Running on Vashon Island

Running on Vashon Island-Team Van Dyke’s First Race

This is an article from 2007 I thought you might enjoy, since we just spent another glorious week on Vashon Island with our family. 

My family and I just spent two weeks in Washington on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, a short ferry ride either to Tacoma or Seattle. We rented a house on the beach where we relaxed and watched the tide come in and go out in a lovely rhythmic lunar dance, leaving behind sand dollars, crab shells and jellyfish. Every day a bald eagle perched nearby on a large pole sticking up through the water about 100 yards from the house. Two herons came to the shore daily to fish and hang around, and seals bobbed up and down in the distance.

But the best part was spending time with our family. Our daughter Gretchen and her boyfriend Dave Miller live nearby in Tacoma, and they stayed with us. Our son Garrett and his wife Annie and his family also came, and we got to spend lots of time with our grandsons, seven year old Jack and three year old Peter. The two boys played on the beach, swam and combed through piles of driftwood looking for sticks suitable for their games. What is it about young boys and sticks? Jack and Peter had sword fights and gun battles with their driftwood finds. Jack found one stick that he carried around with him constantly, using it as a bat to practice his baseball swing. He was devastated when it broke, convinced there was no replacement, even though there were dozens of similar sticks nearby. jack playing driftwood baseball

Jack playing driftwood baseball

Vashon Island is about the size of the island of Manhattan, with a population of only 10,000 people. It is rural, with a very small city center with a four way stop sign and a flashing red light above, and not a single traffic signal. I ran a lot while on the island, by myself and with Gretchen, Garrett and Dave. It’s a beautiful place to run, but “oy the hills,” especially for a flatlander from the Midwest like me. I tried to find running routes along the shoreline where it’s flat, but there is just no place to run on the island that is flat for any appreciable distance. No, there is always a hill to climb, and then another, and then another after that. Needless to say, my quadriceps muscles got stronger after all those hills, but often I had to walk several times before reaching the top of a hill. There was a Strawberry Festival on the island the second weekend we were there. They didn’t have many strawberries for sale, because the festival was started many years ago when they actually grew them on the island. But there was a parade through the downtown, and a race, the 27th annual Billl Burby Fun Run to honor the man who was the founder of the race. Once we found out about the race it seemed destined to happen. Gretchen had originally wanted us to run a 5k over the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, build next to the bridge that was once called “Galloping Gertie,” which was to open that weekend. It would be a first and only run, since once the bridge opened to automobile traffic it wouldn’t ever again be closed for a run. That race also seemed appropriate for Gretchen, since she is our own “Galloping Gertie”, but we decided on the island race. Besides once you are on the island, you just don’t want to leave, and running the bridge race would have meant leaving the island for much of the day. Plus the price was right for the Bill Burby run, only ten dollars. When was the last time you ran a race for ten dollars, and got a new tee shirt to boot? So we decided to run the race, the three Van Dykes opted for the 5k and Dave for the 10k.

Remember the hills. The race started at the local YMCA, then ran downhill for almost two miles to about sea level, before heading back up to the finish at the Y. The downhill was just terrific. I was cruising. At about the midway point I was following a runner who looked to be in my age bracket, with grey hair and a beard. He had been ahead of me for quite a while but I finally caught up with him after one of the long downhill stretches of the race. Ha, I thought I should be able to beat this guy. But then I began the slog back up the hill, and it became clear that he was a local, used to the hilly terrain, and I was but a flatland pretender soon to get shown a thing or two about hill running. He soon pulled away from me, beating me by about 20 seconds. I came in a about 24:30, or more than two minutes seconds slower than I had on the recent Ricky Birdsong race in Evanston on a flat course. I ran the last mile in 10 minutes after running near seven minutes for the first two miles. Gretchen came in the second woman after leading for about half the race. Garrett came in a couple of minutes after me, and Dave came in 10th in the 10k, but unfortunately he is in the very competitive and fast 30-39 year age group, and he was fifth in that group. We all had a great time. It was the first time all of us had run together like that, and I look forward to this fall when we will all be running the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon together for another first.

What a treat to be sharing one of the passions in my life with my family. The enterprise that started out as one solitary long distance runner, namely me, has now expanded to four of us, what I call team Van Dyke/Miller consisting of me, Garrett, Gretchen and Dave Miller.

Team Van Dyke-Miller After Burby Run

Team Van Dyke/Miller after the Bill Burby run

But we haven’t stopped growing I suspect. I expect that number to increase soon to five. Jack, our seven year old soccer kicking, baseball playing grandson, was at the race on Vashon enjoying the festive atmosphere and watching earnestly with his grandmother Johna and younger brother Peter as all of the runners approached the finish line. He first saw Gretchen come in, then me, then his dad, and finally Dave who had run the 10 k. He told his Dad that he wants to run a race too when he goes home to St. Louis. What a treat that will be for him, and us. Maybe all five of us can run a race together in the near future. When Jack joins us, we’ll have a team of five, our very own Van Dyke-Miller cross country team. I can’t wait.  

Will Van Dyke

July 2007  

2014 Postscript-We have added two new grandsons and runners since this post, so we definitely have enough runners for our own cross country team.