Steamboat Springs Some crossed the finish line with bright smiles, arms raised and fists pumping. Others — many, many others, including the race winner — just crossed, their slow, tired run finally giving way to a stutter and a stop, their empty, exhausted eyes closing in, perhaps, thanks for a brief second.
To outsiders, there always has been a bit of crazy in ultramarathons like the fifth annual Run Rabbit Run Steamboat 50-mile race that took place Saturday, beginning and ending at Steamboat Ski Area.
But the racers themselves were questioning their sanity Saturday as they fought through horrific competition conditions that some described as downright scary.
It rained soft, and then hard, during the event. There was sleet, snow and freezing temperatures that drove even the dedicated from the race in flocks.
“It was so cold,” Boulder-based racer Tina Lewis said. “I was shaking. I just tried to keep running. I thought I would have to drop.”
Lewis realized her goal in the race, finishing second in the women’s field. She finished in 9 hours, 55 minutes, behind champ Jenny Pierce, in at 9:34, and ahead of third-place finisher Stephanie Lynn, at 9:57. The second-place finish qualified Lewis for next summer’s uber-exclusive Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile race that takes place in California.
After a hot shower and a warm dinner, she could smile about her Steamboat experience. During the race, however, she saw how bad it could get. Two of the women she ran with near the front of the pack dropped out midway through the race.
She considered doing the same herself after the rain picked up and the temperature dropped. She had included a rain jacket in a drop bag waiting near the halfway point, but having run through only light rain, she opted not to grab it.
She was far from alone. Bill Fanselow, second in the race a year ago, worried after the race what would have happened to him had he not come across a buddy on a mountain bike who loaned him clothes and helped him to the nearest aid station, where he called for help.
Hypothermia was a factor for many of the 47 racers who had already quit by 6 p.m. Saturday, 12 hours into the race.
“Mother Nature threw everything she had into this one,” race director Fred Abramowitz said.
Considering all that could have gone wrong, the simple factors that actually decided the men’s winner were rather astonishing.
Zeke Tiernan, winner in the race’s inaugural year, ran through singletrack-turned-drainage ditches and on normally hard-packed dirt turned into muddy bogs. He led the race most of the way but was caught by Nicholas Clark at the top of the ski area.
The pair flew down the slopes “like we were running a 10K,” Tiernan said, and Clark began to pull away. Then he pulled up and bent over. He had to tie his shoes.
“I kept looking at his shoe, thinking ‘I hope he doesn’t trip,’” Tiernan said. “I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t wait. That’s a part of racing.”
Tiernan, an Aspen school teacher, finished in 7:24. Clark was close behind, a mere blink considering the distance, finishing at 7:26. No one else crossed the finish line for another 42 minutes, when two-time champ Ryan Burch was third in 8:08.
They took home the awards, but anyone to finish Saturday’s race had plenty to be happy about.
“Anyone that finished this race, they were one tough hombre or mujer,” Abramowitz announced to the crowd after most finishers had made it back.
He took a moment to thank the aid station workers along the route, drawing a huge round of applause before continuing about the conditions racers and volunteers struggled in.
“Everyone I’ve talked to keep saying this is the worst they’ve ever seen,” he said.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com