Thursday, 25 September 2008

Iroquois Trails 100 Race Report

September 20, 2008...the first running of The Iroquois Trails 100 and 50 mile trail races. Even though I will be doing a few more races this year IT100 was to be the grand finale explosion of my 2008 race calendar and to also celebrate the anniversary of my 30th year.

Over the last several months I would frequently stop into The Finger Lakes Running Company and subtly inquire details about the status of the race and about the overwhelming task of tackling a race of this magnitude. I have to really commend Ian Golden for his perseverance because there were times that looked grim as far as the race even happening.

Well...it all came together nicely for the first year. One might even say it was a major success. I know I had a magical experience and will never, ever forget what I did for my 30th birthday.

As I'm sitting here trying to re-live many of the details of the treacherous journey the first thing that comes to mind is race day morning. I arrived at Gatherings around 5:15am for a 6am start. I saw someone running all over the place with a headlamp on. I didn't even need to see who it was...I knew. This was the day RD Ian Golden had been waiting for since the time this local ultra marathon vision had been conceived.

It was a little chilly. I think around 45 with wet grass from the dew. As Erica and I got out of the car a small man in a very puffy coat passed by very close to us and grumbled,"crazy runners". It turned out to be Ian's father George and had me laughing from the get go. I checked in with Katie Stettler and got all my belongings ready. As it got closer to race time I got so nervous. Anxiety almost paralyzed me at times when I was sitting in the car trying to stay warm because I couldn't believe I was about to embark on a 100 mile run. The longest I have run prior to this in one go was 50 miles in 7 hours. Time wise I knew I was about to triple that. Was I ready? Hell yeah. I was so organized that I even made a poster board with the course map on it and on the back had instructions for Erica on what to do every time I came through the checkpoints. I just wanted to get this thing started. The anticipation was killing me.

Ian had us all lined up at the start beneath a couple tiki torches and gave us some last minute instruction. I lined up next to fellow Ithaca runner Tim Ingall who, again, spontaneously jumped into an ultra on low mileage training. God bless him! Ian sent us off as we hooted and hollered through the dark. Another great advantage I had was that I knew the course inside and out. Tim, Bryon Powell, Adam Chase and myself took off down Tone Rd. with about 40 runners behind us. Up we went the ski slope Mars Hill and fell in line with the ski lift. We all walked this portion and chatted and got to know each other better. Close to the top I told the guys to take a look back. If I close my eyes I can still see the unforgettable view of a pink ocean of clouds as the sun was coming up. It was breathtaking. Also, the twinkle of all the headlamps coming up the mountain was surreal. We all agreed that this was something we'd never forget.

OK...back to business. After gawking at the sunrise Tim and I separated ourselves from the other two and made our way down to the base and back up the mountain running and walking at a nice pace. As we went down the steep Arcadian Gate I could feel my feet completely soaked. That was OK because I had planned to change shoes at Gatherings after the first 5.9mile section was complete. Tim and I entered the hub together and agreed that we were just going to take a couple minutes, change our shoes, and take off to run the next 17 mile out and back section together. I changed from my Inov-8 Roclite 285's to my La Sportiva Fireblades and a fresh pair of Smartwool socks. Off we went up Carson Rd. We both agreed how great it felt with dry shoes and socks. After about 1.3 miles on the steep uphill paved road we turned into the Finger Lakes Trail which would take us to Pipeline Rd. During this time Tim and I talked about all kinds of things from jobs to our families to traveling and to of course running. I let him know my plan which was to run this leg back to Gatherings and then grab music to listen to from miles 23.5 to 50 or so. He was fine with that and assured me to stick to it. Around mile 12 I started feeling some burning in my legs. I couldn't believe it but tried to remain calm and to not panic. I had a long way to go...this couldn't be already happening. I shared my secret with Tim and told him not to tell anyone. I just didn't want loads of people constantly asking how my legs were. However, it really didn't slow us down too much. Around mile 16 or so I saw Ian out in the woods and he yelled to me,"Yassine! you're not over running are you?!" I then replied, "No, I'm trying not to...I'm feeling good". That was a lie. A few moments after seeing those guys I told Tim to move on without me. I had too much of a race in front of me and I had put in too much hard work in to be messing around like this. I was basically by myself in the middle of the woods so I decided to try some yoga poses that Erica had taught me. I did some Warrior lunge stretches and Crow along with some hamstring and calve stretches interspersed with running. It helped but didn't completely alleviate the crampiness discomfort. I managed to tough it out to Gatherings and mile 23.5 still way ahead of schedule.

All that I have to say is that Erica was the most awesome crew person. She set aside everything this weekend to be there the entire time. When I arrived I went directly to the back of the Subaru hatchback and dove into my cooler while Erica massaged my legs with Arnica oil. This was something I picked up at Green Lakes while watching Valmir Nunes and his crew. It turned out to be so helpful in flushing out wastes and keeping my muscles loose. I ate some pasta and other random goodies, drank an Ensure, and re-stocked my bottles. It was so helpful that I wrote things down beforehand because it was all ready when I came in. I didn't have Erica asking me if I needed this or needed that. It was a little distracting having Renee, who was filming for a documentary, right in my face the entire time but tried to answer her questions and refuel at the same time. So, I felt ready for a long out and back to Daisy Hollow Rd. with IPOD full of music. I purposely took Erica's IPOD and put it on 'shuffle songs' because I didn't know much of her music and I thought it would be a good exercise to keep my mind busy and to have it be a surprise what song would come on next. As I was leaving Gatherings Becky Harmon, Karen Grover, Joel Cisne and a couple others startled me as they yelled with pom poms flying "Go Yassine!, Go Yassine!!" It was classic. It definitely put a much needed smile on my face.

I headed down to the end of Tone Rd. and up the steep technical section to the Greek Peak aid station where friends Holli and Brian were working. The weather was phenomenal...nice and cool in the woods. I still felt fatigued and a bit crampy and realized that with the distraction at Gatherings I forgot to grab some more Endurolytes. When I got to the aid station I wished Holli and Brian both a Happy Birthday, briefly chatted and asked if they had any salt caps. Unfortunately, they didn't but Tony P., Bryon Powell's crew very nicely offered me one. After I left those guys I started getting into some nice grooves as a lot of the steep hills were behind me. Next aid station was the Rock Pile and it was funny to come up on Dave and Maria who were playing their guitars. I briefly chatted with them, grabbed some pretzels and re-filled my bottles knowing that second place was not too far behind...I think as close as five minutes at times. Off to Daisy Hollow on a somewhat technical part of trail and I was starting to feel much better. When I hit the aid station at Daisy Hollow I learned that Bryon was still creeping back there so I pushed on. I passed Ian and Renee in the forest and eventually Powell as we exchanged high fives. This is where I entered, looking in hindsight, "the zone". Great song after great song inspired me to run free through the forest sometimes singing out loud and laughing. There were times that endorphins completely filled by brain leaving goose bump chills over my entire body. There were times when I pictured the Iroquois Indians running over these hills chasing down deer and rabbits. I was really covering some ground by now and learned that Tim was not too far ahead of me. Eventually, I came around a corner and caught view of a couple people in the distance...and a dog. The closer I got I realized that it was Tim and Eric Maki and his dog Shakota. I caught up with them and learned that Tim was not feeling so well and had taken a wrong turn that also bruised his spirit. I was feeling so good that I powered on down the mountain to complete the first 50 miles in 8:53. I was very happy with that time on this course and elated that I overcame some early race annoyances. Still way ahead of schedule of my goal of sub 24 hours.

I entered Gatherings to the sight of many friends and now family members started to arrive. My mother drove 4 hours with my Aunt Patty and they couldn't believe how good I looked after running 50 miles...and neither could I. Erica worked her magic on my legs while I ate some gnocchi, quinoa curls, pasta w/pest, etc. etc. I refueled my bottles and restocked my Race Ready shorts w/ everything from Endurolytes to gels to dried red bananas and crystallized ginger. I said to my Aunt Patty as she poured cold water over my head, "This is where it gets interesting". I changed my shoes from The Fireblades to Inov-8's Roclite 305's that had much needed arch support insoles and cushioning. Now I was about to go into uncharted territory mileage wise. Same tough course repeated for another 50 miles...whew!

Off I went as my cheering section grew bigger and louder. As I ran down Tone Rd. to access the alpine section I saw someone running towards me at a pretty good clip. As he got closer I realized that it was Ian. Damn, this guy is everywhere. I bet he ran a marathon this weekend not to mention pretty much staying awake for approximately three days. Ian gave me some valuable information about how I was pulling away from Bryon and I can still remember Ian putting his finger to his temple telling me to be smart. The sun was high and hot by now and going over the ski resort section offered little shade. This was a tough part but, again, listened to some good tunes, zoned off into my own little world and, at times, reflected on how far I have come and where I am now. I did the loop and arrived back to Gatherings for another quick pit stop. There I picked up my pacer Michael W. and saw an unexpected friend John O. That was a great pick-me-up. Keep moving forward and try to have fun was my attitude from this point on.

Up Carson Rd. which we walked the entire way. In fact we didn't start running until we were into the forest a good bit of the way. Finally, we made it to Pipeline Rd. and I ran/walked to the aid station where my mom had a huge sign and people were chanting, "Team Yassine! Team Yassine!" It was great to see Cory West and Brian Lee and briefly chatted and joked with them. They took care of me and off we went for a five mile loop. As I returned to the same aid station Erica gave me a long sleeve and my headlamp for the 6 mile section back to Gatherings. My aunt told me,"You're doing this Yassine!" We ended up needing the light towards the end as the sun went down and there were some dark sections of forest. Going down Carson Rd. I mentally prepared myself for what I will need for the last section of the race knowing that I will potentially be running into some problems.

When I turned the corner from Carson Rd. onto 392 I will never forget the view. The road was all lit up and coming from total darkness, except the little light my headlamp displayed, it was very energizing. Also, as my eyes focused in I could see my brother, his wife and my cute little nieces (Lydia and Makana), good friends Nick and Maggie, Erica, my mom and Aunt Patty all standing at the mouth of Gatherings. They were all smiling and cheering and I picked up the pace and gave them all high fives as I went past. This was a really special moment for me. My brother ran up to the car with me and couldn't believe how well I was moving for having run 73.5 miles! By now the pit stops were routine and Erica was on my legs, my Aunt Patty changing my water bottles, and me eating some solid foods. Tim yelled and joked from a lawn chair that Monday we would be doing speed work on the track. Weishaar came up and told me to get moving which made me laugh and Jason C. stopped in with a great smile to lift my spirits. I said to people, "Surprisingly, I am feeling great!"...just then Ian busted in the crowd and emphatically stated..."It's no surprise!...you've trained long and hard for this!"...He was right. I guess I just thought I would be feeling much more fatigued. I guess my crew and family helped with this but I reminded myself that I still have a marathon to go.

OK...let's do it. I didn't want to get too comfortable talking with people and hanging around the festivities even though it was tempting because Powell had to drop hours ago due to an injury and the next person back was a long way. Keep moving forward. Tone Rd. to the end and up the trail was exhausting. I just didn't have much power and the darkness was starting to take a toll on me. It was getting a bit cooler but I had some gloves on. Michael really did a great job pacing me through this section and even offered me one of his apples. Even with Michael along side of me I starting feeling a little lonely and tired. I started thinking of the treacherous trails that lie ahead of us. Michael reminded me not to think about all of that. Just think about getting to Greek Peak aid station. I just kept thinking about the annoying sections...a lot of things were going through my tired mind. I had to constantly remind myself of this thought stopping and centering.

I entered Greek Peak aid station finally to greet Matt and Katie Aldridge who welcomed me with some great noodle soup. Talked a few minutes then forced myself onward to the Rock Pile where I knew I had a Starbucks Double Shot can waiting for me in my drop bag. That's the only thing that I really looked forward to at that point. As we trudged through the woods we saw a light shine on us..."Hands up...immigration!"...it was search and rescue joking with us. I said they could take me to jail as long as there was a bed there. Before long we saw another light approaching us. Who could this be. Turns out to be Eric Maki again! What an animal this guy is. It was also very coincidental that years ago when I did my first ever 20-mile run Eric was a part of that too. He totally energized us by telling great stories and updating us on all the college football games scores. He also told me that since the last time he saw me when he was running with Tim he had gone home, ate lunch, did the dishes, took a nap, went to Wal-Mart and then drove back to the forest with his dog Shakota. Wow, that really put into perspective how long I had been navigating my way through this demanding ultra course. I rode his energy to Daisy Hollow letting out sighs periodically as he encouraged me to stay strong.

When we finally made it to Daisy Hollow I could hear my fan club and crew huddling around the aid station w/ Laura Voorhees and her husband. It was now 86.6 miles and I was not smiling a whole lot. This is where I would drop Michael and pick up Brian Olmstead who would be celebrating his birthday running this final leg with me. My Aunt Patty spoon fed me pierogies and I refilled my bottles. I didn't have much to say. I wanted this to be over with. I was really tired. It took me a long time to get to Daisy Hollow and my family told me that they were worried about me. I was still on pace to break 24 hours comfortably but had to remind myself just one section at a time...one step at a time. In fact Laura said something that stuck with me for the rest of the race. She said, "Every step you take from here on out is a step closer to the finish". I kept reminding myself that in my head.

Back towards the Rock Pile with new company. Brian was great too. He kept pushing me and telling me I was doing great. I just kept thinking about the other half can of Starbucks I had at the Rock Pile and the soup that the wonderful volunteers promised me for my way back. I finally made it and witnessed the beautiful warm fire they had going there. I didn't entertain the thoughts of sitting down next to it for a couple of minutes eating my soup. Keep moving forward.

By now we figured out that if we kept moving at a pretty good pace, relatively speaking, that we could break 22 hours. Brian kept reminding me when I would sigh or complain a little by saying, "22, 22 come on Yassine 22". There were periods of time when I was actually able to sustain a run for like 2 to 3 minutes then I would feel my left IT band start to tighten up a little. Nothing major but enough to force me to walk. Then I would start running again. We would see oncoming head lamps and when we passed each other mumbled words of encouragement and moved on into darkness. I couldn't believe how chipper Margie Hughes was every time I saw her and got great energy from her and her pacer. Also, seeing the amazing Jack Pilla pacing and crewing his girfriend Kelly was awesome to see. There's a couple that can do some damage.

Finally, we made it to Greek Peak at mile 96.5 and it was basically all downhill from here. I thanked Katie and Matt and kept hammering it home. I joked with Brian that I didn't want to talk to anyone when I finished...that I just wanted to go to sleep. On the downhill steep technical part of Greek Peak I tripped and did a Superman face first dive down the mountain. A little scary but I was all right. Brian helped me up and re-emphasized that we were almost home. As we jogged down Tone Rd. we came across a few more runners who congratulated me as we passed. By now I could see the huge light tower. As I took a left onto 392 I walked for a minute so I could take the corner running into the finish. This was such a powerful moment for me. I thought of everything that led up to this race and all the crazy training things I did to empower me to do this amazing feat. I turned the corner and let out some woooohoooooo's probably waking people up. It was 3:30 am. I came to the tiki torches where I started some 21.5 hours prior to Ian, who was still in full force taking pictures and encouraging everyone, and finished my first 100-mile trail run in 21:35! I gave Ian a huge hug. Then Erica came over and wrapped her arms and a blanket around me and kissed and congratulated me. I'm not sure I have ever felt the type of satisfaction I felt at that moment. 100 miles....geeez!

Wow! I immediately crawled into the back of Erica's car and got under the blanket. However, I did get up when my mom, Aunt Patty, Scotie, Karen and a few others came over to congratulate me and gave out some thankful hugs.

I went through many emotions that day and night. I had some rough times at the beginning and at the end but the bulk of the race was magical. I fed off of the spirit of the other runners, the volunteers, my crew/pacers/Erica and family and the absolute beauty and connection I had with the trails in Virgil. I tried to never take the race too seriously just like I have to remind myself to not take life that way either. I can't thank Ian enough for all the hard work and organization that went into this event. All of the behind the scenes details of making sure everyone was taken care of. The food at the aid stations, gels, soup,etc. was great to supplement what I had brought. I also want to thank Erica, not only for being the most awesome crew person, but for your patience with me as I spent a lot of the summer running through the forest getting ready for this inaugural race. I will definitely be back for another IT100 and can see this race becoming a popular ultra in the Northeast.

I went home at 4a.m. and slept for a few hours but woke up to come back to the awards ceremony. There I would witness Ian's heartfelt display of thankfullness to all the runners, volunteers, his wife and the fact that...Yes...it happened. Never Give Up!

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From the time I could stand upright I was chasing soccer balls around with older children at the fields where my father...

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