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. AJW

    Geoff, Great write-up on an incredible event. I can see why it inspires you. For me, my ITI is Western States. Obviously, it's quite different than the ITI but for the past decade it has been such a big part of my life that it has seeped into my blood. AJW

  2. Alex

    I don't have a specific event – especially having never done a "big" race – so much as a trail. Any race that takes place on it immediately matters to me, because that trail was where I had my epiphany regarding this sport, and still continue to do most of my training. It feels – for lack of a better analogy – like a home court does in basketball, like I expect to perform above my fitness, just by being there.

  3. Hone

    I just want to stay healthy enough to pop a good race at the HURT before I hang up the sneakers. There is just something about that race…

    I remember going to the start of the ITI to see you and a few others off a few years ago and the excitement in the air was awesome. It takes endurance racing to the next level. I personally think the race would be terrible but that is only because my mind is too weak to do it.

    1. Darthrunner

      I ran HURT in 2012 thinking it would be a "once in a lifetime" race. My wife and I were making plans for 2013 on the plane back to the mainland.

      We went back this year with the thought that we wouldn't have the chance to make it there again for quite some time. We are presently discussing the possibility of HURT 2014. It really is a fantastic and unique race, one that should be on every ultrarunners bucket list.

      1. Anonymous

        +1 on HURT… DNF'ed @ 67 miles last month, but I'll keep trying to go back until I can't run any more… Best ultra experience I've ever had…

      1. Anonymous

        Yup! Ran it for the first time last spring, went back and did it again 3 weeks later (this is the Bright Angel course, R2R2R), not even gonna tell ya what I'm plannin' for this year, 'cept to say: I can't wait! The thing changed me…

        JV in SD

  4. Pete

    As a child that race was always the Mount Washington Hill climb for me. Now that I live in the west I am still searching for that event. I do find that when I have a focus race I become completely consumed with it but I have not found one race that draws me back year after year yet. Great article and the concept really does ring loud.

  5. Shelby

    As an Alaskan, I love to hear your passion about this race and for Alaska. I'm so proud of Joe for pursuing his own ITI experience, especially after he the Susitna 100 challenges he faced last year.

    My ITI is the Red Hot 55k, where I ran my first ultra. Deliriously happy all the way through and disappointed to have it end so soon. Moab is such a unique and special place for exploring on foot. We'll see if any other location usurps its place as I run in other beautiful places…

  6. Sarah Lavender Smith

    Grand to Grand Ultra, which I did last September and yearn to do again. Before that, I'd say the Dick Collins Firetrails 50, which runs in the Oakland/Berkeley Hills–the trails I train on, and an incredible greenbelt preserved in the middle of urban/suburban sprawl. The DCFT50 namesake was a pioneer in Bay Area trail running, and it's a classic "old school" event.

    Thanks, Geoff, for your article. I'm enjoying your column and hope your recovery is progressing.

  7. Drew Gunn

    Hardrock 100. When I moved to Durango about four years ago I had never run an ultra, and the idea of running 100 miles seemed grueling and boring. Coming from a climbing and mountaineering background, however, the amount of vertical gain really intrigued me. Living close to the course I started checking it out, and I was amazed at the beauty and how rugged some of the terrain was. It got under my skin, and I started running more with the sole purpose of completing Hardrock some day. Long story short, I became completely absorbed in trail running. I ran my first 50 miler and Hundred miler in 2010, and paced at Hardrock. In 2011 I worked an aid station at Hardrock that we had to backpack into. In 2012 I was lucky enough to get in and complete the race. I'm in again for 2013, so I get to try the counter clockwise direction. I'll go back to Hardrock again and again whether it is to run or to volunteer. The race has given me so much. It inspired me and introduced me to a new way to engage with nature. It also brought me to the ultra running community from which I met many of my closest friends. Now, anytime something is particularly difficult, the weather is nasty, etc. the joke is "this is good Hardrock training!" Geoff Roes was a big inspiration along the way. Thanks Geoff!

  8. Aaron Sorensen

    My passion comes from any FKT over 48 or so hours.

    I get emotional over the ones who pour their guts out for anything over 135 miles.

    It takes guts to go into a second night without sleep while trying to maintain a pace that would have kicked everyone’s a$$ and had them quitting before sundown the first day.

    I really enjoy the simplicity of someone going unsupported as they are just quickly hiking the same route and same way as everyone else. It's not that the person is just going much quicker; it's the complexity that one most go through to make it happen. To some, it may seem like you just throw some food and a few layer in a pack and go for it, but the work and effort it takes to even line up at the start of a longer FKT is immense. These type of FKT's just appeal to me and yes, I can talk about them for days.

  9. art

    official :

    Hardrock – the reason I started ultra running, though I'm beginning to despair of ever getting in.

    unofficial (FKT) :

    JMT – the Sierras are constantly calling.

  10. Galen B

    Pikes Peak Marathon. Steeped in tradition and history, some of the best mountain runners in the world have tested themselves on the mountain using the same course year after year (only one course change occurred back in 1976 I believe). From countless Olympians to mountain legends like Pablo Vigil, Killian jornet, Ricardo Mejia, and yes, a guy named Matt Carpenter, who ran one of the most impressive endurance records of all time on the mountain. That is a legacy that inspires me tremendously.

      1. TS

        +1 on both of these. For me (and it seems like this is true for others too) the events that are most inspiring transcend the category of "race" and become a personal quest. E.g. Geoff is writing about how ITI inspires him the most of any race, though his success at WS is much more well-known. Hardrock is by its own definition a personal journey, and any long FKT (JMT or any other long trail) must be a "from within" sort of scenario. And for me, as a fan of ultrarunning, certain runners embody that inspiration – Diana Finkel at Hardrock, Dominic Grossman at Angeles Crest this summer, Kilian at Cavalls del vent, to name a few – runners whose effort transcend competition and become something more.

  11. Rob Y

    Barkley, Hardrock then 200km+ events. But what is really drawing me in are the winter ultramarathons such as Arrowhead 135 and ITI though I've yet to finish a winter ultramarathon: DNFs at Susitna 100 in '03 and Arrowhead 135 in '13 (ironically both mainly because of too warm of weather made the going very difficult pulling a sled and poor trail conditions). I've been following the ITI since it was under the Iditasport moniker and it is part of my dream goal to finish the ITI at least once; both the 350 and the full trek to Nome…

  12. Kyle

    Mine is the Deadman Peaks Trail Run. I attempted a couple 50 mile races last year after sucessfully completing some 50K's. Being new to this sport and running in general, both 50s had the wheels come off. The DMPTR trail just spoke to me, I have been feeling it laugh at me since October, I have dreams about it. This year I have hired a coach and tailored my race schedule to culminate with Deamans. The other DNF I had just wasnt that big a deal to me. I had a good time, and I feel no particular urgency to go back to that trail. My obsession has gone so far that when I found out the Army is transfering me out of the area a week before the race, I started getting a supported solo run set up to replicate the race a few weeks early. Thankfully I have a supportive wife and good group of freinds to help out with this.

  13. tom wilson

    Imogene Pass Run. I ran my first ultra in 2004 and then later that year IPR. The beauty and magnificence of the San Juans has drawn me back ever since, is visualized in many training runs, and is inspiring damn near every day to get out there and get it done.

  14. Kristin Z

    Susitna 100 and the Hardrock 100 course for completely different reasons, but deeply rooted nonetheless…. and nothing compares… even when they come close… :) i suspect there could be another such route out there… so i'll just have to keep looking! ;)

  15. Steve Pero

    For me it has to be Hardrock. That run finds more ways to take a runner down. I'm 2 for 9 right now and I'm going for #10 this year. At age 61 and with the lottery getting more difficult, this could be my last chance.

  16. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

    The ITI is such a barnburner this year. Multiple cyclists about to crack the three-day barrier, Dave Johnston marching along without sleep on the edge of Steve R.'s untouchable record. It's been an exciting race but something tells me Bill M. is annoyed that the trail is so "easy" this year. :-)

    I love following the ITI and often wish I could race it again. Who knows? Maybe it can happen. Meanwhile my partner Beat is attempting the walk to Nome this year, an adventure even I can't wrap my head around. But then a deeper part of me would love to go to Nome myself someday, maybe with him. The Iditarod Trail is such a gift for adventurous souls — it has the feel of a great expedition but can be had by anyone who wishes to try.

  17. GMack

    I'm with Geoff on being passionate about the ITI (2010 finisher). I don't know what it is either, since the event seems to be partly a race and partly a sleep-deprived, hallucinogenic trip through a winter wonderland. As I sit here in Dallas (it's 52F outside), my mind is on the race and I'm checking the leaderboard every hour rooting for Joe Grant, multi-finisher Eric Johnson and Anne Ver Hoef (going for Nome). I'm also looking forward to what's sure to be an entertaining race report from Joe.

  18. Z

    Even though I have not run it, the HR100 is the race of my dreams, my future ITI. I know this because I was lucky enough to pace my good buddy last year and am fortunate, as is he for getting in again, to do it again this year. To be a pacer at this race was the coolest experience I have had in the less than 2 years of trail running under my belt. It just got to my soul, I believe, the same way it has for everyone else who has their own ITI. Thanks Geoff, you're the best! GO JOE!!!

  19. KenZ

    I haven't found it yet, but will know it when I do it. Am thinking, like many here, it might be Hardrock, but I have a sneaking suspicion it'll have to be longer. Spartathlon maybe; getting my qualifier in line for that one this year.

  20. Patrick

    Leadville. I know that uber-ultrarunners look down at Leadville as "flat" and crowded but between the beauty of the surroundings, the character of the town, and of course Ken Chlouber, this race is it for me. I ache to run near there just thinking about it as a I write this from my office…

  21. Karen

    the one that i am still wondering how i finished. Beast of Burden Winter 100 in 2011. the course itself may not be the most challenging, being flat and not remote. but the wind that year. the relentless wind. how it kept changing to course– throwing in drifts, taking out drifts, erasing footprints. the wild, flapping tent of the aid station midway..THE WIND! i can still hear it. i can still feel it. and i am laughing again just thinking about it.

  22. John Fegyveresi

    Great article Geoff.

    For me, it has to be thru-hiking any long distance trail. Nothing quite like living out of a backpack for 3 months and seeing the world at a slower pace.

    As far as official race…absolutely no question: The Barkley.

  23. Ben

    Elk Mountains Grand Traverse; a 40 mile backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen.

    As far as running goes, UTMB or a traverse of the Haute Route are things that I have dreamed about.

  24. Alex

    The Kneeknacker 30-miler in North Vancouver, BC. My first 30-miler, first serious ankle sprain…and best race ever. I love every part of the course: The first 1400m climb up Black mountain pre-sunrise, and then breaking out at the top of the mountain to see the views of the ocean and mountain rance, the alpine frest, the ski area, the technical descents, the lower rainforest-y area with logs and boardwalks and roots…and the final long downhill to the finish line (and more ocean), seeing the glint of the sun on the water.

    It's a hard, gorgeous course, and a celebration of all the amazing running available in Vancouver :)

  25. Ellie

    Comrades, I find it hard to explain the atmosphere – just do it, even if you are a trail runner it's worth the tarmac for just this one race :) History, traditions, 16 000 runners, amazing support from spectators, fast runners up front but the last runner in the stadium is celebrated just as much. A true celebration of sport and life.

    1. Shelby

      Ellie, you describe why I loved running the Chicago Marathon as a roadie in the 90's. Crowds all along the course, high-fiving the kids as we went by, the Rocky theme blaring from the brownstones and the back of the packers cheered on as well as the record-setting winners!

  26. TheBaldEnglishTeache

    Ran (hiked, walked, crawled) Speedgoat last year, and I swore it was the dumbest thing I'd ever done. But after regaining the ability to walk, the challenge and beauty of the course kept running through my mind. And I'll be damned if I'm not signed up again this year. Great race, Karl!

  27. James Brennan

    someone once told me every shirt in your closet was your favorite at one time or another…next thing you know you are donating it to Goodwill. Many of the trails or races I liked 2-3 years ago aren't the same ones I really like now. I am still searching and I think many people like me are a work in progress.

  28. Larry Huffman

    I'm still new to all this, but I think the Ring and the Reverse Ring are becoming my ITI; trying to figure out how to get myself around that loop just a little bit faster.

    1. Steve Pero

      Shhhh….don't tell anyone about these fantastic events, Larry. Yes, this is a jewel, Deb and I have 2 Ring finishes and several Rev Ring attempts, Deb did finish the Reverse once. Even the year there were no finishers and it took us 20 hours to do 40 miles in deep snow.

  29. Stemple

    I'm too lame and replied to Bryan's email. He set me straight on comments so here goes.

    "Yeah man, and let's hear it for John Logar who's (was) bivied with Grant at Puntilla. Logar is a newbie at ITI, but a machine. These guys are all amazaing. I think Logar and Grant are still running together as of the last update.

    byw, tkx for the comments about the WV Trilogy. An awsome event here in the mountains of WV. /jim stemple

  30. Jim Skaggs

    A few runs/races for me. Waldo 100K, 100% single track thru the forest,can't beat it. Wasatch 100, after my first attempt there, it just got under my skin big time. For adventure, nothing beats R2R2R or Zion, spectacular runs both.

  31. Bohica

    Leadville is the reason I got into ultrarunning after seeing the race on TV (circa Steve Peterson). It will always hold a special place in my heart. As far as the future, I will probably retire from 100's if I can get in and finish Hardrock. Non-race wise, doing as much as I can on Nolan's or hitting all of the Elk Mountain range 14ers in one effort would be huge.

    1. KenZ


      I remember seeing something on this back in like 1989 or 90 (a TV piece), about 20 years before I started running. Do you have any idea what the piece was called? It was long, I remember that, and focused on several of the top people. I'd love to watch it again now that I run, but searching for Leadville 100 TV on Google gets one nowhere!

      Thanks, Ken

      1. Bohica

        Cant remember if it was on ABC Wide World of Sports or something else. i remember Steve Peterson, Mike Ehrlich, and I believe Johnny Sandoval as some of the featured guys. I was a kid then, but it got me thinking.

  32. Heidi Grant

    Hi Geoff,

    Thanks so much for the article, for the wonderful account of your ITI experience – and the youtube videos. Shame the batteries died before the end.

    Thanks for taking us on many of your adventures. We're following Joe – who's moving along but doesn't seem to be battling with that crazy crazy weather you guys had last year.

    With much admiration.

  33. Aaron Sorensen


    That's funny. After reading 46 days, the book didn't make it look like it was all that hard on JPD.

    You must just love the rain on the AT?

    Kidding of course, but…

    Does this mean there will be another attempt by you?

    Yes, that would be my ITI during that time, if there was.

  34. zzizzi

    geez, I'm still trying to make my way through this winter. how can anyone race in this, and even Alaska, that's been beyond me. so far. I find myself unable not to listen to this lure of arctic wilderness. Hope it's not just some masos talking.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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!

  41. 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

Post Your Thoughts