“It’s all downhill from here” isn’t such good news for runners in the Race to Robie Creek, the annual half-marathon in the Boise Foothills that will be staged Saturday for the 38th time.
The 4 1/2-mile descent to the finish line delivers a pounding to the feet, knees and quads as more than 2,400 runners and walkers try to reach their goals.
The preceding 8 1/2-mile climb is more grueling but, in many cases, less painful.
“That downhill is what you will pay for the following week,” said Brian Rencher, who runs the race and works on the event, too. “If we ran to the top and stopped right there, everybody would feel pretty good.”
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Added Robie veteran Lauri Thompson: “The downhill is what makes everybody walk funny on Sunday.”
The 13.1-mile race climbs 2,072 feet from Fort Boise to Aldape Summit in the first 8 1/2 miles. It falls 1,732 feet to the finish at Robie Creek campground — nearly the same elevation change on the way down in just over half the distance.
“It just brutalizes your body,” said College of Idaho track and field and cross country coach Pat McCurry, a former winner. “The uphill is all engine, and it’s really hard on the engine, but it’s actually really easy on the body.
“The hard thing about Robie is it’s a 180-degree turn in three steps. The downhill is easy on the engine and hard on the body. Quads cramp. People’s feet get ripped up from slipping. People fall. There’s a lot of things that can go on. ... You’ve got to manage a serious level of discomfort by the end.”
Markus Geiger, the two-time defending men’s champion, tries to beat the downhill with mechanics. He runs downhill on the ball or tip of his foot, which strains the calves. If the calves are exhausted from running uphill, that won’t work. So he tries to save his calves on the uphill stretch.
He learned that technique growing up in Germany, running in a hilly area.
“You have to have trained that,” the 26-year-old Boisean said.
And still, he isn’t immune from some downhill pain.
“You should have seen me the first time,” he said of his victory in 2013. “I had trouble walking downstairs for a week.”
John Aldape — the summit of the course is named for his great-grandfather, Felipe — doesn’t mind the downhill. But his wife once walked backward on that part of the course to try to stretch her feet and prevent cramping.
“I look forward to it as compared to the uphill,” Aldape said. “It’s where I hopefully can make up some of the time. ... I don’t know too much about the technical aspects of running. I just chug along and let momentum basically take me.”
That’s where the downhill can batter the quads. Because however fast you run downhill, your legs are trying to stop you from losing control.
Marisa Howard, the Boise State senior who took second in the NCAA women’s steeplechase last year, would rather run up than down. She and the Broncos’ distance runners train in the Foothills and in part on the Robie course.
“We do this one run, it’s uphill for 45 minutes and you’re hating your life at the time,” she said. “But the downhill, I feel like, is almost worse. Your quads are just clenching the whole time trying to catch yourself. ... I think it’s very admirable what (the Robie participants) do. All hats off to them. I just feel like that is a complete beating on your body.”
That’s what concerns Andrija Barker, an experienced road racer making her Robie debut. She has a cranky hip that’s going to require surgery eventually and worries she doesn’t have the quad strength for the downhill.
“I’m terrified of the downhill,” she said. “I’m just going to put that out there. I’m terrified. If I could climb the entire time, I would. I was talking with a friend (Wednesday night) and said, ‘Hey, would you mind meeting me at the top and you run the downhill and I’ll just run to the top?’ ... It’s just so jarring.”
Friends have told her to run Robie once for the experience.
“If you’re not interested in destroying your body,” they told her, “don’t ever do it again.”