With Moroccan-based heritage, it’s no wonder Yassine Diboun’s dream was to play in the World Cup. As time progressed and he found himself trying sport after sport, his teenage years focused largely on basketball. Having competed overseas and even in Division III college ball in Pennsylvania, Yassine moved westward where the allure of the Rocky Mountains and, eventually, the Pacific Northwest, lead him to transition to endurance sports. Since 2007, Diboun has truly hit his stride, competing in numerous ultramarathons and trail running races.
You’ve tried many sports over your lifetime. Do you think you’ve settled on ultra-running as “the one”?
It has appeared to be the one, for now anyway! I’ve settled on ultra-running for the past dozen or so years, but as we know, nothing is permanent. I will do it as long as my body will allow me, and for as long as I still have the passion for it. If I ever lose the love for it, I will obviously follow my heart to what is next....just like when I moved from team sports to endurance sports earlier in my life. I think what has kept me so firmly rooted in the sport of ultra-running is its simplicity and multi-faceted “health”. As a health professional, and business owner in the fitness industry I am always conveying to people that health is not just your physical health. It is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Ultra-running, especially in the mountains and forests, fills me up in all of those areas, and living in the Portland, Oregon area allows such amazing access to such places.
It is said that ultra-running is as much physical training as mental training. Do you think they’re equally important?
The mental part of ultra-running is one of the most important aspects. It is very important and I work on it a lot for myself and for the athletes that I coach through Wy’east Wolfpack. The physical training is obviously important and when you do lots of physical training and get strong and fit this builds confidence which in turn gives you a mental edge, but the physical aspect gets all the spotlight.
I feel that the mental, emotional, and spiritual side of ultra-running is underrated if you will. Ultra-running is one of the most irrational things you can do. There is a mechanism in the human brain called the central governor. It is a self-preservation mechanism that tells us to stop, rest, walk, sleep, etc. when we push the limits of endurance. The thing about the central governor is that it is always very conservative, so as to leave a reserve of energy for survival. Endurance athletes and ultra-runners have found that they can override these signals and push the limits of human potential. The more you push through, the easier it gets and you recognize certain signals. Sometimes it’s not the most healthy option and I have pulled out of races in my career because my mind was pushing through but my body (especially my internal organs) was not having it on that particular day, and I didn’t want to damage myself. The race is not that important! I feel like that is why/how I have been able to race at a high level for over a decade. I am very much in tune with my body and mind because of my lifestyle today. In ultra-running you can’t get too cerebral about the task at hand. It becomes too irrational and overwhelming. Some tricks that I use are mantras, visualization, and imagery before and during competition, and breaking the race or adventure down into bite-sized chunks, otherwise it gets too overwhelming. A little story that we love (and is part of the reason we named our company Wy’east Wolfpack) is the story of the two wolves. It’s a Native American (Cherokee) legend that works well for both life and for endurance sports and it goes like this:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
One is Evil—It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good—It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”
In other sports, the gear seems to evolve nonstop (skiing technology, climbing technology, camping/backpacking equipment, etc) and you can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to feel properly equipped and to progress in the sport. In your ultra-running career, have you seen big leaps in running technology? Do you think better technology is important to the sport? Do you think that will change in the future?
There have been great advances in GPS watches, headlamps, and cameras (drones) etc. but I still think at the core of ultra-running is its simplicity and practicing a sacred transcendence. One foot in front of the other moving through wild spaces and tapping into something bigger. I think the technology muddles it a bit and I like to take it all with a grain of salt. I say that because of social media (Instagram, YouTube, FB, etc.) changing the sport a bit. People are going to these amazing places on foot and are focusing a lot on trying to get the perfect shot for their Instagram and missing out on so much of the authentic experience. I am guilty of this sometimes too. We go to such breathtaking places that we want to share the inspiration with others. Also, if you have a big following on social media channels you are more likely to be sponsored by companies so it creates another dynamic which has shown some changes in the sport and growing pains if you will.
In climbing, there are many athletes that push for “firsts.” First ascents, first free ascents, first descents (in skiing/ski mountaineering). Is there as much of an obsession in the ultra-running community for these “firsts”?
Yes, I think it is human nature to want to be the first or the fastest, etc. There is a trend in ultra-running called FKT’s which stands for Fastest Known Times. There is a website and protocol for people to follow to set a fastest known time on a particular route, or create your own. It’s pretty cool and I have participated in this type of self-organized adventure running. For example, I set the FKT for the Pacific Crest Trail (supported) through the state of Oregon a few years back. I think it’s a fun way to set your own parameters on a project, state your intentions, and go for it without the structure of a race or sanctioned event. It just gives you the freedom without all of the hoopla! I invite you to check out the FKT website.
What has been your toughest race to date?
I think the toughest race I’ve attempted and did not finish, unfortunately, was Badwater 135. This is 135 miles on roads through Death Valley in July. The temps topped out at 127 degrees Fahrenheit. I made it 100 miles and my body was cooked and I was having some internal issues with kidney dysfunction and dehydration/heat exhaustion, etc. I pulled the plug.
Probably the most difficult race that I have finished would be the HURT 100 in Hawaii (I finished 3 times) and it is extremely difficult w/ lots of technical terrain such as slippery roots and rocks and tons of climbing through the mountains in Oahu, Hawaii. Again you deal with heat and humidity of the jungle and it’s in January, so it’s difficult for us PNW’ers to get ready for. The other is UTMB which stands for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France. You start in Chamonix France and run around the biggest mountain in the Alps (Mont Blanc) and pass through three countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) and climb over 30,000 cumulative feet. It was very difficult and took me 28 hours to finish in 89th place out of over 3,000 runners.
Have you participated in running events outside of the United States?
Ultra Trail Torres del Paine in Chile—I was leading a 110 kilometer race through one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion, and just before sunrise saw a puma. We checked each other out and he jumped over a log and ran away. Pretty exhilarating!
What are your ultra-running goals in the next few years? What do you hope to accomplish?
There are a few races I would like to complete such as Hardrock 100 in Colorado. There are so many self-organized adventures that I would like to do such as the Washington PCT, Tahoe Rim Trail, etc. so I will likely continue to break my season up with self-organized adventures and local and international races as much as I can!
Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.