What’s Your ITI?

It has been nearly a year since I finished the 2012 Iditarod Trail Invitational, and with the 2013 version currently underway it is more apparent to me than ever just how much this event is embedded deep in my psyche. There are several events through the year that I get excited about, but none of them are even close to the excitement and anticipation I have for the ITI. I can’t say exactly what it is about this race. My best guess is that it has a lot to do with the excessive length of the event, the unbelievable remoteness you travel through, and the independent, do-it-yourself personality of the entire experience.

Whatever it is, this event affects me differently than any other. So much so, that even this year, while I’m not participating, I have felt excitement building within me as though I were. For the past week I’ve been checking the weather forecast in McGrath, the finishing point of the race; I’ve been reading any trail reports I can find; and nearly every night I have fallen asleep thinking about various places along the route. I’m not typically much of a gear junkie, but when it comes to the ITI, I can sit around for hours and talk about what sleeping bag, stove, or balaclava is best suited for the job. My friend (and fellow iRunFar contributor), Joe Grant, is participating in this year’s race, and more than a few times in the past couple months we have driven our partners and various mutual friends crazy with our “ITI talk.” Normally, I would be on the other side of these situations, wondering how anyone could talk about one specific race so much. In these recent instances, though, I almost always wish our conversations could last longer and I wonder if we would still have any friends if they did.

I think this is something a lot of us can relate to. There seems to be certain events in endurance racing that really speak to specific individuals. I’ve seen it in other people at almost every race I’ve been to. Usually you can see it right away in someone. They seem to light up in a way that couldn’t possibly be contrived. It’s always really inspiring to be around someone so passionate about something they have done or are about to do. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could have this kind of passion about all of the races that I do, but then I remind myself that it just wouldn’t work that way. It’s really exciting and satisfying to partake in these events that are so deeply woven into our psyche, but it’s also really taxing, both physically and emotionally. If I felt the kind of passion for every race that I do for the ITI, I don’t think I’d be able to sustain more than one, or sometimes two races per year. Oftentimes, I only have the mindset and the energy to run a race that I’m overly passionate about. Other times, I want to just go out and run without so much attachment to the personality and energy of the event, and the imprint that it has on me.

Over time, though, it is the races we have this deep passion for that really come to shape who we are as runners, and to a lesser degree as people. It may seem overstated, but I think it’s accurate to say that the time I’ve spent out on the Iditarod Trail during the ITI (which I’ve started three of the past six years) is woven more deeply into my psyche than all the other racing I’ve done combined. I don’t mean this to diminish the significance of other events I’ve done. There just hasn’t been, for me, anything that’s inspired me in the way that the ITI has. For those of you who haven’t been exposed to this event in the past I highly recommend following along as the race unfolds over the next several days. Updates are few and far between, as might be expected for a wilderness race that takes an average of about a week to complete, but you can typically find updates on the race website a couple times a day. I don’t expect anyone following along at home to develop the kind of passion that I have for this event, but at the least you are likely to find something novel and dramatic to get a bit excited about over the next several days.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear, what event is your Iditarod Trail Invitational? I feel like anyone who races for any length of time is going to have a certain event that gets into their blood and becomes more a part of who they are than other events do. For me this is without question the ITI. What event is it for you, and in what way does it inspire you? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Although I must say, I look even more forward to watching the ITI unfold over the next several days, and hearing the participants’ stories after it’s done.

There are 68 comments

  1. Sara

    For me it's not about the place (though that helps) or the distance (though that helps), it's about the feeling. That 'stripped down' state where you are distilled to just a peanut of a brain and become movement without effort. The world makes sense inside this simple task of forward motion; rising above conscious command, thought, energy. It's a sacred state, and perhaps addictive (in a good way I'd argue), and ultras can channel us to it. For me it is elusive; I've only felt it deeply once and have been searching for it ever since.

  2. Art

    The American Birkebeiner. I've never been this sick for so long before… I've had birkie fever for the last four years!

    1. Erich Marks

      Art, I'm glad you said it! I was reading this article and thinking, even though this is a running community, about how much I love that race. I've also done it 4 times in the last 5 years and can foresee doing it as long as I'm able. I think this race is one of the greatest community events of the year, full of history and tradition. To see people who have done the race 30 or 40 times still out there getting after it is inspiring. And the people on wooden skis in viking garb are also pretty awesome. If you're a nordic skier, look into this race! It will hook you.

  3. Andrew Washburn

    The White Mountain Hut traverse brings a smile to my face every time I think about it. During any hard time I think about my first experience and I remember how strong my mind really is.

  4. Chad


    Great article. My personal favorite is the Forget the PR 50K at the Mohican State Forest in Ohio. Rob Powell is a great RD who just "gets it…." making for an awesome experience.

    If you're interested in reading one of my good friend's love letter to his favorite race, the Mohican 100, I'd invite you to read the following post:


    You may need an aid station to get through it in one sitting, but it is written by one of the best writer-runners I know. I also have the privilege of having paced him during his 10th finish of this event. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

  5. Seamus Foy

    Hearing about HURT on Talk Ultra is making this a bucket race list for me. It seems like a lot of runners feel like you do. Awesome!

  6. Seamus Foy

    Is Maine the best part of the AT? I'm dying to get to Katahdin. The knife's edge looks unreal! Is that part of the AT? I can't imagine crossing that after 2200 miles!

  7. thomas

    Iditarod Trail Invitational

    vor 33 Minuten.Cyclist James Hodges finished in McGrath. Runners Joe Grant and John Logar are in second place in the foot division 6 days 8 hours 47 minutes over a day behind fist place Dave Johnston. Congrats to all finishers this year. 15 more are still out on the trail.

    Congratulation to Joe und John, and of course also dave, awesome perfomances.

    take care thomas

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