Feeling Robie's Burn 

How to handle injuries before, during and after the Race to Robie Creek

Robie! Training time is over. Race day is upon us.

The 30th annual Race to Robie Creek, which started as a summertime "fun" run, is set for this weekend. The 13-mile race begins at Fort Boise Park, goes up Shaw Mountain Road, then spills onto Rocky Canyon Road. Promoters call it one of the Pacific Northwest's hardest half-marathons. Thousands of entrants will be huffing it over Aldape Summit this Saturday, hoping to add this race to their lifetime list of races, or as the one-entry achievement they've been working toward for months. Either way, runners have been training hard. Sometimes, too hard.

Michael Devitt and his colleagues at Focus Physical Therapy in Boise start seeing training injuries several months before the event.

"This is the honest truth: We start seeing people starting in February," he said. "That's the first wave."

After that spate of training injuries, Devitt said, business slows until after the race, when injured runners hobble in for treatment. The final wave of injured runners seeking help might show up, sheepishly, in July. They're the people who got injured in the race but were too proud to admit it.

"This race," Devitt said, "is worth eight months of patients to us."

The Run-Up

"You can be so geared up for it," said Mike Shuman, co-owner of The Athlete's Foot, who knows the phenomenon well. "You just have to run smart."

Sound advice, but it's not always easy to follow. Many push it too hard and end up bowing out of the race. On the www.robiecreek.com Web site, several postings on the race message board have a typical heading: "Race number for sale due to injury."

Scott Petersen is one of those. After a snowboarding crash this winter, he tried unsuccessfully to train through a torn calf muscle.

"My recovery wasn't as swift as I hoped," Petersen said. Still, he tried to run through the pain, slowly and carefully. But the closer he got to the final pre-race days, he found that it just wasn't working out.

"I finally succumbed to the realization I wouldn't be able to race," Petersen said. Just last week, he bowed out.

Scott Dew was training for his second try at Robie this year, when his knee began to hurt. A visit to a doctor last month revealed that he'd injured his kneecap in training.

"When I run, it's just rubbing against the bone," he said. With his doctor's advice, he dropped out of the race.

Rob Barnes, DPT, with Therapuetic Associates, said guys like Dew are smart. Runners, himself included (he'll be running his fourth Robie this year), are a stubborn bunch.

"The majority of people I see are people who hurt themselves but who are determined to run anyway," Barnes said.

The Race

The organizers of the race, a runners' club called the Rocky Canyon Sailtoads, do a lot to hype the event. The Race to Robie Creek has become such a marquee event for Boise, such a sign of the seasons, that people are liable to get asked if they're doing the race this year, just because they're wearing running shoes to the grocery store. Add to that the crowds of eager runners: About 2,500 racers will be crowding Fort Boise park Saturday morning.

"There is just so much community hype about this race," said Devitt, who will be running Robie for his 10th time this year. "It has such a long tradition and history."

There are other races, he said. But few local events fire up the imagination like Robie.

"Nobody throws up for three days prior to the Barber to Boise race," Devitt said.

So, people run stupid. They run harder than they should. They pound the pavement up Shaw Mountain Road like it was the last mile of the race.

Devitt said if he had a chance to whisper one thing into the ears of crazed runners at the starting line, it's this: Take it easy.

"Don't jog it, but just relax," he said. "Once you get to the dirt, that's when you can think about picking up the pace. If you try to get in a groove right off the bat, Shaw Mountain Road will take you down."

Once onto the dirt and over Aldape Summit, Robie's notorious five-mile downhill can wreak havoc on a runner's hips, Devitt said. He's used to seeing injuries of the IT band, a long connective tissue, similar to a tendon, that runs along the outside of your leg. Running downhill, pounding your hips around on the road to Robie Creek, can inflame the IT band quickly, Devitt said. He recommends working on keeping your lower pelvis stable as you run down the hill, which can keep the IT band from twanging like a guitar string.

Shuman, with a new back injury, an old hamstring pull and a marathon coming up soon after Robie, plans to jog the race. But, he said, some injury is inevitable for longtime runners.

"Unless you walk on water, you're always going to get something," Shuman said. Twisted ankles are also common.

The Cool-Down

After the race is over, no matter how hard you've trained, you may be sore.

Your best therapy awaits you at the finish line. Robie Creek itself runs cold and fast this time of year and icy waters are just the thing to knock down muscle inflammation, Devitt said. It's a common site to see a herd of racers filling Robie's banks just after they finish.

"It kind of looks like the Ganges River on a bad year," Devitt said. But joining the group in the waters can keep inflammation down and make your next day much better.

You can do the masochistic thing at home, too. Fill a bathtub with just enough cold water to cover your legs. Devitt said this treatment is even worth it the next day. The trick is staying in there long enough. He recommends taking a magazine--or, ahem, a good weekly newspaper--and reading through an entire article to make sure you stay in there long enough.

"Your comprehension of the article might be zero," he said. But you'll stay in the water the recommended seven or eight minutes to get the necessary anti-inflammation benefits. Immediately after that, he said, jump into a hot shower.

Shuman keeps it simple.

"The main thing is to move," he said. "Just get your heinie off the couch. That may just be gospel."

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