Steamboat Springs When Paul Vanderheiden decided to start the Wild West Relay three years ago, he knew he needed a town in Colorado that could bring in people from everywhere.
Saturday, he was elated he chose Steamboat Springs.
"I thought Steamboat would be a draw for people out of state," he said. "This year we had teams from 33 states, Canada and even a team from Spain."
After a practice run three years ago, the Wild West Relay returned to Steamboat for the second time with 94 teams - including two from Steamboat - and more than 1,000 competitors. Last year, the relay had 60 teams and 666 runners.
"I got such positive feedback from last year, I assumed it would grow," Vanderheiden said. "But I wasn't expecting this much."
The race began with staggered starts from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday in Fort Collins. Racers traveled through the Roosevelt National Forest and briefly into Wyoming before heading back south through Jackson County and up Rabbit Ears Pass. The racers came down U.S. Highway 40, hooked up with the Yampa River Core Trail and ended at Steamboat Springs Middle School. In all, the race covered 195 miles.
One Steamboat team, "Cruising to the Creekside Cafe," participated in the 12 person event where each runner runs three legs of 5.25 miles. The other Steamboat team, "The Judge and Five Clowns," competed in the six person event where each runner runs six legs of the same distance.
"I had a ball," said Jim Summers, a member of "The Judge and Five Clowns. "I'll definitely do it again next year."
Both Steamboat teams said the race was set up very well, and the interaction between participants made the race one of a kind.
The unity of teams is one reason Vanderheiden decided to develop the relay race. When the final person from each team is finished, the rest of the team would gather and cross the finish line at once.
It's a sight that Vanderheiden had in mind when he started the race.
"It's great," he said. "It builds camaraderie between the members of the teams and camaraderie between all the other teams."