Steamboat Springs On a Saturday morning in August, long before the Gondola starts turning, there's only one way to get to the top of the Steamboat Ski Area -the hard way, one foot in front of the other.
For the 24 racers in the full, 12-mile division of Saturday's 13th annual Mount Werner Classic, all but the final couple miles of the course were spent climbing nearly 3,500 feet from the ski area base to the Storm Peak summit. From there, it's just a cruise to down to the Thunderhead Peak summit.
"The downhill is just a little punishment at the end," joked racer Allen Belshaw. "I think of the end of the race as the top. Unless there's someone that's really fast on the downhill, it's not going to be a factor in the race."
The uphill was what mattered to the top course finishers, a trio of Steamboat Springs residents. Austin Ross took an early lead from the start, up the Valley View Trail, but Travis Mattern and Belshaw caught him, heading from the Rendezvous Saddle, up Pete's Wicked Trail to Storm Peak. Fresh off a podium finish in the Spring Creek Memorial race, one week prior, Mattern held on for the win in 1 hour, 50 minutes, 45 seconds.
Belshaw followed in second (1:56:40) and Ross in third (1:59:59).
Christine Knight was a little sore from the previous race as well, but it was hard to tell.
"You're not really warming up a whole lot, you start at the base and just start climbing," Knight said. "The first half you're fresh and it's beautiful out, but by the last mile, man - you're leaning forward and crunched so much, there was some weird gastric stuff going on."
Knight didn't mind slowing her pace to a walk up the steep sections and soak in a race that was described by more than one competitor with one word: "breathtaking."
Knight wrapped up her fourth consecutive Steamboat Springs Running Series win in the women's division in 2:00:54. Mary Schuette took second in 2:17:50 and Marie-Christine Carel took third in 2:24:50.
While the 12-mile folks could debate how welcome the service road downhill was after a brutal trail climb, the 34 racers in five-mile division had no reprieve. They finished their race at Thunderhead Peak, topping out at the Gondola terminus.
"I'd just listen to my breathing, and when I'd get anaerobic, I'd just pick a spot and say, 'I'll walk to this,'" said Christy Coughlin, who was visiting from Wilmette, Ill., saw the race, entered and won the women's five-mile race. "I was just smiling the whole time, I never get to run anything like this."
Coughlin was followed by Abby Shikles (second in 1:02:47) and Stephanie Scholl (third in 1:04:18).
On the men's side, Kremmling's Shawn Scholl was surprised to come close to breaking the five-mile course record Mark Iverson set last year, but missed it by a couple minutes. He still won the race in 50:52, followed by Brian Tate in second (54:11) and Ted Burnham in third (56:33).
The next Running Series event is the Aug. 19 Continental Divide Trail Run. Visit www.runningseries.com for more details.