Mike Hlavacek ran into the relay station at about five after 8 a.m. May 13, giving teammate Jenna Gruben the chance for one final lap on the torrid 4.6-mile loop outside of Moab, Utah.
But by that point, after a cool night to recover from a day spent running in blistering 95-degree temperatures, Gruben had enough juice left in her for a seventh lap. And that lap made all the difference, allowing Gruben and Hlavacek's team of Steamboat Springs locals (which included Bill Goldsmith, Angie Mangiardi and former Steamboat resident Dan Niles) to win the Extreme Team division of the weekend's 24 Hours of Utah : The Run race, edging out a quick team sponsored by La Sportiva as well as an Eagle team of former U.S. Mountain Running Team members anchored by three-time U.S. Women's Mountain Running Champion Anita Ortiz.
"Bill and Dan ran some smoking laps. Dan lapped the other team, and then Jenna and I held on," said Hlavacek, who joined the team formed from a core group of racers in the weekly trail running group Gruben organizes.
While Gruben said the team was using the race as preparation for the Sept. 15 Steamboat 50 Ultra Marathon, Gruben and Hlavacek could not deny the appeal and growth of fixed-time team endurance events - despite the pain of a hard-earned win.
"It's fun as a team, but it's hard on your body - 30 to 40 miles at less than a nine-minute mile pace, and you don't sleep, so you basically sprint, build up all that lactic acid, sit for two hours and then run again," Gruben said. "But it's totally fun to be part of a team - you go to this great place and challenge yourself."
Gruben's team, which named itself "Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time," was not the only local team pushing itself to navigate a difficult course.
Steamboat Springs' Team Bagel Works came close to winning the second event stop of the Adventure Xstream Adventure Race Series Circuit on May 12 in Buena Vista. Bagel Works fell by less than 10 minutes to Team Salomon/Crested Butte after nine hours of racing on a challenging 60-mile course through the Arkansas River Valley that mixed trail running, kayaking, mountain biking, orienteering and a rope traverse.
Although the adventure race team has featured a rotating cast of Steamboat locals during the past few years, Bagel Works co-owner Matt Hannon was the only current Steamboat resident on hand, joining Kyle Peter, Andrew Hamilton and Colleen Ihnken.
Hannon said he originally got into adventure racing about seven years ago because of the challenge of racing past the daylight threshold and into the 48-hour and multi-day realm. Now, Hannon is gunning for the November U.S. Adventure Racing Association National Championships in Missouri.
So what is it that draws athletes to push themselves around the clock?
Ian Adamson equates the feat to an athletic all-nighter comparable to a never-ending school night spent cramming for a test or finishing a paper.
"Twenty-four hours is big enough that it's a big challenge, but small enough that it's achievable to do in a weekend," said Adamson, a 42-year-old native of Sydney, Australia, who has seven adventure racing world titles to his name and holds the world record for miles paddled in 24 hours (262 river miles).
Now, the retired racer, who proclaims "a fascination for 24-hour anything," resides in Boulder, where he produces the 24 Hours of Triathlon race, which will be held for a second year Sept. 1 and 2 at the Cherry Creek State Park.
For Steamboat's Katie Lindquist, one of the draws of 24-hour racing is the "enlightening" way the events allow racers to experience time.
"You wouldn't ever just sit and watch the day turn to night, back into day," Lindquist said. "You see the whole process of 24 hours of change while you're on the same, fixed course at all colors and all different lights."
But when Lindquist races, she doesn't allow herself the luxury of downtime while teammates race. The solo racer competes at the elite end of the sport, where she earned a world 24-hour mountain biking title in 2000.
When she wants to really push herself, Lindquist still stands by the Rio 24 Hours of Steamboat race that she co-directs with Brad Cusenbary.
"The Rio is one of the toughest endurance races out there - there's so much climbing and technical single-track downhill," Lindquist said.
"With elevation gain that's over 2,200 feet each lap, some of the solo guys could've started at sea level and climbed Mount Everest by the time the race is over," Cusenbary added.
The race has lived up to the hype. As it enters its fourth year - this year's race will be June 9 and 10 - the Rio is pulling in more out-of-state entries and has earned the right to serve as a qualifier for the September 2007 World 24 Hours of Adrenalin Championships for the top three solo male and female riders.
Lindquist and Cusenbary reminded riders that the Rio is approaching fast, and regular registration ends at the end of the month, after which late fees will apply. Steamboat Ski Area operations will not affect the course, but the directors still are in need of volunteers. For more, call 879-0480 or visit www.24hoursofsteamboat.com.