Posted by: pointlenana | June 9, 2014

Vashon 50k – 6/7/14

“Race” on Saturday on Vashon.  In quotes because it was really just a long supported training run for me.  Everything right now is training for surviving UTMB in August.  To that end, I went into this 50k (31 miles) having run 110 miles in the past 6 days.  So basically I capped a 141 mile week with a 50k trail race.  If that doesn’t help me get through at least the middle part of UTMB, I’m doomed.

First, the race.  50k in and around 2 parks in the middle of Vashon Island near Seattle.  Pretty much the quintessential Seattle running experience – get up early, drive to a ferry, look at the rising sun on the Olympic Mountains to the west, cross Puget Sound, run around for several hours in a 2nd growth forest.   This is a relatively new event – the RD told us it was a brain fart about 5 years ago.  “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were an ultra on Vashon?”.  Very well organized event with 80-100 50k runners and a similar amount of 10 mile runners.  One of the other runners said it was the best-marked race he’s run and given a) that I always make a wrong turn and b) I didn’t today, I have to agree.  Great volunteers and aid stations, and a nice course with lots of variety – single track, gravel paths, a little paved road to give us a mental break from worrying about tripping, lots of woods, some open fields.  Plus free massages at the finish.  Well worth doing if you live here or are in the area.  It turns out my Seattle Quadzilla running buddy Andrew Gorohoff is (literally) the poster-child for the event this year.

Because it was a training run, I planned to start slow and only speed up at the end if I was feeling good.  Naturally, I stuck to that plan for all of .75 miles and then took off when I found myself stuck behind 6 people on a trail who were going just a little too slowly for me.  I passed them, and because I don’t like to be that jerk who passes and then hangs right in front of the people he passed, I kept pushing.  Eventually I found myself with another guy going about my pace, and we ran together on and off to about mile 23.  We picked up another semi-partner several miles in.

The course is 3 laps on a 10 mile loop, with bonus legs at the start and the finish.  Some people don’t like repeated loops.  I like 3 lap runs much better than 2 lap runs.  With 2 laps, it takes forever to do one lap and then you think “I have to do that again???”  With three laps, you aren’t too tired after the first one, and you are more than halfway done after the second.  Vashon is a rolling course – maybe 750 feet of climbing/descent each lap, with only one short hill that was a walker even in the first loop.  From a technical/difficulty standpoint, I’d give it 3 out of 5.  Elevation change isn’t bad and there are easier sections, but the parks are small and the RD packs a big distance in by making a very twisty trail so it’s hard to sustain any momentum.

It was a relatively warm day for Seattle – about 76 and sunny.  I was comfortable standing for 40 minutes in my singlet and shorts before the race – never a good sign.  Thankfully we were mostly in the woods and I carried my hat as much as I wore it.  The tradeoff was that the woods were a little more humid, and my clothes were saturated and dripping well before the end of the first lap.

The race was fairly uneventful except for an unhappy gut.  At a couple points I thought I might experience my first midrace hurl.  I spent some time in a portapotty hoping to reduce the, uh, pressure and gurgling.  I don’t think it did that, but the 90 seconds of rest might have given me time to digest whatever was going on, and I was generally better after that.

I also experimented with what I think of as “trip sprints”.  Some people do hill sprints for strength training – pick a steep hill and run hard up it for 8-15 seconds.  At some point I felt my foot catch on something.  I absolutely hate to fall and always sell out completely trying to avoid going down.  When it works it’s great but when it doesn’t I pull a muscle or go down harder.  Anyway, suddenly I was headed to the ground.  With my head about 18 inches from the trail, my legs went into RoadRunner mode and I travelled about 25-30 feet running really really hard with my body bent at a 90 degree angle.  I had the general sense I wasn’t going to run into a tree and break my neck, but I wasn’t really sure because I still had the up-close-and-personal view of the trail below me.  I had a moment where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it and considered bailing out “gracefully” but with a second effort I got my legs back under my body and kept going.  It woke me up.  Remember – trip sprints, you heard it here first.  I’m sure we’ll be reading about it for runner strength training in 5 years.

I told myself I wouldn’t speed up (more) until I got at least to mile 25.  But I noticed the trail was wider and easier at one point.  When I got there in the third lap, around mile 23, I was with my two sometime-partners who had been very steady the whole race.  We were chatting and when I realized where I was, I picked up the pace a bit.  A moment later I was alone.  I saw one of the guys afterwards and he said I suddenly took off.  I finished about 12 minutes ahead of them, so in those last 8 miles I picked up my pace a fair amount.  During those faster miles I probably passed 10 people.

I didn’t really care about my time going in.  I figured 10 minute miles plus 10 minutes of aid station would put me in around 5:20.  As I passed one volunteer a couple miles out my watch said 4:57 so I asked “how far?”.  “About 1 3/4 miles”.  Huh, I have a chance to break 5:15, ok.  A little further at the last aid station, in theory about 1.5 miles out, I asked how far again – “About 2 miles”.  Hmph, that sucks – I guess I ran backwards.  Maybe a half mile further at the turn to the finish, I asked one more time – “About 1 mile”.  That’s more like it.  I pushed up the last gradual uphill as much as I could and finished in 5:13:38.  Except for one road 50k, that’s my best 50k time.

At the finish, there were a couple medic trucks.  It turns out someone had fallen and broken a rib or two.  But a) she finished (ultra runners can be tough that way), b) I think she was one of the top three women and c) most importantly, right after I finished she was cleared by the medics to go get some of the finish line pizza and beer.

At the finish I talked to Justin Houck who a) won, b) passed me like a cheetah at the end of my second lap, apparently chasing prey more appetizing than me, and c) finished in 3:11 (previous course record was 3:43).  That’s the equivalent of a 2:37 marathon, except that this race had all those turns/loss of momentum and also had more hills than something like Big Sur, which is not fast.  Watching him pass was a thing of beauty, like seeing Sage Canaday come past me at White River.  (It turns out Justin raced against Sage in college.)  Really nice guy, who has just recently gotten into trail racing.  He’s just started training with Uli Steidl (a local elite who is totally and undeservedly unsung, i.e. he is a 2-time men’s masters winner at Boston in 2 attempts – he’s famous in Seattle and unknown in the rest of the country) .  So hopefully Justin Houck will be a name I see in the future.

Numbers-wise:  16 overall out of 67 finishers and about 80 starters.  2nd out of 8 in the 50-59 age group.  3rd in the 50+ group since 64-years-young Larry Abraham beat me by a solid 26 minutes, finishing 7th overall.   I saw his history in UltraSignup before the race and knew I wasn’t going to be the overall winner.

Good, low-key day.  I feel a bit tired today but I’ve felt tired all week.  I’ll put some more miles in again today for the 2014 miles game but tomorrow will be a short day if I run at all.


  1. Mark – great write-up! Thanks for the comments, and we hope to see you back here in the future. Any constructive criticism will be taken gracefully. I do have to disagree with you on one thing, however. Uli is well known outside of Seattle – just listen to the various ultra podcasts to find out; when he shows up at a trail run (see his past win at San Francisco’s North Face) others know they are in for some hurt. I have been in Reno the past 6+ years and they all know who he is.

    • Thanks Bruce. I agree with you on Uli. What I meant to say is that his name is relatively unknown outside of the trail world (and I’m not even sure about that). Given how well-known people like Ryan Hall and Shalane Flanagan are, you’d think a 2-time masters winner at Boston (+ awesome trail credentials) would get more attention. So maybe the thing you and I agree on is that is he’s deserving of any attention he gets 🙂

      Thank you for a fun day! I see from your picture on facebook that you were the person keeping track of us as we finished. I’m trying to think of anything that could/should have been better and cannot think of anything.

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