Adventure May 14, 2015

On a Running High

The Challenge and Reward of Endurance Running

Wood River Valley residents Dave Keir and Gadrie Edmunds are soul mates when it comes to pursuing their passion—training for and running endurance races.  But come the end of the race, this husband-wife team seems like the odd couple.

Keir savors the finish, his lips turning up in a wry smile, while Edmunds sits and bawls.

“I feel good, energized at the end of races,” said Keir, who’s run the Race to Robie Creek, the Foothills 50K Frenzy, the Redfish Lake Half Marathon and the Harriman Boulder Dash.

“I sob, I think as a release. It’s like: I did it!” said Edmunds. “I started out running as a way to get in shape. I was not super active as a teenager. So, I’m still amazed I can do it.”

When Edmunds and Keir started long-distance running, there were a handful of backcountry runs in south-central Idaho, including The Elephant Perch’s 10K and 16K Backcountry Run started 35 years ago. The number of races has proliferated in the past few years, with runs bearing names like the Pickled Feet Run, the Beaverhead Endurance Run, Wild Idaho and the River of No Return Endurance Run. The latter follows an old stagecoach trail in the Yankee Fork area. Cresting 10,000 feet, it’s “one of those courses where even the downhills seemed uphill,” blogger and runner George Velasco wrote of the 2014 race.

The Standhope Ultra Challenge, started last year by a Challis software programmer, towers above all the rest and not just because it takes runners to 11,000 feet and past the highest lake in Idaho. The four-day stage race, to be held August 12 to 15, takes runners 83 miles and 23,000 vertical feet through the Pioneer Mountains. Runners choose on the final day whether to do a 60-kilometer or 11-kilometer stretch atop Trail Creek Summit to Goat Lake.

“It’s so steep in parts that even the best runners have to walk parts,” said Bob Rosso, owner of The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum. “But it’s fun to run slow enough to see the scenery because that run has some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Idaho. “It goes through a boulder field with rocks the size of this room,” he said, pointing to the front salesroom of The Elephant’s Perch. “You feel as if you’re in Switzerland.”

Laura Furtado got her start when she was selected to join a group running around the world in 100 days. The group started in New York and ran to Boston where it caught a plane to Ireland. Then it continued through England, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Russia, China and Japan before catching a plane to San Francisco and running across the continent to New York. Since, she’s done more, and she wants to construct her own solo. “I’ll get first place and last place,” she said.

EJ Harpham likes long-distance runs because of the camaraderie that takes place on those runs compared to shorter races. Others participate in long-distance runs as incentives to lose weight or start exercising.

The organizers for the Perch’s Backcountry Run once considered imposing a cut-off time because some people were walking part of the course, lagging behind the others. “Then we talked to two women, each who had lost 50 pounds preparing for that race,” Rosso said. “You can imagine what it would’ve been like for them if we had pulled them off the course. We decided then and there: If you walk in, we’ll be there when you walk in, no matter how long it takes.”

The key to running a good long-distance race, runners say, is to start training a few months ahead, rather than running the race cold turkey. Start with a mile-long walk that becomes two. Jog for 15 minutes; then, jog for 30. Or, join a training group like the YMCA’s half-marathon training program that Brad Mitchell offers each spring.

Do your homework beforehand to find out what foods suit you best, Harpham advised. “Force yourself to be out there three to four hours where you need protein to figure out what works,” she said. “I’m not out there on a gourmet eating tour—I just want something to eat to get through the race without cramps, and for me that means something that’s under 300 calories and easy to digest.”

Despite all of the challenges, long-distance runners find that the running gets in their blood.

Just ask Hailey resident Mike Wolter, who did the 25K version of the Standhope last year.  “It was super hard and I was so happy when I was done,” he said. “I vowed I would never again do it. But I’m thinking I will do it again.”

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.