Championship event, favorites highlight 2007 running series

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Scott Kempers finished third in both last year's Howelsen Hill 8-Miler (pictured here) and in the overall male point rankings for the 2006 Steamboat Springs Running Series. The 2007 series kicks off Saturday with the Spirit Challenge.

— After a year away from the Steamboat Springs Running Series, former director Heather Lyman is back on a committee looking to re-energize the 2007 series for one simple reason: a love of running.

"I love what it does for Steamboat," Lyman said. "Each race has its own character, and runners themselves are a particular breed, so it makes it a good way for people with similar interests to come together and celebrate a love for running."

The committee that Lyman joked used to be "one and a half" people now has five members, and the series has done some growing as well. The series expanded from 2,378 runners in 2005 to a record 3,758 last year. Now, the committee is gunning for 4,500.

"We've been marketing more to the Front Range," committee member Kristen Lodge said. "We advertise locally, do work with the (Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association), we've been in every running magazine that comes out in Colorado, advertised with running groups and done poster distribution at running shoe companies on the Front Range, targeting Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs."

The exposure seems to have paid off. In March, Colorado Runner Magazine selected the July 28 Spring Creek Memorial, a challenging 9-mile trail run, as one of the state's top 15 races to include in its 2007 Colorado Runner Racing Series.

Current series director John Chapman also has been working to put Steamboat on the national and international maps as a runner's destination. The most notable addition to what is now a 15-event series will be the USA Track & Field 10K Trail Championships, June 30. Chapman hopes the national championship with the $5,000 purse - which serves as a selection race for the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team to represent the U.S. at the 2007 World Mountain Running Trophy in Switzerland - can help convince the World Mountain Running Association congress that Steamboat could host the 2009 worlds.

The series' marquee event, the Steamboat Marathon (June 3), and the Wild West Relay (Aug. 3 to 4) already casts the regional runners' spotlight on Steamboat that Chapman said is helping push overall visitor numbers from 30 to 50 percent. Last year's winner in the overall series point rankings was Greeley resident Sarah Walker.

But in many ways, the staying power of the series is based in the intimate local participation in the majority of the races.

"It's a fun venue to keep your interest in running because there's a good core group of people you see at every race - I'll make it to as many as I can," said Scott Kempers, the '06 series No. 3 overall point winner. "There's all sorts of distances, from even the downtown sprint to a full marathon, and now there's a 50-miler. There's that post-race camaraderie too at the parties where people like to see the swag they'll get. It's a fun thing."

Although the new Run Rabbit Run Steamboat 50 Ultra Marathon (Sept. 15) will not be part of the series, Kempers said he is most looking forward to the Howelsen Hill 8-Miler on July 14, back for its second year, and the Hot Springs Shortcut on June 15, a unique bush-whacking trail run to Strawberry Park Hot Springs that has no set course.

Chapman said despite the enticing soak at the finish, participation has waned in the shortcut, so he will be offering a $400 "bounty" for a new course record while looking for ways to bring more mountain bikers and a permanent director to the combined biking and running race.

The series kicks off at 10 a.m., Saturday with the 5K and 10K road run Spirit Challenge at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Chapman hopes to start the series strong by setting up a more comprehensive series point structure for every age category and by providing more product giveaways ($10,000 worth) from a slew of new sponsors, such as GoLite. Young adult participation cost has been reduced to $1 for each year of a runner's age (up to 16). Adult registration still is $20 per event, $25 on race day. Visit www.runningseries.com for full race details.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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