The snow is gone, the days are getting warmer and runners are waiting eagerly for the start of this summer's Steamboat Springs Running Series.
"The running series is an active part of our community," said longtime runner Bob Dapper of Christy Sports. "(Christy Sports) has supported these events for years because they are part of what makes up the personality of Steamboat Springs."
This year's series will begin with two of the area's most recognizable running events.
The first -- the annual Spirit Challenge -- will take place at 10 a.m. May 8.
The Spirit Challenge is part fund-raiser and part athletics competition. But for the past several years, the event, which includes a walk-a-thon, a 5-kilometer course and a more challenging 10K course, has acted as the official start of the running season in Steamboat Springs.
"Every year, this is one of the most popular races," first-year running series Director Heather Eller said. "It's a chance for runners to get out and see friends that they haven't seen all winter."
The Spirit Challenge races are open to runners of all ages, and they may register in advance at Christy Sports or F.M. Light and Sons for $12 without a T-shirt. Runners can register on race day for $15 without a T-shirt. T-shirts are available to all the runners for $10 the day of the race.
The Spirit Challenge's 5K course goes on and off road, while the more challenging 10K is an out-and-back race through Strawberry Park.
At the same time, school children will do laps on the middle school track to raise money to benefit their educational opportunities.
The Legacy Education Foundation sponsors the annual Spirit Challenge. The proceeds benefit educational programs in Routt County schools. The projects funded by the race use experiential and place-based education to help children gain a sense of place and respect for the Yampa Valley.
The Spirit Challenge will be followed by the 26th running of the Hayden Cog Run on May 15 in Hayden. Runners can register for that race for $12 until 5 p.m. May 12 or pay $15 on the day of the race.
"I'm not surprised," Cog founder Mark Fischer said of that race's long-running history. "This race has a life of its own. If no one organized it, I think there would still be 15 to 20 runners who would show up just to run it."
The race, which is the longest consecutively run race of the series, has become a right of passage for many runners in the Yampa Valley.
"In my running days, most of the top runners in the area wanted to complete the Cog," Fischer said.
Fischer turned the organization of the race over to the Town of Hayden about five years ago.
"I've been told that it is brutal," Eller said of the Cog's course, which goes out and back on a steep climb up Hayden's Cog Road. "But I think that the event's reputation for being tough is what keeps runners coming out year after year."
While the 8.4-mile Cog will challenge elite runners from across the state, the event also features less demanding 10K and 5K courses along the rolling hills near Hayden.
The events start and finish in the Hayden Town Park and are inspired by the town's down-home atmosphere and a family tradition. Children younger than 12 can enter for $8, and the cost for a family (parents and children) is $30.
"This has always been a family-friendly event," Fischer said.
Eller feels strongly that the two popular races will spark another exciting running season in the Yampa Valley.
She said runners would be greeted by many of the same races they've enjoyed in the past along with a few new twists to keep things fresh.
The series will get off to a fast start in May with three races scheduled, including the Spirit, Cog and Hot Springs Short Cut race. The series will maintain a strong schedule throughout the summer with two new events, the Hash House Harriers and Emerald Mountain Potluck, scheduled to make debuts. Races will be held in Hayden, Steamboat, Kremmling and on top of Rabbit Ears Pass.
"Running isn't different from any other sport in Steamboat. Every winter, we jam in as many powder days as possible; in the summer we jam in as many mountain biking days on Mount Werner as possible, and we start skate skiing on Bruce's Trail with the first snow," Dapper said. " People here just have an appetite for life."
-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209
or e-mail email@example.com.