The race directors - Bruce, Lisa, Kevin, and Claudine - did a spectacular job with the race this year. They've been great every year, but this year, they truly outdid themselves. To honor me and a couple other runners who've done the Vashon Ultra all three years of its existence, they made posters for the mid-loop, Western-themed aid station:
I carpooled over to Vashon with Glenn, who was shooting the race (lucky us!), and his friend Kathleen - an accomplished ultrarunner and overall awesome woman I had the happy fortune to finally meet in person. Kathleen, who signed up for the race last minute, I have largely to thank for the slightly ridiculous feat alluded to in the title of this entry.
So, a little background on my history with the Vashon Ultra, for those who don't know: Having won the women's race the first year, then having run pretty much the exact same time last year and thereby gotten my butt whipped by Canadian badass Mel Bos, I returned to Vashon this year with a bone to pick. I had three tiers of goals: (1) Beat last year's time of 5:36:24, (2) Run sub-5:00, (3) Win.
I started off at a pace that fell somewhere between relaxed and hard - gently challenging, perhaps? I was breathing a little harder than I wanted to be on the first loop (of three), but rather than slowing down, I tried to catch my breath through moving meditation, muscle relaxation, nasal breathing, and a controlled sense of calm I've been working to cultivate during training runs these past few months - a kind of active, experimental biofeedback, I guess. Pretty cool stuff.
Photo by the illustrious Glenn Tachiyama
I only ran with a bottle this year, instead of my full hydration pack. I guzzled liberally, refilling the bottle with water every 5 miles, taking plenty of Endurolytes and some gels - though probably not as many as I should have. I stopped for fresh fruit and fizzy drinks at the aid stations, but not much else.
Partway through the second loop, I caught sight of Kathleen ahead of me. Without even being fully cognizant of my insidious competitive spirit, I instinctively fell into a steady pace, with just enough distance behind her that she'd be unlikely to notice me. I guess that counts as stalking? I ran behind her like that, at a distance, for several miles, noticing that she was slowing down, thinking (foolishly!) that this would mean I'd be able to overtake her at some point.
Well, just about when that some point came, it just so happened that she started to take a wrong turn and veer off course. Realizing immediately that she'd taken the wrong trail at a fork, she turned back around - and saw me. Here, I thought (again, foolishly!) that we'd fall into step with each other and have a nice little chat in the woods as we ran together - but the sight of me sent her foot straight to the gas pedal. I ran on her heels for a mile or two at a challenging clip, before she pulled away from me for good - never to be seen again until hours later when I crossed the finish line at 4:57:50 - 38.5 minutes faster than last year, 6.5 minutes behind Kathleen, for a 2nd place women's/10th place overall finish.
Nevertheless, it made a huge difference to have someone on the course who challenged me at such a higher level than what I'm capable of on my own. I spent the last two thirds of the race running at the edge of my ability level, trying to keep Kathleen within sight, within reach - wanting that win, knowing I probably couldn't get it, but also knowing I'd better damn well do my best trying for it. I know I wouldn't have smashed my own Vashon PR so thoroughly without her presence to push me. We collapsed into laughter at the finish line, marveling at how competitive we'd gotten with each other during the race - but how it was the best kind of competition, the healthy kind that drives you to do better than you thought yourself capable of. To yet another woman who kicked my butt in a race, I say thank you.
I also say thank you to Glenn, for yet again letting me have some bonus fun in front of his camera lens.
27ish miles in (I think). Ladies like to be ninjas in woods.
Last year, in the 8 weeks leading up to race day, I averaged 22 miles/week (peaking at a 41-mile week).
This year, in the 8 weeks leading up to race day, I averaged 49 miles/week (peaking at a 90-mile week.)
Apparently, training makes a difference. Imagine that! So here's to three weeks of last-minute cramming for my first 50-miler...woof.