Steamboat Springs Give them some credit - nearly every runner who sprinted away from the starting line of the U.S. Trail Running National Championship in Steamboat Springs maintained that pace as they started up the steep and unforgiving face of Howelsen Hill.
Only those who managed to keep that speed - or at least maintain some semblance of it - went on to high finishes and fast times, taming the treacherous course early Sunday morning.
Jonathan Severy won the men's championship and Laura Haefeli took the women's title, but even the day's top runners at times felt inadequate hoofing up Howelsen.
"I've never been on anything this tough, not even in Europe," Haefeli said. "Sometimes over there, they'll have climbs this steep, but they don't last as long. It was as tough as anything I've ever been on."
After taking off from the starting line in Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, racers tore up Howelsen before descending on Lupine Trail. Youth and women runners made two loops while the men made three.
The course replaced last year's trail, which was laid out at the Steamboat Ski Area.
Severy currently is a medical student at the University of Vermont-Montpelier but ran track and cross country at the University of Colorado and is living in Aspen through the summer. He was third two years ago in his last race in Steamboat but looked plenty comfortable on the event's new course Sunday morning.
He stuck with the pack of competitors for the first trip up but was quick to earn separation once he reached the top, building a 10-second lead, then advancing it to 35 seconds as he descended back toward the start of his third loop.
He finished in 59 minutes, 51 seconds, good for a 57-second victory. Clint Wells of Superior was second, and Matt Russell from Boulder was third at 1:02:24.
"It felt tough going up the hill, but then I was just rolling on top," Severy said. "I tried to keep my heart rate the same going up and coming down, and tried to run even splits. I didn't feel bad to me today. I just felt great."
Sunday's course didn't make for a whole lot of graceful running.
Nearly all of the competitors, including Haefeli, gave way to a power walk on their first ascent. Haefeli flew down the other side of the trail, her arms waving side to side as she ducked around the turns and managed the many cutbacks on the rocky and rutted trail.
What she lacked in style, she made up for in speed. The Del Norte runner won the race for the fourth time in five years after finishing second a year ago in Steamboat.
Haefeli finished in 45:16. Megan Kimmel of Silverton was second at 45:54 and Brandy Erholtz was third at 46:41.
"I felt pretty good, actually," Haefeli said. "I really liked the course. You had a lot more ups and downs while last year we just went up, then came down and did it again. There was a lot more variety this year.
"There were switches and turns, a lot of single track and it was beautiful. That's what trail running is all about."
- To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org