On Saturday, April 15, hundreds of humans in Boise will, in fact, turn into lemmings. They will runsuicidallyup a cliff en masse. Although, unlike Norway Lemmings, they will not leap off the cliff into the sea. Instead, they will run down the steep incline to a party at the end of the Race to Robie Creek.
The race is a grueling half-marathon promoted as the toughest half-marathon in the Northwest. About eight of the 13 miles are an uphill hike to the top of the 4,797-foot Aldape Summit with the remaining five miles of the race on sharp downhill. The whole course is a snaking, sand and gravel route through sagebrush-covered hills. Maybe you've seen the logo for the race: a mountain that looks like the letter A without the cross. It's a pretty realistic depiction of the trail.
The story of how Robie was established goes back to a hot August day in 1975 when Jon Robertson invited 25 friends on a fun run up Rocky Canyon to Robie Creek, an area in which he panned for gold as a kid. One would assume that he didn't have a single friend left after presenting that "fun" uphill run in August, but apparently they all liked it and it became a tradition (though they smartly moved the race to April) and a rite of spring for runners and walkers.
This year's applications go on sale February 20, and those who have run Robie in the past know that over the years, getting a number to participate in Robie has become a race in itself. Each year, a limited number of entries are sold and those wanting to run have to persevere through all the traffic on the ticket-buying Web site as soon as it's open for sale because the numbers usually sell out in a few hours.
That doesn't mean pokies won't be part of the race; the trading and reselling of tickets is talk of the town as the race nears.
"For one reason or another, sometimes you just have to sell your ticket," says runner Matt Cryer. "Sometimes it's an injury, sometimes you have to be out of town during the race, but it's easy; people are always looking for numbers."
Cryer, who has run Robie five times, is planning to buy a number, but is currently nursing a hamstring problem that he hopes will work out before the race. He doesn't like to miss out on the tradition.
Actually, the Robie traditions are a lure to many who otherwise wouldn't be interested in an uphill run. Each year, the organizers dig into the catacombs of their minds and fashion a creative race theme for T-shirts and decorations and an even more creative new way to officially start the race. The tradition of unusual starts began years ago, when Glen Woodsone-time state discus championthrew a discus (made of toad remains flattened in the area by cars) into the air. When the discus landed, the race began.
And that, friends, is the entirely true legend of how the race organizing committee named itself the Rocky Canyon Sail Toads.
The infamous local running club, the Boise Hash House Harriers, have a Robie tradition of their own: Every year these drinkers with a running problem set up the Table of Temptation with beer, whiskey, cigars, Twinkies and other disgustamundo about a half-mile from the summit. They are rude and crude and very attractive in race-themed costumes with the most elaborate filling station on the course.
"I figure I can either fork over some loot to run uphill or get drunk with my friends for free," says Luke Wilcomb, a hasher, a runner and a table stalwart veteran. "It's a pretty easy choice. But one year, I would like to actually run it."
Boise attorney and amateur marathoner Josh Sears is a third-year Robie runner who stopped for a brief shot of whiskey at the Table of Temptation last year. He clocked in at 2:12:12 and placed 532 out of the 1,220 finishers, which ain't too shabby. But this year, he hopes that simultaneously training for his fourth marathon will help him to do better.
Sears says running Robie is like a badge that gives you street cred in Boise. "In a place where people sometimes try to be more 'Boise' than each other by doing all other things Boisehang out at Lucky 13, have a dog, ski at Bogus, drive a Subaru, float the river, go to Art in the Park, ride in the foothills, attend BSU football gamesrunning Robie is the great equalizer," he says. "It's like the test that trumps all others in the initiation to Boise; if you run it, you don't have to do all of those other things."
Aside from the goofy hoopla, the Race to Robie Creek is, in fact, a benefit for the community to people beyond the crowd of hard core runners. Each year, Robie raises important revenue for various charities that support children, families, ethnic groups and wildlife.
So if you want to run, you can feel good about shelling out the cash since it benefits a variety of good causes. Then when you're done running, you can feel even better by shotgunning a beer at the post-race party. If you want to winbecause not everyone takes this race lightlythere's a lot of competition to take home the gold.
Haven't started training? Check out the Race to Robie Creek Web site at www.robiecreek.com. Good luck, and don't forget to duck when the dried toads go flying over head.
The Race to Robie Creek tickets go on sale February 20. For more information or to buy a ticket, visit www.robiecreek.com.
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