Registration for Saturday's 25th installment of The Elephant's Perch Backcountry Run closes today at 6 p.m.
The race, which begins and ends in the picturesque Hulen Meadows area north of Ketcthum, gets underway Saturday at 8 a.m., offering distances of 10 and 16.5 miles.
As of Wednesday afternoon, race director and Perch owner Bob Rosso said about 230 racers had registered. He expects a field as large as 400 by race day.
"It's running pretty strong," Rosso said.
While the race turns a quarter-century Saturday, Rosso said nothing special is planned—"Just business as usual ... fairly low key, totally fun," he said.
The vibe of the race hasn't changed much in the last 25 years but the course has, according to Rosso.
"It used to be a more old-school type trail with steep ups and downs," he said. "Now there are more gentle contours that suit both runners and mountain bikers."
The race was also originally called the 18-Mile run before measurements revealed it was only 16.5 miles long.
The women's 10-mile division may be the one to watch this year, as last year's winner, record holder and favorite, Johanna Olson, will be in California over the weekend to race in a half-marathon.
Olson, 26, of Ketchum, recorded a time of 1.02:21 last year. She's currently training for a marathon in Minnesota this fall, which will act as an Olympic trial qualifier.
"She's an incredible runner," Rosso said. "She's the little blond with the pig tails, and she flies."
Boise's Cori Mooney, 31, the previous 10-mile record holder, will also be participating in another race this weekend. Mooney still holds the women's 16.5-mile record with a time of 1:58:47, set in 2003.
The absence of those two women opens the door for Ketchum's Angenie McCleary, 28, who has finished in the top three in the women's 10-mile race each of the last five years, but has never taken home a victory.
McCleary placed second last year behind her friend and training partner, Olson, crossing the finish almost seven minutes slower.
"I'll run as hard as I can, but there are a lot of great runners in this town," McCleary said. "And you never know who's going to pop up."
In a bit of a twist, McCleary said that while Olson holds the technical record on the 10-mile course, Mooney has actually run it faster. A few years back, Mooney missed the registration deadline but still raced, finishing with a time that McCleary claims was about six seconds faster than Olson's. But since Mooney wasn't registered, the time was never recorded.
"It wasn't a big thing at all," McCleary said, adding that all three are close friends. "They laugh about it."
Rosso said the race, which winds through the Adams Gulch and Fox Creek trail systems, attracts runners from all over the state and the region, including Utah, Montana and Washington.
Last year's winner in the men's 10-mile division was Jeremy Redding, 31, of Eagle, Idaho, who finished in 56:13. Whistler, B.C., Canada's Kevin Titus, 47, won the men's 16.5-mile race in 1.55:11, while Joelle Vaught, 29, of Boise, won the women's 16.5 mile in 2.19:05.
Paul Lowe still holds the men's 16.5-mile record of 1:43:35, while Karl Van Clacar holds the men's 10-mile record of 55:49. Both were set in 1999.
Cindy Mann still holds the record for longevity, participating in the 16.5-mile leg of the Backcountry Run for 18 consecutive years from 1981-98. She won six times.
While the race can be competitive, both Rosso and McCleary said the main draw is it's fun, pressure-free, community atmosphere.
"It's one of my favorite races because the community really gets into it," McCleary said. "You always see lots of people from around town and there's nice camaraderie.
"People are really friendly and encouraging."
Added Rosso, "It just has a good feeling to it."
Racers can register at the Perch until 6 p.m. tonight, Friday. The entry fee is now $35 and no race-day entries will be accepted. Race packets can be picked up at the Perch all day today, or Saturday before 7:45 a.m.
Food and beverages will greet racers at the finish, and top finishers will be awarded prizes. A drawing for prizes will also be held for the entire field. Dogs are not allowed in the race.