BOISE, Idaho — A Boise woman has smashed the previous record for on-foot finishes in a Foothills hiking and mountain biking challenge, covering more than 170 miles in just four days.
Alyssa Rogers was the first hiking/trail running participant to finish the Boise Trails Challenge on June 21, becoming the first woman to outpace all other participants. The challenge, which began in 2017, covers 173 miles of trails throughout the Boise Foothills. Participants are given a month to complete the challenge.
In a phone interview, Rogers, 42, said she spent months training before focusing on completing the challenge as quickly as possible. That mental strength motivated her to press through grueling days covering 45 miles of trails and battling against physical setbacks.
“I just set my mind on saying, ‘I want to win. I want to win. I want to win,’ “ she said. “That would keep me going every day and help me wake up at 3 a.m. and go every day. There was no option to not win.”
The Boise Trails Challenge was the brainchild of Jason Delgadillo, an avid mountain biker who along with Boisean Kirk Cheney co-founded BoiseTrails.com. Delgadillo was 38 when he died while mountain biking on the Spring Valley Creek Trail at Avimor in May 2018.
Delgadillo had the idea to create a challenge that would be tracked digitally rather than on paper. He and Cheney had just started meeting with website developers in May 2018 shortly before Delgadillo’s death. Cheney carried on with Delgadillo’s plans, and the first Boise Trails Challenge took place in the summer of 2018 with about 300 participants.
“It feels like his spirit lives on through this in a big way,” Cheney said in a phone interview.
Each year, the event has grown. When the 2021 challenge began June 17, there were more than 1,000 participants. About 80% of those were mountain bikers, Cheney said. Participants have one month to finish the challenge, which is tracked via Strava, a social media site for logging physical activity. This year, the challenge traverses nearly 100 trails, covering roughly 170 miles and 36,000 feet of elevation gain.
“A lot of people take the whole month (to finish),” Cheney said. “Only a third of people finish — two-thirds can’t. It’s harder than it seems.”
There’s also a lot of planning and logistics to take on the challenge, Cheney said. Participants choose how to tackle the designated trails, some of which are out-and-back routes that add on extra miles.
“There’s a lot of stuff you’re not getting credit for … because you have to go one way on the trail and to get back you have to backtrack,” Cheney said.
The first mountain biker to complete the challenge, registered as C Forrey on Strava, finished June 19 — just two days into the challenge. By Sunday, June 25, 68 mountain bikers had completed the challenge.
But Cheney said tackling the trails challenge on foot is an even more difficult endeavor. As of that Sunday, just seven people had finished the challenge on foot, and only two of those were women.
“Even to do it in a week, you’re running a marathon every day,” Cheney said.
To finish in record time, Rogers was trail running and hiking about 45 miles each day — a few miles shy of two marathons daily.
Rogers wasn’t a stranger to the challenge. She completed it in 2020, albeit in a much different fashion. She biked about 70% of the challenge and walked the rest, finishing on the last day. She would bring her kids or meet friends, taking time to enjoy new trails and break her normal routine.
“My takeaway from that was there were so many more trails than I ever knew were out there — even after being here and going out almost every day,” said Rogers, who grew up in Boise.
After taking up trail running and marathons while living in Alaska, Rogers regularly runs, mountain bikes and walks her dogs in the Boise Foothills. She intensified that routine earlier this year when she decided to try to take a more competitive tack in the Boise Trails Challenge.
“I just got certified to be running coach (at the start of the year), and I thought I would be my first client,” Rogers said.
She set to work studying the trails map and planning routes, heading out on training runs twice a day.
“It was really a pleasure and a joy to train for this because I allowed myself to take time and walk when I wanted to walk and enjoy my surroundings more knowing that there’s no way I was going to run 100 percent of these trails,” she said. “I never got burned out even though it was way more training and time on my feet than marathon training or ultramarathon training.”
A few weeks into training, Rogers decided she wanted to win. In the three previous years of the challenge, a woman had never finished first on foot. Only four people had finished on foot in fewer than 200 hours.
“I never expected to try to compete with the men … but I did want to push the limit,” she said. “I knew I could do it faster than nine days.”
After months of preparation, Rogers set out on June 17 with a goal of completing around 45 miles of trails. Immediately she started to face physical obstacles.
“I had a really good first day except for the fact that my knee started to give me so much pain that I couldn’t run for the rest of the day,” she said. “I thought I was done.”
Rogers said she took frequent breaks and massaged her knee. The next day, the problem persisted. She walked the first several miles to avoid knee pain and later decided to reroute her plans for the day to travel uphill more often, as it seemed less painful than running downhill.
“That morning was a decision point: Do I keep trying to push through this?” Rogers said. “It’s not worth blowing my knee up.”
She carried on. On the third day, Rogers’ routes were mostly downhill but she wasn’t able to reroute her plans this time. Her body took a beating as she tried to cover another 45 miles. Part of the way through her final route of the day — Dry Creek Trail — she had to turn back.
“I felt like a failure,” she said.
The fourth day was slated to be the hardest. Rogers slept in, hoping the extra rest would help her body heal. When she hit the trails, she was able to recover the miles she’d lost the previous day. She also covered the trails at Bogus Basin and met a friend to run Eastside Trail.
Her knees felt better but a new issue had arisen — a pain in her left Achilles tendon. Rogers discovered it was the result of pressure from her shoes.
Before starting her fifth and final day of the challenge, Rogers tried on every pair of running shoes she owned. None of them alleviated the pain in her Achilles tendon. So she improvised.
“I ended up cutting (the back off of) a pair of old shoes and tied them tight enough to keep them on,” she said.
The makeshift gear worked, supporting Rogers through miles of trails. She switched to Luna sandals, which she said she runs in to keep her feet strong, for the final two miles.
Rogers finished the Boise Trails Challenge on the evening of June 21, ending her trek with 4.5-mile Sweet Connie Trail, which she ran in the company of three friends.
Her family was waiting for her, and Rogers said their support was an emotional experience. Still, she was hardly fazed as she finished the challenge in 116 hours — far faster than any past participants and a full 19 hours ahead of this year’s second-place finisher.
“It was almost uneventful because I had just been going for so long that I didn’t shift gears,” Roger said. “I was just like, ‘What’s next?’ “
Cheney lauded her record time.
“Alyssa really crushed it on foot and set a new standard for what’s possible,” he said. “The first year, only one person finished on foot and I thought he was superhuman. I didn’t think it would be possible. The second year, it was 20 or so. Last year, 29 men and 36 women finished on foot.”
Rogers credits much of her success to mental toughness.
“I have spent a lot of time training mentally for hard things,” she said. “I knew that would carry me through if physically I was feeling undertrained.”
For all of the grit it took to get to the finish line, Rogers said there were plenty of positive moments, too. She woke up early to beat the unusual heat and reveled in the peace and quiet of the trails in the morning hours. She particularly enjoyed watching the sun come up as she ran.
Rogers said she also found strength in Delgadillo’s memory, though she never knew him.
“If you’re doing this (challenge), you’re doing it for yourself and you’re also doing it in the memory of Jason and his family,” Rogers said. “Whenever I started to feel pretty low, I would just think of that.”
Cheney said that’s fully in the spirit of the event. Delgadillo was a person who brought people together and broke down barriers between trail users, Cheney said. He also wanted to share the trails with as many people as he could. Cheney said a big part of the challenge is people experiencing new parts of the Foothills and making the experience their own.
“I try not to focus on making it a race,” Cheney said. “Everyone feels proud of their accomplishment, and it’s not just about who’s fastest. But I like to honor people who just put it on the line and go nonstop like that.”
Winners receive a pair of shoes and a gift card — the same prize handed out via random drawings over the duration of the challenge, Cheney said.
Rogers said experience of the challenge was worth more than any cash prize.
“This type of winning is carrying on the passion for someone who lost his life,” Rogers said. “They’re wanting to share this amazing trail system, this amazing place … and that will carry on with me forever as opposed to just getting a prize.”