‘Couldn’t ask for better weather’ as Robie Creek racers honor founder, departed runners

On a cloudless spring afternoon, hundreds of runners took off from Boise’s East End on Saturday to run the Race to Robie Creek half-marathon, the 46th time the annual contest sent runners up to Aldape Summit and down its back side.

The race is known as one of the most difficult in the region, launching runners up more than 2,000 feet of elevation from an urban park not far from downtown. Once they reach the summit, they descend to a remote picnic area in Boise County north of Lucky Peak.

The event is also celebrated for its eccentricities: The founders and lead organizers are known as the “Sail Toads,” and each year’s race has an elaborate theme and choreographed starting-gun routine.

“It’s my favorite race in Boise,” Eli Medina, 46, told the Idaho Statesman as he got set to run his fourth Robie. He said he likes “the push, the drive that you have to have to finish.”

Boise’s fickle weather in April makes race day a bit of a crapshoot. In addition to the steep climb and tough downhill trek, runners in recent years have had to combat pouring rain and 6 inches of icy slush.

But the course on Saturday was snowless on the back side of the mountain, runners told the Statesman, and the temperature hovered near 70 degrees, with the sun shining brightly.

“You couldn’t ask for better weather,” Medina said.

The 2024 theme was Dia de los Muertos, complete with a Mariachi band, Mexican dance troupe called Ballet Folklorico Mexico Lindo, and celebrants robed in brightly colored dresses with skull masks, calaveras and moribund makeup.

Two homemade puppets of La Catrina and El Catrin — characters associated with the holiday — were at the start and finish lines.

Though the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead is held in early November, the race’s organizers picked this year’s theme to honor race founder Jon Robertson, who died in November, and others involved in organizing the earliest Robie races in the 1970s.

The planners set up an altar at the start line, where contestants could write down the name of a deceased family member or friend they wanted to honor with their participation.

Hannah Drabinski, 34, told the Statesman that she was running in honor of her father, Gene, who was one of the inaugural “Sail Toad” runners in 1975. He died eight years ago.

“When I run I feel close to my dad,” she told the Statesman. “If you’re running the same trail that other people have run before, you feel connected to them.”

Runners set out for Aldape Summit just after noon to an explosion of marigold flowers, traditionally a part of Dia de los Muertos. The oldest racer was 83 years old and the youngest was 12, according to the race director, Cinnia Kitterman. Half of the 2,119 registered runners were between the ages of 30 and 50, and about 1,000 were first-time Robie-ers — who were about to see why this race earns its reputation. Close to 1,900 participants finished the race.

The race winner, Nathaniel Souther, 26 of Boise, sailed over the finish line in just over one hour and 18 minutes.

“The race is just surviving the hills, and then you kind of get to coast,” he told the Statesman.

The winner of the 2024 Race to Robie Creek, Nathaniel Souther, center, poses with friends after the half marathon. Ian Max Stevenson/Idaho Statesman
The winner of the 2024 Race to Robie Creek, Nathaniel Souther, center, poses with friends after the half marathon. Ian Max Stevenson/Idaho Statesman

Danielle Marquette, 39 of Meridian, was the women’s winner, clocking in about 10 minutes after Souther. She told the Statesman she’d been having calf pain this week and nearly didn’t run.

“The hardest part for me is maintaining (speed) on the downhill,” she said. But “it’s just a really fun race.”

Robie has raised more than $1.2 million for charity since its founding, and sold out bibs this year in 30 minutes.

At the picnic area in Boise County, sweaty finishers were greeted with cold drinks, lunch and music near the burbling Robie Creek that gives the half-marathon its name.

Though many runners look forward to the party at the end, joy isn’t always the first emotion they feel after 13 miles up and down a mountain.

“You run it the first time and you think, ‘Why would I ever do this again?’” said Kitterman, the race director, who has run it eight times. “And then a week passes and you think, when is the next Robie?”