Erik Sirnes sprinted from the start line, opened a lead of 200 yards within the first minute and then began to worry.
"I was like, 'Oh, gosh, do these locals know something I don't know?'" Sirnes said.
Instead, the Norwegian college student maintained his lead throughout, winning the five-mile Mount Werner Classic race Saturday.
"I came here and decided to show the Americans how to run," Sirnes said.
The avid road biker and cross country skier stopped in Steamboat Springs to visit a friend and heard something about a running race on Mount Werner. He signed up for the event with little idea about what he was getting into.
"I sort of thought it was uphill when I saw Mount Werner," Sirnes said.
What Sirnes discovered is that the Mount Werner Classic's five-mile and 12-mile runs are two of the most challenging races offered in the Steamboat Springs Running Series.
He gained 2,180 vertical feet in the five-mile race, and the 12-milers climbed more than 3,472 vertical feet, running from Gondola Square to Pete's Wicked trail and the Storm Peak Challenge near the summit of Steamboat Ski Area.
"I loved it," Sirnes said. "It was a great track with spectacular views. I had a chance to turn around and look at the views. I hope to come back and do the race once again."
Out-of-town runners made up a good portion of Saturday's record 96-person field. Race di----rector Tasha Thrasher couldn't pinpoint a particular thing that makes the Mount Werner Classic so popular.
"I think people just love it," she said. "It's a beautiful course. ... I was apprehensive due to the fact I didn't have as many pre-registered as the year before, but we topped last year."
Thrasher, who is a distance runner, said people enjoy challenging themselves. Saturday's Mount Werner Classic was a true trail run on dirt roads and singletrack, which, with the prodding of friends, attracted TrailRunner magazine's Garett Graubins and his wife, Holly.
"It was a killer climb," said Garett Graubins, who lives in Carbondale. "It was a nice mix of runnable roads and not so runnable singletrack."
Graubins finished the 12-mile race in 1 hour, 42 minutes, 14 seconds, which was slightly more than two minutes ahead of runner-up Nate Anderson (1:44:18) of Steamboat. Fellow Steamboat resident Andy Pick--ing (1:48:40) was third.
"I was convinced (Nate) was going to catch me," Graubins said. "He's a great runner."
Eagle's Katie Mazzia topped the women's 12-mile field in 2:05:24. Nancy Dolan and Cath--leen Robinson were second and third, respectively.
In the men's five-mile race, Shawn Scholl (53:50) finished second, and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic coach Brian Tate (54:53) was third.
Steamboat Springs Running Series director Heather Eller made it from Gondola Square to the top of the gondola before any other woman in the five-mile field. Her time of 1:01:25 was more than two minutes faster than runner-up Steph Scholl (1:03:51). Third-place finisher Ana Ordorica (1:04.51) was exactly one minute behind Scholl.
The next race in the Steam--boat Springs Running Series is the Continental Divide trail run Aug. 21.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org