Race to Robie Creek: Group Masochism

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The storied Race to Robie Creek is not for the weak of heart or the ill-prepared. The course starts near the Fort Boise Community Center, heads up Shaw Mountain Road and meanders through Rocky Canyon to Aldape Summit before descending to Robie Creek—13.1 miles in all. And on April 16 at high noon, Robie popped my half-marathon cherry and schooled me on the aforementioned humbling lessons firsthand.

Last week, I was having a beer at Tom Grainey's when a friend approached me with the following proposition:

Friend: "Dude, I tweaked my back skydiving last week and can't run Robie Creek. Do you want my number?"

Me: "Sure, why not?"

Ever a glutton for punishment, I thought that my slightly above average physical ability and high tolerance for pain would be adequate to see me through this endeavor. While this proved true, I cannot say that I would do it again if time machines existed in commensurate volume with Redbox and Starbucks.

With so many people around, I couldn't help but fall into a bit of a groupthink mentality at the start line: This many people really want to run that far, over that hill, most knowing full well that they don't stand any chance of winning? What's the catch, and why is everybody grinning like the Cheshire Cat?

I quickly learned that Robie isn't so much a race as it is a social institution. The thousands of people running side by side, stride for stride were not racing against anyone but themselves. They are there to meet or beat personal goals they set for this beast of a foot race. In the minutes leading up to the start, I could hear murmurs ranging from, "I'm shooting for under two hours this year" to "I'd just like to finish in one piece."

Robie Creek—no matter what your physical ability—will test your adeptness at both strategy and endurance.

About a mile in, things began to settle. People stopped jockeying for position and started to get comfortable with their cadence. I soon found "my people": the 200 or so runners of similar ability within the massive crowd that I would likely be running in close proximity to for the next two hours or so.

Cruising nicely at a 9-minute per mile pace, things were looking good for me until approximately mile seven. That is where the steepest ascent kicked into high gear and the prepared were separated from the "off-the-couchers" such as yours truly. The first thing to go was my left hip flexor. I had never run uphill before ... ever ... this was a bad thing. A slow, painful mile to the top later and my right knee started giving me trouble. By mile nine—now well into the downhill stretch of the race—everything between my toes and lower back was compromised.

It was apparent that I was not fully prepared for the Race to Robie Creek. After a stop at a first aid station to wrap my swollen knees, I slugged out the last four miles, finishing roughly 35 minutes behind my expected time. At least the after-party made up for most of the agony that was the second half of the race.

Lesson learned: A training regimen of whiskey, mischief and a couple of casual 5K races is not adequate preparation for the Race to Robie Creek or any half-marathon for that matter, but I do feel privileged to officially call myself a 2011 Robie Creek finisher.

Spectator and G4 Ninja Warrior hopeful Daimon Bushi of Sandy, Utah, may have said it best over beers following the race: "Running this race hungover is like trying to squeeze a lubed-up German Shepherd through a cat door," he said.

I still don't really know what that means, but it seemed strangely on point. At least I wasn't the only runner not really ready for Robie.

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