From training with the Israeli Track and Field team for the 1972 Olympics to running 100 mile races, Shoestring Warrior Yitzhak has nearly done and seen it all in his 67 years. He truly loves the act of running through nature and has spent a considerable amount of time exploring. Some people choose to hike and others choose to increase the pace and see more in a shorter amount of time.
Still reeling about the idea of 100 mile races?
Read below to learn how Yitzhak can run for more than 24 hours without sleeping and still love it. I hope you find him even half as inspiring as I do. Bias check: I’m fortunate enough to call him my father.
Shoestring Warrior: Yitzhak Gilon
Kibbutz Gvat in the Jezreel Valley, Israel
San Jose, CA
Water Operations Supervisor
What are your passions outside of work?
Running, hiking, backpacking, rappelling and orienteering
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
I’d consider myself an experienced camper. I’ve probably been camping for nearly 50 years. I have also done a lot of solo backpacking.
Tell us about yourself!
I am 67 years old and love anything and everything related to the outdoors. I grew up in Israel and fell in love with running and orienteering in my 20’s.
I am an ultra runner which basically means I run really long distances and have stacks of running shoes and a missing toenail or two.
I used to run short distances at a quick pace but over the years, I have extended my mileage and slowed down the pace. When I’m not working or spending time with my family, I am usually exploring a new trail with my hat on backwards, a pack with water around my waist, and a GPS watch that tells me the altitude.
When did you start running and what do you think has motivated you to keep running for so many years?
I’ve always had a passion for adventure. In my younger formative years I was always a solo hiker and I would love to walk all day and especially at night. I started running after high school in preparation to compete in the 800 meters for Israel in the 1972 Olympics. We were training in the sea of Galilee. The track was near Tiberias. When I was at home on Kibbutz Gvat in the Jezreel Valley, I would run through the fields and hills all day. During this time I realized that I enjoyed running more off the track than on the track.
I began to run long distances and I noticed that running long distances on trails took my mind and body to places that I did not know existed.
As I got older, I realized that running had always been my excuse to explore. It gave me the opportunity to see places that I would never see because of distances. While running, I feel totally transported to the present and everything else just kind of fades away in complete unity of my surrounding.
Who inspired you to try ultra running?
A fellow runner from a long distance running club in Modesto asked me to accompany him on long distance trail runs about 20 years ago. The club in Modesto was made up of ultra runners. We met on weekends and we would do 25-50 mile runs.
What does it mean to be an ultra runner?
Basically, you participate in ultra marathons which is anything over 26.2 miles. Often you run a race one weekend and then the next weekend do another. One of my first ultra races I was told by a fellow runner that I was running too fast and he basically said that I wasn’t going to get to the finish line at that pace. I said, “Oh I’m going to finish all right.” He said, “It’s not about finishing this one it’s about finishing this one and doing another one next weekend.” If it wasn’t for ultra running, I wouldn’t have seen some of the places I’ve seen.
What’s your most memorable race, and why has it left such an impact on you?
My most memorable race was Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Race through the mountains of Utah. My first try at it was with a fellow pacer who was my navigator, and I didn’t complete it.
At about mile 75 my back seized up and by mile 93 the people at the aid station held me back and said I wouldn’t be able to finish because of the terrain.
Being only 7 miles away from finishing a 100 mile race and having to be pulled out was devastating. That motivated me to come back the following year and run without a pacer and do all the navigating myself. I finished in 32 hours and came first in my age group.
What does a typical weekend day look like for you?
Ultra running isn’t about miles per minute or distance covered, it’s about time on your feet. When I was younger I would start running at 5am and come home around 12pm. I used to also spend some weekends running through the night to practice for races since during long races you run through the night without sleeping. Now that I’m older, I start running at 12pm and come home at 5pm.
What advice do you have for people just starting to trail run or people training for their first ultra?
Just go out on the trail and enjoy your surroundings. Don’t forget to walk when you need to walk and run when you need to run. Listen to your body. Always let someone know where you are. Make sure you’re hydrated enough, that you have the proper clothing, and that you’re prepared to spend a long time out in nature. There have been many times that many of us started a run and decided to keep running throughout the night because we enjoyed it so much.
What’s your next adventure?
I plan on running Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in 2018. I am training for that now. That’s the long range plan. In October I am going to do The Javelina Jundred 100 Mile race in Arizona. That’s going to be my qualifier for Western States.
The perfect s’more?
The traditional s’more is the best!
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