flew, landing on her shoulder and breaking her collarbone. Banner quickly came to her aid, climbed back up the hill to get a cell phone signal, and called for her husband to pick them up. Banner then helped Hayes up to the nearest trailhead and then off to the emergency room. Hayes felt at the time that Banner saved her life. While looking back she feels that may sound dramatic, the experience cemented to her the importance of running with a friend.

In addition to providing opportunities for people to run together, the events raise money and awareness of island issues, from youth sports to hunger. The events, including the Vashon Running Club’s fun runs, recently donated money to the Vashon School District’s food pantry, which provides meals for school children over the weekend. More information about the running events can be found on the website,

— Bruce Cyra is a runner and organizer of the Vashon Ultra.

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