Relay finish and Mt. Werner climb highlight day of dual Running Series

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Mount Werner Classic

Runners at Saturday morning's Mount Werner Classic have a big challenge ahead - with a nice payoff.

"It's a grueling climb, but then there's a great downhill," race director Tasha Thrasher said about the 12-mile trail run that takes runners from the base of the Steamboat Ski Area to the top of Storm Peak and then barreling down to the top of Thunderhead Peak.

From there, racers can opt for a free ride down the gondola if they don't have any energy left for the run or walk down.

Like other Steamboat Springs Running Series events, the race will feature a shorter, 5-mile run/walk, which also starts from the base and ends atop Thunderhead.

Thrasher encouraged 12-mile runners to bring plenty of water. Although there will be three aid stations, she said runners could be out on the course for a long time (J.J. Huie won the race last year in 1 hour and 42 minutes) as they gain 3,472 feet in elevation.

Pre-registration ($20) runs until noon today at the Central Park Plaza Christy Sports. Race-day registration ($25) will be available at 7:30 a.m. Visit www.runningseries... for more details.

The Gondola begins service at 10 a.m., visit www.steamboat.com for ticket rates. Runners should park in the Knoll Lot.

If you go

What: Mount Werner Classic

When: 7:30 a.m. Saturday registration in Gondola Square; 8 a.m. start of 12-miler; 8:30 a.m. start of 5-miler

Other: Finish for both courses is the top of Thunderhead Peak.

— While more than 1,000 runners come cruising down Rabbit Ears Pass on U.S. Highway 40 on Saturday, a separate group of runners will plug away on Mount Werner.

Two very different Steamboat Springs Running Series events are scheduled for Saturday. The first is the 13th annual Mount Werner Classic, which features 12-mile and 5-mile trail courses starting at 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., respectively, from the gondola base.

The second is the Wild West Relay, a 36-leg, 195-mile team distance relay run starting today in Fort Collins and finishing Saturday at Steamboat Springs High School. Although Running Series director John Chapman said the series "cross-promotes" with the relay, Wild West results will not be included in the series point standings. The results from the Mount Werner Classic - the 11th of 14 scheduled series events - will be included in the point standings.

In its fourth year, Wild West Relay race organizer Paul Vanderheiden has increased participation in his event from 1,014 runners on 94 teams last year to a whopping 1,370 runners on 128 teams this year.

He attributes the growth to four factors:

"One, I think there's the scenic allure of Colorado; two, I think there's the allure of Steamboat; three, it's been so far, so good in terms of organization, so we have a good reputation; and four, I think people love the race motto, 'Get your ass over the pass,'" he said.

The race has two basic relay formats, one with teams of 12, with each participant running three relay legs averaging 5.25 miles, and the other with teams of six, divided up in three distance categories. Racers will head north through the Roosevelt National Forest and briefly into Wyoming before heading back south - ideally under moonlight - through Jackson County, up and over Rabbit Ears Pass and onto the Yampa River Core Trail into town.

For Steamboat's Jaimie Zelkin, the thrill of competing in the relay "was just being out there with a bunch of healthy, active people racing through the night - it's a fun team thing and a beautiful course."

But getting 12 racers together can often be a challenge. Zelkin will not compete with her team, "Cruising to the Creekside Cafe," again this year.

Neither will Allen Belshaw, who teamed up with Running Series contenders Andy Picking and Scott Kempers (and three Fort Collins runners), for a third-place finish in the six-man format last year.

"It's a big commitment to spend 24 hours on the road - you think you can sleep, but you can't ever find a good time," said Belshaw, who enjoyed the race and may give it a shot in future years.

In fact, no team based out of Steamboat Springs is registered this year, but Vanderheiden said 11 Steamboat-area runners - Rob and Jules Meeker, Becky Holloran, Derek Leidigh, Tony and Kari Billette, Craig Gundlach, Willis Woodnick, Eric Martin and Lisa and Scott Warner - are signed up and spread across teams coming in from across the country.

No roads will be closed Saturday for the race. Vanderheiden wanted to alert drivers that runners will be racing against traffic most of the race, except for parts of the Rabbit Ears descent (westbound), where they will be running the same direction as traffic. He also pointed out the race has raised $18,700 for nonprofit groups that volunteer to man the exchange stations.

Because the race start is staggered - teams start Friday according to an overall average of their 10K times, the first racers could arrive in Steamboat as early as 8 a.m. But they won't necessarily be the fastest. After elapsed times are calculated, Vanderheiden plans to present awards from 3 to 4 p.m. at the high school. Visit www.wildwestrelay.com for details.

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