Runners take on Spirit Challenge Saturday

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— For a little more than 15 years, Steamboat Springs runner Larry Handing has looked forward to the first race of the season in Steamboat Springs.

Handing admits to missing a few of the events, but because the Spirit Challenge (formerly the Schwall Challenge and the Hospital Run) has always been the first on the Steamboat Springs Running Series calendar, he has entered the race most years.

"It's always nice to get the first one of the year out of the way," Handing said. "I think most runners are a little anxious to get the season started. This race is a good test to see how the winter training has gone."

The 5- and 10-kilometer races will start on the Strawberry Park campus at 10 a.m. Saturday. The challenging courses take runners along paved sections as well as dirt roads.

"The 10K race is a pretty hard course especially for this early in the season," Handing said. "It's probably one of the harder courses in town."

While the name of this race has changed over the years, Handing said it has always been a mainstay on the running schedule.

The race made its debut as the Hospital Run. The course started at the old Routt Memorial Hospital downtown and took runners out to Strawberry Park and back.

Since then, the race's starting point has been moved to the middle school and its name has changed a couple of times.

Today it is called the Spirit Challenge and along with an accompanying children's walk-a-thon, it is becoming one of the running series' biggest events.

This year, the races are sanctioned by the Colorado Association of USA Track & Field. Runner's World magazine will provide bibs for the racers, prizes and several informational guides about running.

"It's nice to get Runner's World involved," organizer Loretta Van Norstrand said. "It gives the races more credibility because it's not just us putting on the event."

Race-day registration for the early- season event will begin at 9:30 a.m. In addition to the running classes, there will also be a separate 5K race walk and a children's walk-a-thon at the site.

"It's been 15 years since the first Schwall Challenge and it just keeps growing," Routt County Education Foundation President Millie Beall said in a press release. The races and the money raised from a children's walk-a-thon provide funding for the organization's granting activities.

In the walk-a-thon, children from area school districts are collecting pledges from community members for every quarter lap they race or walk around the track at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

The sanctioned races are open to all ages, and runners may register in advance at Christy Sports and F.M. Light & Sons. Runners who register prior to race day will pay $12. The cost increases to $15 the day of the race. There is also a no-frills entry (which does not include a T-shirt) for $10.

"The local businesses have been so generous," Van Norstrand said. "It helps to make the whole event more festive."

After the races, the top three finishers in the men's 5K, women's 5K, men's 10K and women's 10K races will receive prizes. An overall winner in the 5K race walk will also be awarded a prize.

There will also be a post-race drawing where runners can win a wide variety of prizes that have been donated by the local business community. The drawing will be random.

"Every year, Routt County businesses have generously made donations, so just about everyone takes home a prize, " Beall said in the release.

As the first events in the annual Steamboat Springs Running Series, winners in each age division will be awarded points that will add up over the summer-long running season.

To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@amigo.net

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