Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sawtooth Relay: March of the People

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 11:13 AM

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Photos by Jake Tucker

Every June, nearly 2,000 people get together and run or walk 62 of the most scenic miles in North America for the Sawtooth Relay. Spanning Highway 75 from Stanley to Ketchum, the race has a distinct feel of community—where encouragement is the name of the game. I have participated in the relay since 2003 (except in 2008), and each year, I notice something more endearing about the way patrons interact along the route. The format lends itself to people helping people and an environment of camaraderie that is reminiscent of the title characters from the 2005 documentary March of the Penguins.

The race was on June 11, and while some race organizers were not particularly friendly this year—and a handful of course officials had clearly been having a terrible morning—most people were all smiles at the 2011 event. Our team of six started just after 3 a.m., which was a solid three hours earlier than years past. I suppose either a glitch in the system or a new start-time format caused this unnecessary pecking order, and many teams were none too happy about having to run through the early hours of the morning in freezing temps.

That aside, the spirit and energy of the race became noticeably brighter in concert with the early morning sunrise kissing the tops of the highest Sawtooth summits.

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Runners and walkers alike went stride for stride through the postcard-worthy landscape of Stanley and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Team vehicles stopped every few miles to offer up words of encouragement to teammates while the runners of the next leg prepared for their transition.

While mostly geographically flat, the race follows a near perfect bell curve with 8,700-foot Galena Summit smack dab in the middle. The ascent and descent of Galena are brutal, and this tends to be what separates true competitors from weekend warriors. After passing Galena Lodge, the race meanders along the Big Wood River to the popular resort town of Ketchum. Here, runners are treated to a good meal, cold beer and a nice grassy spread on which to rest their tired bones.

All in all, the 2011 Sawtooth Relay was predictably fun. If you plan on assembling a team for the 2012 event, get everything together well in advance. Space is limited, and organizers usually start turning teams away within a few days of the application deadline. Be aware that all teams are required to provide a volunteer, and the rules and regulations are about as much fun to read and follow as the United States tax code.

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