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.