Michele Shimomura tries to maintain a small lead against Angie Mangiardi near the end of last summer's Continental Divide trail run. The race returns Sunday, leading competitors past the first and second Fish Creek waterfalls and Long Lake before finishing at the top of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Michele Shimomura tries to maintain a small lead against Angie Mangiardi near the end of last summer's Continental Divide trail run. The race returns Sunday, leading competitors past the first and second Fish Creek waterfalls and Long Lake before finishing at the top of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area.

Steamboat Springs Running Series trail race Sunday

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If you go

What: Continental Trail Divide race

When: The 16.6-mile race begins at 8 a.m. Sunday

Where: The race starts at the parking lot at the top of Fish Creek Road, at the trailhead for Fish Creek Falls in Steamboat Springs.

Cost: Racers can register for $25 on the day of the race or for $20 in advance. Registration is available at the Ski Haus until noon today, and online at www.runningseries...

Harry Niedl said he realized it was possible after the second race of the summerlong Steamboat Springs Running Series circuit.

He had logged two top finishes and, by his quick math, realized that if he kept it up, he'd have a great chance at winning the seasonlong points race.

Now with just three races looming in the series, his early-season prognostication is looking dead on. Heading into Sunday morning's Continental Trail Divide 16.6-mile trail race, Niedl has a comfortable lead atop the men's standings.

"I've been solid, trying to say in the top three at each race," Niedl said. I checked out all the results from last year and realized it was realistic."

His 94 points put him well ahead of second-place Darrell Bruder, with 73, and third-place Allen Belshaw, with 71.

The only reasonable way Niedl will get caught is if he misses a race. He has no intention of doing that.

Instead, he plans to add another top finish at this weekend's event, which starts at 8 a.m. at the Fish Creek Falls parking area at the top of Fish Creek Falls Road.

"These are my favorite races," he said about the often steep, always challenging course. "I'm definitely excited. At the beginning of the summer I said if I could win one race, it'd be this one, so I really want to finish high."

Despite a summer of success to back him up, that part might be easier said than done.

First, the race promises to be one of the most challenging of the entire series.

"It's tough for sure," said event organizer Greg Danziger, whose store, Ski Haus, has been the lead sponsor of the event since it started 11 years ago. "This is not a race where you can just take it on to decide whether or not you like trail runs. Over the 11 years we've thinned the herd, and the quality of runner we have showing up at this point is pretty good."

The trail cuts up from the top of Fish Creek Falls road past the first and second falls and eventually to Long Lake. That entire section is challenging, uphill trail running.

From there it cuts back and comes up and over the top of the Steamboat Ski Area, through Morningside Park and down to the finish line at the top of the gondola on Thunderhead Peak.

As daunting as all that sounds, it hasn't done much to stymie a flood of entries. The race had exceeded last year's numbers by Thursday afternoon, continuing a trend of record attendance that the Running Series has enjoyed all summer long.

"Some of the names I've seen register are pretty great," series director Cara Marrs said. "We will have a couple elite runners, some adventure athletes and pro mountain bikers coming from out of town to do this race.

"There will be some real stiff competition."

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