The Pulse Endurance Runs held in Eagle Island State Park just west of Boise, Idaho, in late May reminded me why I love running 100 miles on a short loop course. Much of the aggravation that comes with running an unfamiliar point-to-point course is stripped away and you can concentrate fully on the distance and on the joy of pure running.
With the short, repeated loops, getting lost or constantly facing the anxiety that you might be getting lost is taken off the table. Yearning to finally reach an aid station late in the race that never seems to come, doesn’t happen. There is no navigating, no constantly straining to spot a flag, and no concern that you went the wrong way out of an aid station.
At the Pulse, the course was almost a uniformly flat jeep road without any technical obstacles, so there was no stumbling over shifting rocks, no steep climbs, no wet stream crossings and no downed trees to contend with. Quite the contrary, the whole race seemed to unfold in a gentle rhythm that went on until the final 36th loop was done and runners were collecting their oversized belt buckle.
It seemed like the whole world was following a relaxing beat. There was the steady padding of your own footfall and the repetition of the 2.78-mile loop with the same landmarks popping up and then receding in the background. Runners left the start/finish at camp headquarters, passing by Eagle Island pond and down a trail to a long stretch next to the Boise River. The course included another stretch by the river and some muddy sections where the RD mentioned to stay on the fence side of the path to avoid the worst mud as well as gravel roads and a bike path.
Runners followed the same route and the dilapidated barns and farm buildings we passed became as familiar as old friends. The sky was gray and overcast and provided a constant cooling spray that lasted all day and finally thickened into a rain late at night and the next morning.
The alternatives to the 100-mile race at the Pulse, the 48-, 24-, 12- and 6-hour runs, kept things interesting for the 100-milers. The energy coming off the 12- and 6-hour runners when they were injected into the mix was invigorating. And the ever-present 48-hour runners, with their heads down, trudging along, lost in their world of deep endurance suffering, was inspiring.
Of course, arriving each time at the start/finish was almost overwhelming. People were shouting encouragement, tables of food were plentiful (grilled cheese sandwiches, breakfast burritos and pizza just to name a few), the clear and reliable computer screen was tracking your progress and the ever-important number of laps, cars were nearby if runners wanted to take a break—it was easy to get a big bump out of each visit, although with such short loops, you needed to guard against wasting too much time.
The atmosphere at the Pulse Endurance Runs is low key but very encouraging. All the race details are handled with ease and tracking all runners in each timeframe is done seamlessly. Up and coming Boise also makes a great destination if you can stay awhile, before or after the race.