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Connecting Ultrarunners Across The Globe

International 100+ UltraRunning Foundation

2016 Icarus Florida UltraFest

Race Directors Race Report

by Claire Nana

December 2016

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” – Alan Turing

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term “flow”, which describes a states also known as optimal experience, says that when we experience peak moments in our lives we transcend the self, often arriving at a more complex version of ourselves. In Greek mythology, the myth of Icarus warns us against complacence, while also cautioning us of the dangers of hubris.

And so the runners of the 4th edition of the Icarus Florida Ultra Fest gathered in Snyder Park, Ft. Lauderdale, on a cool, overcast Monday morning. As many Americans were rising, driving their cars, and heading to another day at the office, for the competitors in Icarus’s Six Day Race, the air was rich with anticipation.

Icarus, after all, was founded on the principle that not only should we transcend our limits, but that doing so, might just be good for us. Some have sprinted with everything they had left across the finish line. Some have wavered, after days on tired legs, the resolute determination that comes with reaching something that hadn’t yet been considered possible now in their grasp. Some have laid down and kissed the pavement.

And yet every person that comes to Icarus leaves in some way changed. When Jesper Kenn Olsen, one of the four men to run around the world, won the Six Day race in 2014, many fellow competitors in many of Icarus’s shorter races – the race also offers 12, 24, 48, and 72 hour options – didn’t realize it was possible to run for six days, let alone around the world. “I started thinking, ‘Hey if he can run around the world, maybe I can do a 48 hour race,’” one of them told me. I smiled, because that’s the point of Icarus.

For most of us – like this runner – our limits are self-imposed. “It’s not the body that gives out, but the mind,” Jesper had told me. For others, these limits seem already sealed in National record books. These too have been broken. Over the course of four short editions, Icarus runners have broken 9 national and international records.

It might have been a few of those records that were on the minds of the 10 runners who started the Icarus 2016 Six day race, but as Carey Clarkson, Icarus’s stalwart aid station manager buzzed around ensuring that all of the runners had been given coffee, and the assurance that all of their needs would be met, it could have also been that they too wondered where the line falls between “not doing enough” and “pushing too much”.

Jim Schroeder, who only started running six days races in 2014 – at Icarus – is now an Icarus staple who participated in every edition. As many runners have shared measured steps with him around the one kilometer loop course that traverses the scenic Snyder Park, they too, have seemed to share in the serenity that surrounds Jim.

And then there was Mark McCaslin who returned to a second 144 hour edition and went through almost all positions on the ranking board before finishing on the 2nd Male position.

All things can happen in a Six day race. You can adopt a steady pace, complete with regular sleeping hours, mealtimes, and even showers. Or you can simply run until you can run no more, rest, and repeat the process.

Tina Andersen, and Manoshri Sykorova know it well. Both strong ultra competitors, they both were favorites in the women’s six day race. Tina, who is coached by Jesper Kenn Olsen started off quickly, clocking off 75 miles on day one. Manoshri, on the other hand, stayed at a steady 60 miles.

Olsen’s other student, Henrik Aarup Svendsen had never run a race before. What he had done was run across the United States. So as Henrik and Tina maintained an enviable pace on day one and two, Olsen might have been cautioning them to slow down. “She’s not listening anymore. Our goal was the Danish six day record, and now she’s going for the Scandinavian record,” Olsen had texted me.

Yet one thing was clear. Manoshri wasn’t slowing down either. Crewed by Volodymir Balatskyy - multiple time finisher of the 3100 miles race in NY and who would later go on to set a new course record in the 48 hour race, qualifying for the Spartathlon in the process, the Slovakian citizen embodied the discernable craftsmanship that comes from running multiple six day races.

But things don’t always go smoothly. Brad Compton, an Icarus six day competitor in 2014, 2015, and 2016, knows the drill well. “I’m much better now,” he told me on day three after struggling through a rough second day.

“That is always the hardest day,” Jesper had noted, “The novelty has worn off, and yet you are not where you want to be – and the muscles have not yet adjusted.”

And yet some seem to be unaffected by the ups and down that go with multiday races. Michel Gouin, a Canadian resident and founder of the Gouin Foundation, which promotes and supports ultra-running worldwide, never wavered, keeping a clocklike schedule, and a running pace of just over fifty miles a day.

For Kimberley Van Delst, an accomplished ultrarunner and two time Icarus Six day participant, the best response is simply to smile. “She never stops smiling. I just don’t understand it,” one of the 72 hour competitors queried.

We don’t understand it either. But perhaps that’s the takeaway. Ultrarunning has a way of making you ask those sorts of questions. Why should a person smile – or not – seemingly all the time? Why should I have my body work as I’d like it too? Why do things seem to work sometimes and other times simply fall apart?

And probably for a lot of runners, Why am I doing this?

That answer may or may not come, and yet something draws us back every year – race directors and participants.

Records do fall, performances are bested, personal records are set – these things seem almost a given at Icarus – but there is something much larger that seems to be happening.

People transcending themselves. Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superhuman: Decoding The Science Of Ultimate Human Performance, says that when the feeling of mastery aligns with feats previously considered not possible, the result is like intoxication.

Olsen said he hadn’t slept for days. “I couldn’t stop following the race. It’s created such a stir here (in Denmark). It’s just unbelievable what is happening.”

What was happening was that the women – Tina and Manoshri – were leading the race. As the first rays of light split the sky and cascaded over the water in Snyder Park on day four of the race, Manoshri had run an astounding number of miles, and Tina, unwavering, was only several miles behind. Only Henrik was close to the leaders, however a few miles behind.

The rest of the field had fallen into a steady – and persistent – pace. Tom Nasuta, a returning six day competitor, and fellow race director, and Tim Walsh, a first time six day competitor, proving once again that for seasoned runners and newcomers alike participating in a six day race is an act of continuous effortful persistence – sometimes against all odds.

But on day four, Icarus six day competitors were joined with a new field. As the 72 hour runners gathered around to hear last race instructions, a few six day runners walked and jogged by – smiled, and carried on.

The women’s field brought two noteworthy runners. Lara Zoeller a finisher of the inimitable Sparathalon, and holder of several 24 hour and 100 mile wins, and Wendy Murray, a 2016 finisher of the grueling Vol State 500km Race.

Chris Stevens in the men’s 72 hour race was taking his first crack at 72 hours. “He’s been training really hard,” Grant Maughn shared with me after the race. “You know, it’s not easy for him either. He has to spend a lot of time on the boat like me.”

Perhaps there is a correlation between the deliberate practice of enduring hardship and success in ultras.

Pablo Espinosa, a member of the men’s 24 hour Canadian national team might know it well. After discovering food allergies to almost every food offered at ultras, he resorted to creating his own race fuel – and a company to manufacture it.

“It never gets easier,” George Maxwell, a returning Icarus competitor, multiple finisher of the Vol State 500km, and race director of the LOST 118 and Cross Florida races, said as he smiled, checked in and lined up to start the race.

For Mark Prezzemolo and Roger Burruss the race was a new challenge, a way to, as Roger Burruss said, “Just see what I can do.”

For Zoeller, there were other hurdles to overcome. Arriving battling fever and bronchitis, she wasn’t sure how she would feel.

And yet, as all ultrarunners know well, the race must go on. For Zoeller, her condition proved nothing more than a distraction as she clocked 100 miles in just under 24 hours, took a shower, ate a small meal and sat down to rest. Then just minutes later, got up to run again.

Like another day at the office.

Chris Stevens had taken an early lead that was both steady and fast. By the second day, he had a healthy lead over Espinosa, and yet appeared to be driven by something much deeper than competition.

The fifth day at Icarus brought another new set of runners. Krystle Martinez, a competitive 100 km runner with several 100 mile finishes under her belt, Jennifer Carvallo, also an accomplished ultrarunner, and female winner of the 2014 LOST 118 mile race, and Mariko Takano, Icarus’s first Japanese competitor toed the line in the women’s 48 hour race.

In the men’s race, Jesus Atencio, a returning Icarus competitor, Joey Lichter, an accomplished ultra triathlete, and Volodymir Balatskyy, who although an ultrarunner with a commendable resume, had just completed four solid days of crewing for Manoshri.

I asked him if he’d slept. Sighing, he shook his head and offered a few words (English is not his first language), “Little bit.”

A little bit seemed to be enough. As the race began, we couldn’t help but be in awe. Watching Balatskyy run was like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. Not just was he running much faster than the rest of the field, it appeared effortless.

By the start of the sixth day, Balatskyy had turned in well over 100 miles, and still looked untapped. Powered by the staple Icarus smoothies, Takano had taken the women’s lead from Martinez, and had also learned perhaps an iconic Icarus English word, “smoothietime”.

Yea, I know, it’s not a word. But for a woman who traveled 7317 miles alone to a foreign country to compete in an unknown race, I am sure it meant more than we will ever know.

The last day at Icarus is always bittersweet. For those who run hundred mile races, it might seem like any other day. But for those who run six day races, the week together is shared journey – through desperation, exuberance, joy, and sometimes to the darkest places of the self – all in service of something larger than the race itself.

They leave with memories. They leave with stories. They leave with medals. They leave with connection.

As the sun’s early rays broke between the trees and the 24 hour competitors gathered around, the competition in the six day race had reached the boiling point.

“Tina was just within four miles of Manoshri,” Jason Gruss, Mike Melton’s consummate assistant and long-time Icarus supporter, had told me.

And yet, Manoshri, now running uncrewed, hadn’t appeared to tire. “She never stops,” Carey Clarkson, our invaluable aid station manager said that morning. “I’m up all night, and there are always a few slower hours where almost no one is pushing hard, but she is still running.”

“All night long?” I’d asked.

“Yea,” Carey nodded, “Pretty much.”

Now with 24 hours left in the six day race, if ever was the time to run, it was now. Tina Andersen was closing in fast on Manoshri.

In the 24 hour race, for a few runners, there was a separate goal. When William Corley stepped on the course that morning at Snyder Park – arriving with only minutes to spare – he stated that his one goal was to qualify for the Spartathlon, the 246 km race run every year from Athens to Sparta. That task would require that he run 113 miles in 24 hours. For Andrew Farretta, that thought might have also been on his mind – trained by Andrei Nana he also has eyes on the Greek race – but for Farretta Icarus was not only his first 24 hour race, but hopefully his first 100 mile race after starting running just one year before after volunteering in 2015 - with his father Dennis Farretta - to provide massage therapy to the athletes in pain.

For Elaine Stypula, a Michigan runner with an impressive resume, Icarus held different challenges. “I just don’t know how I will do running on the same course for 24 hours,” she’d said. “The funny thing is,” I’d said to her, “the longer you stay (i.e. the longer the run you compete in) the less that becomes an issue.”

The journey simply takes you beyond the course.

Brendan Barry knew it well. A participant at every Icarus edition, it was time to compete in the 24H race this year (in 2015 he completed 100 miles in 48 hours), Barry had told me, “This is where it all happened. This is where the transformation happened.”

In 2015 he might not have been the only who felt that way. A banner year for Icarus, Ed Ettinhausen set a new course record in the six day race, and Colby Wendlandt, at only 14 years old ran an unbelievable miles in the six day race.

“I remember him,” Scarlett Silwany smiled as she took her number and lined up to start in her second 24 hour race. Trevor Samuels, the 10 year son of accomplished ultrarunner, Jody Samuels, was also returning for the third year having competed in 2014 and 2015, running 47 miles. “This year”, Jodi – who also is an invaluable Icarus volunteer and the vegan expert – “we’ll see. He has a soccer game that morning and a piano recital, so he might be a little tired.”

That’s an ultra-mom for you.

Joining the returning 24 hour competitors were Alex Olayo, the beautiful Colombian, and Chris Thompson, who worked tirelessly to update the US Spartathlon social media in 2015 keeping the public updated on the team’s progress.

New to the Icarus 24 hour race were Scott Krause, a 2013 and 2015 Vol State finisher. James Austin, an accomplished ultra- runner and entrepreneur was a returning athlete. Rodrigo Gomez, was scheduled to run Icarus last year but missed it after injuring his shoulder right before the 2015 race. Pamela Sanchez signed up for the 24H race and also very graciously volunteered at Icarus on the first day of the race.

The 12 hour race also enjoyed some returning runners. Maury Udell, was paced by his inimitable wife and talented ultra-runner Bronwyn, Sean Kreller, who has run an Icarus race every year since 2014, and Delmy Rubio, a returning athlete who ran representing El Salvador.

New to the 12 hour race at Icarus were Nick Schling, an upcoming ultra-runner, Sarah Bloodgood, a triathlete, Brian Cavanaugh, a fellow race director and accomplished coach, Zsofia Inhouser, an Icarus board of director member, and now a new mom, and Jane Laties, who came to Icarus to support her boyfriend Tim Walsh, and signed up for the race after a little “arm twisting” by none other than myself.

As the last day of Icarus worn on – the battle between the two tough women for the six day title was in full swing – a few other rivalries emerged. For Zoeller, the three day win appeared with reach as she crept up on the unfaltering Chris Stevens, and the gap between them narrowed to less than 10 miles. Hearing the news, Zoeller put on her unmistakable running hat – and her game face – and literally took off.

So did Stevens, and the 72 hour race was on.

In the 48 hour race, Mariko Takano who had been creeping up on Krystle Martinez’s early lead from the start of the race finally overtook her. Yet Martinez, by the look on her face, was not ready to concede.

The early, and convincing lead in the 24 hour race was held by William Corley, who ran set fast early fraction from the start of the race. Yet in second place, a battle emerged between Andrew Farretta and Rodrigo Gomez, who stayed within one loop of each from the beginning of the race.

For Nick Schling in the 12 hour race, there was simply no competition. Taking off like a rocket, he simply never slowed down, and when all was said and done turned in an amazing 68.1 miles, and a new course record.

For the Australian Tom Denniss, who held the previous course record in the 12 hour, Schling’s run solidified his plans to return. “I just texted Tom, and he’s coming back for sure,” Carey, ever the volunteer, excitedly told me as Andrei shook Schling’s hand and told that he too, will have to return to defend that record.

Heading into the evening – with less than 12 hours to go in the race – Manoshri had hung on, running steadily all day, and now had seven miles on Andersen. Zoeller was running hard, and gaining on Stevens. Takano had hung on to her lead over Martinez. Farretta and Gomez were still running neck and neck and Corley was on track to qualify for the Spartathlon.

“I stayed up all night watching,” Jesper emailed the next morning. “It was amazing here, the energy was so great,” Carey told me as I pulled in early that last morning.

Andrei, who had been up most of the night watching too, came around the corner. “So where does everything stand?” I asked.

“Well,” he smiled, “we will have some records broken.”

As Wendy Murray sprinted across the finish line, the buzzer sounded and runners dutifully marked their place with their flags, records – and tears – did indeed fall.

Andersen, although she didn’t catch Manoshri, had run 422.9 miles in her first six day race to break both the Danish and the Scandanavian records. Manoshri had set a new course record in the six day race at 432 miles.

Chris Stevens held off the charge by Zoeller to set a new course record in the 72 hour race, turning on 214.71 in his first official 72 hour race. Zoeller, who given a few more hours likely would have caught him, ran a commendable 213.03 miles, in her first 72 hour race (and most definitely her first while battling bronchitis) breaking the female course record.

Takano, who ran 156.63 miles in the 48 race, also had a new record to accompany her on the long plane ride home to Japan. And for Volodymyr Balatskyy, not just did he have a new course record of an astounding 190 miles, but a 2017 qualification for the Spartathlon.

Corley would also be sharing that accomplishment. Running an impressive 113.1 miles in 24 hours, he will be applying for that trip to Greece in 2017. For the second place finish in the 24 hour race, Farretta fought until the end, holding off the unbreakable Gomez and turned in 103.7 miles.

As the award ceremony finished, the runners packed their gear, said their goodbyes and headed off, there was – for the first time in six days – a stillness in the air.

On the seventh day the mythical Icarus would rest his wings.

Special thanks goes to the expert Mike Melton, who provided our timing, Scott Richards, the angel in disguise who, without which Icarus tents might not ever be set up, Balazs Vajda who is the genius behind the Icarus shower, aid station manager, and angel of everything, the irreplaceable Carey Clarkson, and the cast of caring Icarus volunteers, Mary Kashurba , Jodi Samuels, James English and Pamela Sanchez.

Photos by Jim Schroeder and Chris Thompson

For photos and more details about the Icarus Florida UltraFest, visit the official website and facebook page.