Explore March 28, 2019

Boise’s Springtime Challenge

The Race to Robie Creek

At high noon on a Saturday in mid-April, more than 2,000 runners gather at a starting line in Fort Boise Park to test themselves against a course billed as the toughest in the Northwest.

The Race to Robie Creek is a springtime running tradition in Boise that has attracted runners for more than 40 years, in spite of the fact—or possibly because—race organizers make it clear just how difficult the half-marathon race is.

The theme for the race’s 40th anniversary in 2017 was: “40 years of pain and suffering.”

Yet, year after year, the race sells out within minutes of registration opening, and runners come back for another chance to suffer.

Brian Rencher has run the race more than 30 times, serves on the race’s all-volunteer committee and was previously a race director. The Race to Robie Creek doesn’t have paid staff members; instead, a committee of about 25 to 30 people with diverse backgrounds works to put on the event each year. Race directors serve two-year terms.

“We do it as a passion, because we love putting on the event,” Rencher said. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to run Robie. For some, it’s a one-and-done event, and they take their T-shirt and move on. For others, like Rencher, it’s a passion for the race that brings them back each year.

The race was started by Jon Robertson in 1975 and was first held on an evening in August. Four years later, the race was held again, this time in April, and named The Race to Robie Creek, according to the race website.

The race started growing in popularity and eventually swelled to about 3,000 people, which proved more than the event and campground at the finish line could handle, Rencher said. That led organizers to start limiting the number of racers in the race’s 15th year. The limit is now 2,483 spots. The limit means the race sells out quickly when registration opens at noon on President’s Day each year. Rencher said it has sold out in as quickly as nine minutes, but in 2018, it took about 30 minutes to sell out.

In addition to the all-volunteer committee, about 700 volunteers help out at the event each year, Rencher said. And although the race isn’t designed to raise money, the committee donates to smaller charities what it has left after the event each year. Last year, they donated $82,000, he said.

What Makes the Race So Challenging?

The Race to Robie Creek is a half-marathon—13.1 miles—which is challenging in itself. But this race adds in a long uphill climb followed by a difficult downhill descent before runners can enjoy the post-race party and bask in the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing the Race to Robie Creek.

The race begins at Fort Boise Park with a throng of runners trying to get a good position at the start. The atmosphere is a mix of excitement and nerves, and race organizers have fun with the year’s theme during the countdown to race time.

I’ve run the race three times and plan to make this year my fourth. Every year at the starting line, I get excited for the race and the atmosphere is always fun, but there’s also a little part of me that asks, “Why am I doing this again?”

When the race finally starts, runners make their way around the park to Reserve Street then turn onto Shaw Mountain Road to begin the more than eight-mile climb up to Aldape Summit.

At this point in the race, the course is lined with spectators and people sitting outside their homes cheering on the runners as they make their way up the hills.

The first four miles tend to go by surprisingly quickly, thanks to the atmosphere, the distraction of the spectators and the funny signs along the course. One favorite was a sign that read, “The end is far.”

A little before the fourth mile, the road turns from pavement to dirt. Many use it as a milestone on the course, but it’s also a reminder that the hard part is coming soon.

The course then heads into Rocky Canyon. There’s beautiful scenery in the canyon, but the sun is intense overhead and it starts to get hot as the course steepens.

Each mile that goes by brings one closer to the summit, but the road gets steeper and the running harder until, finally, the cheering volunteers and summit come into view. The climb is done—a huge milestone—but now the downhill begins. At first it’s a wonderful break from the uphill, but that’s always a short-lived joy. I soon start to realize how tired my legs are and how much I don’t like running downhill.

As the course goes downhill, trees throw off much welcome shade. Again, it’s nice at first, but by mile 10, I’m ready to be done running, shade or no shade. Those last three miles seem like the longest of the entire race. It is also the stretch when I ask myself, why in the world did I sign up for this race?

Then I start to hear sounds from the party. Spectators assure me the finish is close. Soon I cross the finish line, and I’m hit with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. That never gets old.

This year’s race will be held at noon on April 20. 


Springtime Running Events

Boise Women’s Half Marathon and 5k


When: May 4

Where: Julia Davis Park, Boise

Distance: Half-marathon, 5k

Description: This race starts and finishes at Julia Davis Park. It takes runners along the Boise River and through other Boise parks.

Priest Lake Marathon


When: May 11

Where: Priest Lake, Idaho

Distance: 50k, marathon,
half-marathon, 5k

Description: This race is described as an off-pavement race that provides the scenery of a trail run—lake, forest and mountain views—but it’s on
a forest road instead of technical trails.

Famous Idaho Potato Marathon


When: May 18

Where: Sandy Point State Park and Albertsons Headquarters.

Distance: Marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k

Description: This race follows the Greenbelt, with a Famous Idaho Potato Bar at the finish.

Coeur d’Alene Marathon


When: May 26

Where: McEuen Park, Coeur d’Alene

Distance: Marathon,
half-marathon, 10k, 5k

Description: The courses are all new this year, and a 10k race was added to the event.

Sawtooth Relay


When: June 8

Where: Stanley, Idaho

Distance: 61.9 miles

Description: The race is divided into 12 legs with teams of six running two legs each of about 5 miles, from Stanley to Ketchum.

This article appears in the Spring 2019 Issue of Territory Magazine.