The Iroquois Trails Ultras were conceptually conceived during a hike in Ithaca’s Six Mile Gorge by former Ithaca College teammates Ian Golden and Greg Loomis in 2007.
At the tail end of his run at Ithaca College Greg began venturing into the ultra running world. At that time, known as "Cabin Boy" to us, "Loomdog" to himself, Loomis became intent on asserting to himself that indeed he was tougher than most men, even if they were able to run faster and secure more relationships with those of the female persuasion. The proving grounds came in the form of fruit-based alcoholic beverages, and weeks on end living in a lean-to in Shindagin Hollow State Forest. During his time in the Hollow, Loomis was known to run ludicrously high miles, eat nothing but Pop-Tarts, and flex his biceps in admiration quite regularly. This led to further ultra-running endeavors fueled by similar nutritional logic, peaking with a chapter in Neal Jamison’s Running Through the Wall. Inspired by his physical and mental sojourns, but not by his choice in fruity beverages and Pop-Tart-brand pastries, Ian too ventured sporadically into ultra-running, fueling his diet in turn with Nature’s Path Organic Toaster Pastries.
With a passion for the sport and nature of the events, and with a history of thousands of miles run on the trails surrounding Ithaca, N.Y., it became apparent that a 100-miler should be brought to upstate N.Y. and, if possible, use those trails that they had come to love. Ian set out to chart a course over those trails, offering runners some of the most beautiful natural offerings this side of Argonia, Kansas. Additionally, an event that transcended running to appreciate the history and celebrate the present of the trails and communities became the goal.
Searching for the history of trails around Ithaca turned up a book titled Old Indian Trails in Tompkins County by Glenn Norris. In it were the brief descriptions and rough maps of a network of trails crossing Tompkins County established and used by the Iroquois Nation, specifically the Cayuga and Onondaga. Once comprising one of the most formidable early democracies in the world, the Iroquois Nation was connected through an extensive network of trails linking each of the six nations. It is recorded that the Iroquois were able to routinely cover the 240 mile Iroquois Trail (between present day Buffalo and Albany) in three days to maintain communication, history highlighted by Dan Brannen on UltraRunning online.
One facet of Iroquois society that would leave a lasting impression and be absorbed by white settlers was this network of trails that facilitated excellent lines of communication, travel, and hunting between the Five and later Six Nations. The Iroquois Trail was the spine of passage between Albany and Fort Niagara near present-day Buffalo. Branching from this spine were further networks, most only 12 to 15 inches in width, that penetrated and connected each of the Five Nations.
It was the Warrior Trail, passing through present Ithaca and near present Brooktondale that provided access between the eastern shores of Lake Cayuga and the Susquehanna River to the south. It was the pathway for the raiding parties on and of the Cayuga and warring nations as well as between the Cayuga and early American armies. The Warrior trail ushered in the first of the white settlers to present Ithaca in 1743 and widened to road’s width prior to being abandoned for a more western and advantageous route.
The Owego-Dryden-Onondaga Trail branched off of the Warrior trail into the Prospect or Shandaken Valley, making its way out of the marshy lowlands to cross the thickly wooded steep hillsides, passing along current Level Green Road to the present town of Caroline. Joining the West Owego Trail, it continued past the north end of present Flat Iron Road to ascend through one of its roughest sections, and then passed through the current Hammond Hill State Forest into the valley of Irish Settlement, present-day Dryden, and on toward the Iroquois Confederacy capital of Onondaga.
This was the history of trail use in the area and it was hoped that the proposed event could honor this history. It seemed all-too-perfect that the race weekend was to coincide with the Tutelo Native American Festival that is to convene at Tutelo Memorial Park adjacent to the planned start/finish at Buttermilk Falls State Park. Surely the event could connect to not only the history, but join in celebrating present Native Americans and culture in the Ithaca area. Unfortunately the proposed course, using the Finger Lakes Trail almost exclusively, and entailing, in part, night-time running over private land, was not embraced by all. An alternative was needed that would run either solely on public lands, or over a few approved private-land stretches.
The resultant vision was found in Virgil, N.Y., a town 20 miles northeast of Ithaca, and the home of several wonderful races staged by the Finger Lakes Running Club including the Monster Marathon, Virgil Mountain Madness, and Forest Frolic Trails Runs. With Finger Lakes Trail sections spanning the Tuller Hill and Kennedy State Forests, paired with the mountainous terrain of Greek Peak Mountain Resort, a 100 mile would again be possible. With the assistance of Joe Dabes, local land owner, trail creator and steward, and running legend, a course was configured. All that would be needed would be runners and pop-tarts.
The Iroquois Trails Ultras are intended to provide endurance trail athletes an additional opportunity in the under-represented northeast. It is the event’s hope to make use of existing trail networks that span both public and private lands to offer the necessary distances of 50 and 100 miles. A not-for-profit venture, the event is being funded by the Finger Lakes Running Company and secondary sponsors in support of the Ithaca Enclave and trails maintenance organizations.
The Ithaca Enclave is a new member club of the United States Track and Field Niagara Association whose goal is to support a collective of competitive open and masters distance runners in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Portions of any proceeds generated from the ultras will be used to sponsor athletes already present in the area, and provide an equal footing against larger and well funded regional club teams.
Remaining proceeds will be used to support those organizations that make the event possible, both public and private, in terms of trail maintenance and preservation. In time the event will require that all entrants complete trail maintenance or stewardship duties as a prerequisite for entry. The Iroquois Trails Ultras will work to minimize its environmental impact, to give back more than it receives, and to promote a better understanding and awareness of trail running and endurance endeavors.