KETCHUM, Idaho • He ran down the steep, rocky trail from Surprise Valley, but he stopped to chat when he met backpackers filtering water from Fall Creek.
Ben Blessing, 29, panted and rested his hands on his knees. Then he perked up to talk about his newest project: the Standhope 60k.
This Ketchum trail runner dreamed up a challenging ultramarathon through the Pioneer Mountains, and he already has more than a dozen runners signed up for the Sept. 21 inaugural race.
But Blessing’s Fourth of July training run on just a portion of the route persuaded him to lengthen the time allowed for a finish.
“It crushed me,” the race director said later by telephone.
But that’s what endurance racing on mountain trails is all about.
“The point is to overcome your own perceived limits and find out what you can actually do,” Blessing said.
The Standhope 60k route starts at the U.S. Forest Service’s Phi Kappa Campground and climbs to a point with great views of Devil’s Bedstead and the north side of the Pioneers. It drops into Kane Creek Canyon, ascends to a ridgeline with views of Hyndman Peak and Old Hyndman Peak, descends into Wildhorse Canyon, enters Falls Creek Canyon and climbs through Surprise Valley to a saddle overlooking Betty Lake. The route’s final stretch swings by Betty and Goat lakes before dropping down to Broad Canyon Recreation Site and looping around the White Mountains to Star Hope Campground.
It’s a route that might accomplish something else Blessing cares about:“trying to get people to realize what a precious natural resource we actually do have.”
Blessing plans five full aid stations on the course offering food and water to runners, and he’s trying to arrange EMTs and ham radio communications for the race.
Four of the aid station locations are accessible to vehicles, and Blessing encourages runners to bring their own crews.
But you don’t need to know an ultramarathoner to volunteer. Help out on race day and Blessing will feed you and give you a shirt.
“You get to come out and hang out in the mountains,” he said. “All of the locations are really pretty.”
Race entry costs $70 at Standhope.runwildidaho.com (or $80 after Aug. 20), plus an optional $20 for a shuttle to take you from the finish point to the starting point before the race. To make good on the shuttle offer, Blessing will have to find volunteer drivers, so he hopes many runners will line up their own rides.
“Just starting to realize the sheer brutality of the course after training on it myself, you will need some extra time,” Blessing posted on Standhope.runwildidaho.com on July 8. Now he plans to give runners 13 1/2 hours to finish the course if they opt for the early start and 12 hours for the regular start. That allows for a lot of walking on these mountain trails.
A runner who starts early to take advantage of cooler temperatures can’t win, Blessing, but everyone who finishes will receive some award.
Blessing expects at least 60 entrants for the first Standhope 60k. The longer-standing races he organizes attract international entrants — from Switzerland, India, Australia and Chile, for example. Those Wild Idaho Endurance Runs are in Treasure Valley or near Cascade or McCall, and you can find links on the Standhope 60k website.
“All the races that you see there come out of my own blood, sweat and tears. It’s a lot of work,” said Blessing, whose day job is in visitor information services for the U.S. Forest Service’s Ketchum Ranger District.
Sam Collier, a Nampa 60-year-old who has been running since age 55, plans to enter the Standhope 60k — and see a lot of new mountain scenery.
“Ben puts on a tough race, and that usually attracts a lot of people,” said Collier, who is preparing to run Blessing’s 50-mile forest race near Garden Valley for his fourth year.
Collier’s running isn’t limited to ultramarathons.
“But mostly I like trails — more fun, more scenic, more laid-back,” he said.
On the Fourth of July, as Blessing caught his breath in Fall Creek Canyon, he pulled a tangle of florescent green tape from the pocket of his shorts. He’d been marking the trail into the hanging canyon of Surprise Valley for friends who expected to check out that stretch of the Standhope 60k the next day.
But he’ll remove that tape soon, he said, then re-mark the trail in time for the race. Until then, he’ll leave Surprise Valley’s solitude-loving hikers and backpackers to the proper scene of cairns and tree blazes.