Yassine Diboun on diversity in trail running in the Morning Shakeout and Trail Runner

Ex-Ithacan and FLRCer Yassine Diboun, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been a great ambassador for ultrarunning, garnered a mention in Mario Fraioli’s Morning Shakeout newsletter this week.

— Last summer I literally ran into Yassine Diboun on a trail in Chamonix, France, of all places, and over the course of a few miles together we had a great conversation about running and life, which he agreed to continue with me on my podcast the next time I found myself in Portland, Oregon, where he lives. Since I’m not sure when that will be, I’ve reached out to him about recording that episode remotely so he can share his incredible story and also provide additional commentary on this recent article he wrote for Trail Runner about the lack of diversity in trail and ultrarunning. “Trail runners are my tribe!” he writes. “However, there is one glaring reality—ethnic and racial diversity is lacking and I don’t believe it is because only white-skinned people like to run trails. There is truth that out in nature we are “all one”. But until we recognize that there are systemic barriers that prevent many people from participating, thing’s aren’t going to change.” Stay tuned.

In Yassine’s Trail Runner article about the lack of diversity in trail and ultra running, he has this to say about Ithaca:

First on the road for short distances, but it was the trails of Ithaca, NY where I found my refuge. I began to run races, perform well, and make friends who enjoyed ultra-long-distance trail running. I fit in, but I still looked different. I heard comments like “you look so scary, but you are so nice”, “where are you from, you are so exotic looking”, and I got used to the same finish line announcer mispronouncing my name for many years, even after phonetically spelling it for him.

I’m ashamed to hear that Yassine received such comments here. I would hope that our local running community is always kind and inclusive, but we can do much better when it comes to diversity.

I haven’t had a chance to see Yassine in years, but he’ll always be a part of my running memories. When I was getting a bunch of advice on the High Noon list about not going out too hard at the New York Marathon in 2008 (my first and only),Yassine wrote to me privately to say that he preferred to go out hard and hold it. So when I found myself feeling great at 10 miles into the marathon and only 86 seconds off my 10-mile race pace, I told myself I was running like Yassine and I just had to hold it. Yes, my pace slowed down a little over the remaining 16 miles, but I did hold the effort to finish in 2:48, and Yassine’s advice was a big part of that.

Yassine is a great dude! I distinctly remember the times I’ve had a chance to chat with him in Portland. The first time was at the Portland trail series where he organizes and marks the course before every race with his daughter. The one race I ran, they had a 500 ft climb in the last mile which was absolutely brutal and I remember seeing him at the turnaround and roaring everyone on. One morning at the Duniway track, it was super dark and none of my training partners had showed up. In the dark, Yassine spotted my Wineglass jersey and cheered me on with “Go Ithaca, go upstate NY!” He has an amazingly warm and friendly personality, to go with his running accolades.

I think the running community itself is great and very welcoming. Personally, it is sad to hear of Yassine’s stories but not entirely shocking. I’ve had expletives and slurs yelled at me a few times, especially heading out to more back country isolated roads and one time even had the complementary gift of an empty Gatorade bottle thrown at me on the bridge on Stewart Ave over Ithaca falls. On a more subtle note, I’ve had family members question my running when I took it up seriously in 2015 to the point where some people told me that I shouldn’t run higher mileage because I don’t have the genes for it.

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Yeah, he’s a great all-around guy and exactly the kind person I’d like to serve as a role model for my kids.

This NYT interview is sort of a follow-up to the Trail Runner article. https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?campaign_id=35&emc=edit_ru_20200613&instance_id=19365&nl=running&productCode=RU&regi_id=42941990&segment_id=30852&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2Fd0ffda52-7172-4f2e-baa5-69f5c67597d1&user_id=a66397761bc37c70415b14d574944ed2

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