Bruce Cyra finishes first in his age group in 100-mile race

Cyra ran the Rio Del Lago in Sierra Foothills of California, having recently recovered from COVID-19

Before sunrise on Saturday, Nov. 6, longtime islander Bruce Cyra awaited the start of the Rio Del Lago 100-mile endurance run.

The Rio Del Lago is a 100-mile race that negotiates the varied terrain of the Sierra Foothills of California.

Out of the 360 participating runners, Cyra was one of only 250 to cross the finish line the following morning. He even rallied to finish first in the 60 to 69-year-old age category with a time of 25:42:16, despite having recently recovered from a breakthrough case of COVID-19.

Throughout the course, aid stations were positioned roughly three to 10 miles apart. Cyra and other runners would leapfrog each other from station to station, but most of the run was a solitary endeavor. To keep him in high spirits, Cyra’s good friend Casey Lawrence and son Keller Cyra supported him for the final legs of the race that took place in the darkness.

The Rio Del Lago is one of several races that additionally serves as a qualifier for the Western States 100. Western States is the world’s oldest 100-mile endurance run, and consequently, an item on Cyra’s bucket list.

In order to gain admittance, runners must both complete a hundred-mile qualifier and enter themselves into a lottery. Every November, roughly 6,000 runners from around the world vie for the three to four hundred available racing positions. In 2019, after eight years of trying, Cyra was selected to run in the 2020 Western States race. Unfortunately, the race was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and just one week prior to the new start date, a blood clot was discovered in Cyra’s ankle.

Endurance runners are one of the at-risk groups for developing blood clots in their legs, and while Cyra was able to receive the necessary treatment, his dream to run in Western States was further delayed.

Nevertheless, by successfully completing the Rio Del Lago this year, he is back in the running for the Western States 100.

To qualify for Western States, Cyra had run the Rio Del Lago twice previously. In total, he has finished seven 100-mile races and numerous other ultra-marathons.

While Cyra has had a passion for running for more than 50 years, he has not always enjoyed endurance running, especially to the extent he takes it today. Cyra began running competitively in high school, where he competed as a middle-distance runner. After graduating in 1976, Cyra attended Western University where two true loves awaited him — running, and his wife-to-be, Lisa Cyra.

Bruce competed for the university’s track team and his success in the 1500m and steeplechase events landed him in Nationals every year. It wasn’t until he and Lisa moved to Vashon in 1991 that both Cyras started running longer distances, exploring the island by way of long trail runs and beginning to get into ultra-marathon races. Seeing that the island was lacking such runs, Bruce began the Vason Ultra which has now been going for 11 years.

In 2018, Bruce contributed to running on Vashon by creating the island’s first middle school cross country team. After three successful seasons, Cyra passed off the middle school coaching job to Kevin Ross and Scott Heely in order to take over a spot alongside his wife as a high school coach.

Bruce looks back on his coaches as some of his greatest mentors and it is important to him that he passes on his passion for running and the lessons it has taught him to the next generation.

“My inspiration came from my junior high and high school coaches — two very different personalities … but both had a commitment to their runners individually and to the team as a cohesive whole,” Bruce said. “Both had the ability to ‘peak’ their athletes for the end of the season without injury or burnout … They also taught me that every runner on the team has a part to play, more than just where they’re ranked time-wise.”

Bruce wants to introduce kids to the support system and sense of family that a running team can provide. He also wants to teach kids to work hard and achieve their goals in a fun and most importantly, healthy way.

But along the way, inspiration has become a two-way street in Bruce’s coaching — who said that the runners he works with are “amazing kids we get to see develop and grow, physically, and into adulthood as a people.“

“They show loyalty and commitment with good humor,” he said. “That’s inspiring.”

– Madeline Yarkin is a sophomore at Vashon High School. She finished in 12th place overall at the 5k State Championship this year.