Race to Robie Creek. 15Apr06, Boise ID...... by Pat Miller

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this race ever since Kelsey moved to Boise and soon thereafter sent me a URL with a “Hey, check this out” semi-dare. Just a trip to the website is a good deal of fun and amazement as the “Toughest Half-Marathon in the Northwest” is laid out in print. Recommendations, training tips, threats, admonitions, cautions and warnings for both participants and spectators abound as the rules and regulations for the Race to Robie Creek, an annual right of running passage for Boise runners, are spelled out. On President’s Day of this year thousands of runners crammed cyber-space trying to snag one of 2400 places in a race that typically fills in less than 2 hours. This year’s 1 hour and 36 minute to fill registration must have been a record. As I was going to be out of town I made arrangements for Kelsey to go online and sign me up for my third trip to this beast as soon as the 8:00 AM/MST flood gates opened. Technology being what it is, the system was soon overwhelmed and melted down. Not wanting to see me miss out on an afternoon of pain and suffering, Kelsey grabbed his checkbook and dashed off to find an acquaintance on the committee to hand deliver a mail-in application. I had bragged-up and whined about the previous two races and convinced Kenn Zahn that this was the race for him also. His online registration efforts made it in just before the implosion and he secured a spot as I waited for the lottery results... The race directors hold back a few hundred numbers for mail-in registrations and do try to accommodate the out-of-towners. A few days later I received the email confirmation that I was in. Not sure whether to cheer or cry…..

The race starts on the northeast side of town near Old Fort Boise and winds it’s way out and up ending up at Robie Creek Campground 13.1 miles away. The first half mile is flat but after that the work begins in earnest as the runners ascend 2.5 miles of pavement and 5.3 miles of dirt/dust/mud, depending on the weather, climbing 2250’. The last 1.3 miles pitches up at close to 9% before the 4.8 mile, 1500’ quad-smashing descent to the finish line. If you like ‘em flat, you won’t like this one!

Running is really only a portion of the whole event. The start line theatrics are different each year and follow the race theme which also changes. This year’s theme was based loosely on Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles. “It smells your fear” and “hide your fear” on banners, buttons and posters around the course was keeping with the typical ‘abandon all hope, ye runners who assemble here’ kinda thinking that the themes are famous for. The runners gathered to the starting area just prior to the noon (ALWAYS noon) start for some selected readings from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tome followed by the dragging of a faux fox between two tethers of hounds that began howling in fine fashion as the starter hollered “Turn loose the hounds!”…and the 29th annual ‘Race to Robie Creek” was off!

The first half mile or so is a mix of parking lot, sidewalks, streets, grass, parked cars, curbs, slow runners, fast runners, walkers and road signs. We finally made it around and out to where you can run something like a rhythm and Kenn deadpanned “Well, that was interesting”. That was our last words for the next 2 hours. Kenn has been running extremely well as of late and I knew that the longer I could stay with him without blowing up the better my chances at the sub-2 hour finish that has always eluded me on this course. The shorted-sighted decision to begin my low calorie diet 4 hours prior to the start caught up with me at mile 3 and I began to fall off the pace and bid a silent ‘adieu’ to Kenn and gathered my self for a slow death march to the summit. I have never been able to run continuously to the summit during the race. Even with my ‘bonk’ I was able to get closer to the top than previous attempts before realizing that walkers were passing me and succumbing to walking the final 800 meters myself . Right or wrong I still think a race should be run. I managed to get to the top in 1:29 and change while Kenn topped the course in 1:25.

This seems like a good place to mention all the nice volunteers and aid stations that help make this and every running event special. The course has aid stations every mile or so with usual supportive staff, fruit, water sports drink, all the usual goodness that I try not to take for granted. These folks have been hauling supplies and themselves up on the course since the wee hours of the morning to help all of us up and over the tough course with their encouraging words and hands full of sustenance. The exception being the Boise Hash House Harriers “Tables of Temptation” at mile 8. Forget everything nice you’ve ever had happen at an aid station when you get to this cross between a frat party and mugging. Their offerings include beer, whiskey, Twinkies, cigars and donuts. Two ‘men’ dressed in very ill fitting bikinis scream that the “race is already over”, “everyone has gone home”, “you’re not going to make it anyway”, “you look like crap!”, while trying to get the runners to stop and partake of all that is unhealthy and unholy. Another harpy works his way up and down the course in a walker as the crowd yells “You can’t even outrun the guy in the walker”…and that’s just the part I can write about in a family publication. It is a good diversion at the top of the hill and worth the price of admission. Kenn said he didn’t stop but he was far enough ahead by that time that I just had to take his word for it!!

Heading down the other side is a mix of utter exhilaration and blinding fear. The road was muddy and it is very steep, probably in the 10-12% range for the first 7/10ths with a couple of hairpin turns and mud holes thrown in for good measure. We had driven the course the previous afternoon and I expected, because of the mud, that the running would be tricky but the footing wasn’t bad and I was soon dropping down the hill with reckless abandon passing many more folks that were passing me. Kenn was having a good descent also trying to catch ‘me’ not knowing that he was chasing my evil, faster twin. We both had something to chase to help us keep up the pace even if his ‘carrot’ was from a case of mistaken identity.

The lung-busting effort going up the hill to Aldape Summit generates most of the race’s ‘tough course’ rap but the elevator shaft descent is what really hurts. I am writing this piece 4 days later and my quads still ache and we have been doing a fair amount of up hill and down hill running in preparation. The last mile or so is still slightly down hill but the up grinding and down pounding by this point have reduced me to begging my Maker for a view of the banner which mercifully arrives a scant 2:04:50 from the start. I am still a 2 PLUS hour finisher but I am 30 seconds quicker than last year even with a finish line first, a screaming headache probably a result of running on empty for two hours. I managed to find a befuddled Kenn who is still convinced he had been chasing me for the last 100 minutes or so and congratulate him on a 2 hour and 30 second finish, a super time that is good for 10 out of 61 in the tough 55-59 age group. Trying to subscribe to the “Always Happy, Never Satisfied” philosophy, I gratefully accept my 13th out of 61 place.

Our plan was to meet Jean and Karen who planned to ride out on the spectator bus to the finish. There are no cars allowed into the finish, all participants and spectators are bussed in and out, to and from the designated parking lots 8 and 20 miles down the highway….and there are no exceptions. We managed to buy a bus pass for Karen at packet pick up from a lady who was not going to use hers. The registration day gaffe kept us from getting her one then and the bus passes sell out as quickly as the bib numbers. After the race start they took Buster, Kenn and Jean’s “Houndus Baskervilleius” out to Kelsey’s for puppy-sitting as there are no dogs allowed on the spectator busses…. no strollers, beer, cats or whining either according to the signs! The traffic was bad and they arrived two minutes too late to make the last bus. True to the race rules that state “no spectators on the bus after 2 PM” they were left standing in the parking lot to await our return. Even a substantial bribe, threat of hijacking and attempted stowaway-ing could not sway the driver from the sworn-to-uphold rules. The bad news is that it was OUR wives; the good news is they make the rules and stick to them. Period!
Kenn and I had deduced (Elementary, my Dear Watson..) that they might have missed the bus and instead of worrying we went over to the free massage tents and partook. Then to the chow line for baked potatoes, hotdogs, chili, fruit, cookies and beverages. The free beer seemed the longest line but we decided we were woozy enough from the run and settled for another bottle of water. The band was playing but there wasn’t a lot of dancing going on with a number of folks soaking their ‘dogs’ in icy, roaring Robie Creek.

We finished our chow and headed for the bus and the 8 mile trip to the Spring Shores parking lot where we found our somewhat disgruntled wives waiting at the car. They told us their story and we told them ours as we headed back to a shower and a trip to the hot tub where we found a couple more weary runners soaking away the pain.

I think Kenn will agree that this is one of those races that words and pictures and maps and profiles just don’t quite get the point across. You really have to run it to fully appreciate the “Toughest Half-Marathon in the Northwest”

Next year it’s “1:59:59 or Bust!”

The Start at Noon with the 'howls' of the dogs..
Yeah! We are in here with the other 2398 racers!