Both trail running and ultra marathoning have seen a recent surge in popularity, and Idaho Trail Ultra Series combines them both with six trail runs around the state in 2012 that highlight different styles, terrains and varying locales: desert, arid high country, forest and foothills.
The series is the brain child of a group of race directors and ultra runners--Emily Berriochoa, Davina Jackson, Ben Blessing and Jenny Stinson--who feel that Idaho offers a unique opportunity for running long distances. Blessing is race director for the Wild Idaho Endurance Runs out of McCall, which are part of the series in August. Stinson will host the Foothills Frenzy in the Boise area in October, and Jackson and Berriochoa--through Pickled Feet Ultra Running--have added a mid-winter race and a June race in the Silver City area.
Ultra marathons are distances longer than the traditional 26.2-miles--typically 50k, 100k, 50 miles or 100 miles. However, many ultra races offer shorter courses for recreational runners. In fact, ITUS' recent Wilson Creek Frozen 50K included 20- or 10-mile distances.
Just before Frozen 50's Jan. 21 race day, a large storm hit the Boise area and wreaked havoc on the course. Snow, rain and Owyhee mud were in full force at the 7 a.m. start for the 50k and 20-mile racers.
The long loop that makes up the heart of the 50k and 20-mile courses climbed to the summit of Wilson Peak--almost 4,500 feet of elevation gain. What goes up must come down, and after my training run on the course, I knew that the technical and demanding descent would be an incredible challenge. More than 200 crazy and determined ultra runners signed up for the Frozen 50, with about half ultimately running the shorter races.
I shuffled along the road with my fellow racers and onto a series of single-track trails that lead through the Wilson Creek trail system, culminating with the beautiful red canyon walls and Chinese-built aqueduct that travels above Reynolds Creek.
For many racers, the Frozen 50 was their first ultra race. The word "suckered" by friends cropped up often. The winner of the 50k race crossed the line in just more than five hours. I compared my 10.8-mile time--two hours and one minute--and figured I'd better keep training.