Steamboat Springs Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon participant Will Carlton is greeted by Maureen “Mo” Maloney at the base of Steamboat Ski Area after finishing the 100-mile race Saturday.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon participant Will Carlton is greeted by Maureen “Mo” Maloney at the base of Steamboat Ski Area after finishing the 100-mile race Saturday.

Steamboat Springs' Will Carlton completes 1st 100-miler

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2012 Run Rabbit Run results

For race results, click here.

— It’s roughly 3:15 a.m. Saturday, and Will Carlton is sitting in a camping chair at Steamboat Springs High School. The grass is frosting before his eyes and steam dances off his head.

Carlton is at mile 67 of the inaugural Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race.

It’s his nemesis mile.

Ten months earlier at the Ozark Trail 100 in Missouri, Carlton hit mile 67 and locked up. His quads felt like they were going to burst, and he was forced to drop out.

Carlton made a promise to himself this time would be different, but he’s not in great shape at the moment. He’s cold, he can’t decide what to put in his body, and there's a look of concern on his face.

“That was the toughest Spring Creek downhill ever,” Carlton said about the jaunt from Dry Lake Campground to the high school. “By like 100s of times.”

Carlton is paced by Chris Wolff, a friend from California whom he met at an Alaskan ultramarathon camp.

Wolff senses the urgency and encourages Carlton to decide what he wants and to stand up.

“I want ...” Carlton starts. “I’m sorry Chris; my mind isn’t working right.”

A beast of a course

The inaugural course — which traveled up and down Mount Werner, Buffalo Pass and Emerald Mountain — proved to be much tougher than originally thought. Race organizers had predicted the winner would finish in 18 hours. Top competitors thought it could be done in 17.

But at 8:16 a.m., ultramarathon godfather Karl Meltzer was the first to cross the finish line in 19 hours, 16 minutes and 2 seconds. Second-place finisher Dylan Bowman was the only other man to break 20 hours, finishing in 19:56:45.

The difficulty of the course proved to be in the massive elevation gains and drops. Others got lost multiple times. Some battled the cold and altitude. All agreed the Run Rabbit Run was a beast.

“This is hard as hell,” Carlton said. “Everyone underestimated this. It’s hard as hell.”

Resiliency

Carlton grew up in Mississippi and went to college in Alabama. He’s always had a love for the outdoors — first as an avid kayaker and mountain biker — but five years ago, the running bug bit him.

And it just keeps biting.

“Will is resilient,” Wolff said. “He’s one of those guys who is always up for anything.”

On this night, Carlton has beaten mile 67. After a short 5.2 miles back up Spring Creek to Dry Lake, Carlton is rejuvenated.

“This is just such an awesome experience,” said Ben Creehan, who paced Carlton from miles 40 to 60. “To help him is awesome.”

Carlton knows he’s on the home stretch. From here, it’s up to Summit Lake, then Long Lake. Then it’s to the top of Mount Werner and back to the base. But it’s still another grueling 28 miles. Carlton leaves the Dry Lake aid station in good spirits. He can smell the end.

This summer, Carlton sought advice and coaching from Meltzer. The legend told him to not train as much and to give his body some rest.

Carlton had a game plan going in. He was going to take the first half of the race easy. He wasn’t going to go hard and beat up his legs. He wanted to save them for this last 28 miles. The last thing he wanted to do was drop out.

“I think about (dropping out) every day,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. It hurts the soul to drop from a race. I wasn’t going to drop. I wasn’t going to do it. I was ready to crawl to the finish line.”

Carlton leaves Dry Lake at 5:20 a.m. His race goes well, with Wolff playing little games to keep him motivated.

At mile 95.5, the pair meet up again with Creehan at the top of Mount Werner. The two pacers, who each have completed multiple 100-milers, look at the clock.

It’s not just about finishing; it’s about doing it in less than 30 hours.

Carlton has 6.4 miles to go in a little more than an hour.

It’s downhill, and the necessary pace will eat at his quads, turning his 95-mile-deep legs into pudding.

“I think they wanted it more than me,” Carlton said.

The three start slowly, and the speed picks up until they’re running seven-minute miles.

Finally Carlton descends to the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

He crosses the finish line.

The clock reads 29:57:20.

Carlton makes his way to the water, takes off his shoes and lies down. The water hits him, washing away the 100 miles and nudging him into the century club.

He struggles to find the words, staring at the water and unable to fully comprehend his journey.

“It’s an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s not on the same level as the birth of my child or my wedding day, but it’s similar. It’s a super powerful moment and event. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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