Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

A spudtastic good time in Boise

Idaho and potatoes are synonymous. The Gem State is the number one producer of potatoes in America, responsible for growing one third of the country’s crop. But Washington’s production is no small potatoes. The Evergreen State ranks second in the US growing more than 20% of the nation’s spuds. As a proud member of Team Potato, sponsored by the Washington State Potato Commission—and a resident of Skagit County where potatoes rank as the county’s most valuable crop—how could I not be interested in running in the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon this past May 13th?!

There’s definitely a rivalry between Idaho and Washington when it comes to potatoes! How would I be received decked in my Washington State Potato Commission Team Potato running shirt while running 26.2 miles in a race sponsored by the Idaho State Potato Commission? Would I be cut down to size? Was I about to step foot in a potato landmine or would I just blend in among the other potato runners? Well, if you’ve seen my race shirt, you know there’s no way I won’t stand out. It draws attention—and it definitely did its job in the marathon.

Starting with picking up my race number, folks noticed this Washington potato runner among the bushel of participants. I was mostly received with smiles, but there were the occasional short blurts of “Washington potatoes!?” But those too were followed with smiles. Idahoans are a friendly lot but they take their potatoes seriously. So as long as I didn’t denigrate their spuds (and why would I, they’re just as delicious as Washington potatoes!) we were all good.

The post race potato bar

The best acknowledgement of my presence however came right at mile 2 during the race. It was at this moment while running on the Greenbelt Trail along the roiling Boise River, that one of the Idaho Potato Commissioners himself—who happened to be a participant in the race noticed my shirt. He absolutely loved it. Pure potato love! After some friendly banter, he passed me, assuring that this Washington potato runner would come in second to an Idaho potato runner!

I wasn’t running my fastest. My race strategy was more like a slow cook, than a quick fry as I was not pushing hard after coming off a torn calf injury from a previous marathon. My goal was to just finish this race without pain and to feel good at the end. It was one of my slowest marathons, but one in which I was feeling pretty good. The support was wonderful with many energetic young folks volunteering at the aid stations. The race is a benefit for the Treasure Valley Family YMCA. This was the 45th annual staging of this race which also includes a half marathon, 10K and 5K. And like so many races, the half marathon distance is the most popular with more than 700 participants. There were just 200 of us signed up to do the full marathon.

Boise Greenbelt Trail

It was a nice course with very little elevation gain. We were bussed out to the dam at Lucky Peak State Park for the start at 7 am. From there it was along the Boise River on a paved trail through a beautiful canyon for the first three miles. The course continued on the Greenbelt trail system crossing over the river a couple of times before briefly passing through Boise’s central area. It was then back on the trail and upriver through quiet tidy neighborhoods. We crossed the river again and ran out and back by a canal before heading back along the Greenbelt to the finish area at Albertsons’ corporate headquarters.

As with all of my races I compose a race specific soundtrack in my mind to keep me focuses and plodding along, This one consisted of the B-52’s “Private Idaho”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name” (well, it’s 8 o’clock in Boise Idaho) and a whole bunch of tracks from Boise’s Paul Revere and the Raiders! “Hungry” being a particular favorite and taking on a more literally than metaphorical meaning the more calories I burned along the way!

Marilyn Monroe in a potato sack

By the time I crossed the finish line I was feeling like a baked potato. The thermometer was pushing 80. A far cry from the chilly breezy 53 degree start near the dam. My friend and fellow 50 state marathoner Hanna who traveled from Massachusetts cheered me on at the finish. Those last few steps to the finish line are always so emotional. It’s the validation that all of your hard work and training has paid off. You’re a marathoner and damn proud of it. A whole bunch of strangers you’ve been running with are now bonded with you. There are high fives, fist bumps, hugs, stories to tell, and a medal to proudly wear. And it’s time to refuel a body that has been pushed hard.

It would only be fitting that the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon offered baked potatoes as post-race nourishment. Potatoes are a great recovery food with lots of potassium, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and many other essential vitamins and minerals. And after running 26.2 miles in the heat, and with my Garmin watch displaying that I burned more than 3300 calories, I had no problem slathering that potato with plenty of sour cream and cheddar cheese! And upon finishing, I had to pose in front of the giant potato before shuffling back to my hotel for much deserved shower and nap.

The following morning I took it easy with a 4.5 mile walk on the Greenbelt Trail and a stop at the wonderful Idaho State Museum. It was there that I learned that the potato was first brought to Idaho by the missionary Henry Spalding (who came to the Northwest with Marcus Whitman). I Learned about Jack Simplot and his potato empire (which got a big boost thanks to Ray Kroc and McDonalds) and learned that Marilyn Monroe posed in an Idaho Potato burlap sack! Well. No wonder Idaho’s potatoes are famous!

Big Thanks to the Washington State Potato Commission for sponsoring me. I am proud to be a member of Team Potato and to showcase the nutritional value and performance enhancement of potatoes as I attempt to run a marathon in all 50 states. I started my journey last year with marathons in Washington (my home) and New Hampshire (my home state). Idaho makes state number 5. I’ve got a long journey and many miles to go—and lots of potatoes to consume along the way.

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