A ski coach once told me I needed to work hard to play hard. That was the summer I started running. Any runner will tell you, it’s an addictive sport. Running is even more appealing given the incredible access to trails throughout the Wood River Valley. Extensive paved pathways and single track dirt trails offer an opportunity to explore our mountain community. Running is a great way to stay active, engage with community, and achieve athletic goals. There’s an energizing sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction that comes from a good run. And, it’s one of the best ways to stay in shape for skiing.
The well-developed trail system throughout the Wood River Valley offers extensive single track trail and paved path running. Miles of opportunity enliven the running season.
“The number one thing I love about running is running on the trails,” says Ryan Still, a Ketchum-based distance runner. “When I’m out there, I forget I’m even running because it’s so beautiful.”
With incredible mountain views, stretches of alpine wildflowers, and the occasional wildlife spotting, trail runs are less about the clock and more about getting outside. Favorite trails for runners include the Adams Gulch and Fox Creek area trails north of Ketchum, and Trail Creek trails near Sun Valley.
Whether you are just trying to get into shape or seriously training, trail running offers a good workout.
“The best thing people can do (to train for races) is run on the trails,” says Bob Rosso, owner of The Elephant’s Perch store in Ketchum. “The trails do the work for you. It’s a varied workout.”
Running on the soft dirt surface puts less impact on the body. Hills build leg muscle strength, and natural obstacles, like rocks and roots, require that you pick up your feet and have good balance.
For runners who prefer paved pathways, the Blaine County Recreation District maintains the 32-mile Wood River Trail system that connects the towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue.
Runners with a race goal may consider organized training. The Wood River Valley Community YMCA offers pre-race training for half marathon and 5K races. The half marathon training sessions are designed to help runners get ready for the springtime Sun Valley-Ketchum U.S. Half Marathon.
“The 10-week training sessions begin far enough in advance that runners are prepared for the race, but not too far in advance that people get injured or burned out,” says Liz Clark, Wood River YMCA fitness director. She recommends that runners plan ahead for races, allow for active recovery days and don’t overtrain.
“A lot of people will race cold turkey and will get injured,” Clark adds. “The Sun Valley course is tough and as you get tired you lose your running form—that’s when injuries occur. You need to warm up first.”
The Y also holds training for the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 5K Walk/Fun Run held in the fall. This training is designed for people who have never run or may want to get in shape. The training groups center on running, while also focusing on nutrition, stretching consistently and warming up before running.
“The training makes you focus on the little things that will help your overall performance,” says Clark.
Another option for female runners is Team Tiara, a new women’s running group that helps women work towards individual athletic goals. Runners select a goal, such as running a marathon or a half marathon, to help raise funds for the non-profit Girls on the Run youth running program.
“We all have a commonality. We have potential race goals in mind. A number of us run throughout the summer on training runs and then, come fall, we all have our own races to attend,” says Mary Fauth, Team Tiara runner and executive director of Girls on the Run. >>>
Fun runs are meant to be fun. Everybody is welcome at these non-competitive events held throughout the Valley. Fun runs tend to be shorter distances, well suited for getting active with family, friends, kids, and dogs.
“Fun runs are a non-intimidating way to introduce people to racing,” says Teresa Beahen, chief executive officer of the Wood River Valley Community YMCA. “That’s how I got started. I started with a 5K Turkey Trot, which led to six marathons.”
A multitude of non-competitive fun runs are held in the Wood River Valley. The fun run season kicks off with the Girls on the Run Community 5K Fun Run in May, benefiting the Girls on the Run not-for-profit organization. This inspiring event celebrates young girls, who may be running in a race for the first time. The community is invited to join in the girl-powered extravaganza and run, jog, walk or skip their way along the Hailey course.
Fun runs are inclusive events focused on family and fitness. The Sun Valley-Ketchum U.S. Half Marathon strives to encourage families to participate in a day of fitness by holding a 12K run, a women’s 5K run/walk, and a kids’ event in conjunction with its half marathon.
“The event doesn’t leave anybody out. It allows the entire family to come out and enjoy the day,” says Ryan Dawkins, Sun Valley-Ketchum U.S. Half Marathon race director. Last year’s fun run participants ranged in age from 7 to 81 years old.
“Fun runs are for all ages,” adds Beahen. “Everybody is welcome and everybody wins.”
The family-friendly Adams Gulch fun run and walk, sponsored by The Elephant’s Perch, is the longest running footrace in the Valley. The 4.2-mile event starts from the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum and makes a loop on trail and pavement paths through Adams Gulch and back to the church.
“It’s a very simple, fun event,” says Rosso.
Another fun event is the annual Turkey Trot Fun Run and Walk in Hailey. A Thanksgiving Day tradition, the 5K race motivates the community to partake in lighthearted exercise before the indulgent afternoon feast. Dogs, strollers and even turkey costumes are welcome. The race trots through Hailey neighborhoods, beginning and ending at the Community Campus in Hailey.
The Turkey Trot, like all of the fun runs, encourages anyone, of any ability, to get outside and be active. >>>
When he’s not crunching numbers, Ketchum-based accountant Ryan Still likes to run. An accomplished and enthusiastic runner, he usually places at the top of finishers in local races. He’s humble and truly loves the sport, especially the tough runs around the Wood River Valley.
His favorite local race is The Elephant’s Perch Backcountry Run.
“It’s a really tough race,” says Still. “I think it’s harder than Robie Creek.” Robie Creek is a Boise-based race touted as “The Toughest Half Marathon in the Northwest.”
The Backcountry Run offers a choice of 10-mile or 16-mile courses that gain notable elevation as they loop through the trails of Adams Gulch and Fox Creek, north of Ketchum. The off-road adventure, which celebrates its 29th running this year, begins and ends in Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum.
The picturesque single track route has multiple stream crossings, steep climbs and rewarding views of the Boulder and Pioneer Mountains. Runners travel from across the region to compete in the low-key event, which has become one of the largest races of the summer.
“The goal is always fun. It’s really about the people,” says Rosso. The popular race is one of the oldest in the Wood River Valley.
“I like the Backcountry Run because it’s local. I know most of the people out there,” Still says. He has run the 16-mile distance twice and has forgotten how many times he has run the shorter course.
But, Still does remember the year his team won the Sawtooth Relay, a relay race that begins in Stanley. In this relay, teams of six runners share the 62-mile distance from Stanley, over Galena Summit, to Ketchum.
“It’s a great way to spend time with your friends and enjoy the incredible scenery along the way,” says Lydia Flynn. Since moving to Ketchum, Flynn has run the race five times with a team of friends. Last year she didn’t make it, as the race coincided with her wedding day.
The breathtaking scenery of the Wood River Valley motivates many to compete in the Valley’s tough runs.
Last year, Runner’s World magazine featured the Sun Valley-Ketchum U.S. Half Marathon as one of the most gorgeous courses in the U.S.
“The race encompasses the heart of the Wood River Valley. The course travels through Elkhorn, Ketchum and Sun Valley,” says Dawkins. “If you come and run, you know that you are going to hit every major site during the race.”
Runners race on the paved paths throughout Sun Valley and Ketchum. The springtime event often sees fields of blooming lupine and wildlife.
“It’s a tough course, but it’s beautiful and very gratifying to finish,” remarks Nicole Campbell, of Ketchum, who has run and helped organize the race.
Remarkable views also come with the two races that climb Bald Mountain. The Elephant’s Perch has Shop to the Top and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Bald Mountain Hill Climb may climb different sides of the mountain, but both races share a challenging elevation gain and offer spectacular views of the Valley. >>>
Girls on the Run
“Girls on the Run is more than a running program. It’s a very interactive, fun program for all girls of all athletic abilities,” says Mary Fauth, Girls on the Run executive director.
In its sixth year, Girls on the Run is an after-school running program that uses running as a tool to teach third-through fifth-grade girls to become self-confident women, empowers girls and teaches an appreciation for running. The program’s non-competitive environment relies on interactive activities from relays to journaling to encourage self-awareness, a sense of achievement and team building.
“Volunteer coaches guide girls through an innovative curriculum that addresses key developmental issues and helps the girls train for an end-of-the-season 5K race.
“These girls are at an age when there really are a lot of other influences, like the media and the outward pressures of the world. The program is a powerful tool for instilling core values, giving girls lifelong tools, and helping give decision-making abilities as they go into the critical junior high years,” says Fauth. “The activities give a voice to something the girls might not have thought about or might just be experiencing, like bullying or gossiping.”
“When the girls come across the finish line, you look at their families and see their sense of pride and accomplishment in their faces,” she says. “Then you look in the girls’ faces. For the most part they have never competed in a race or gone that distance; they are really proud of themselves.”
Megan Thomas, a runner and former Girls on the Run coach, is grateful for the trail running opportunities throughout the Wood River Valley.