“Of course,” Nikki Kimball admitted. Of course, it would be a big deal if she won the $10,000 first-place prize in the second annual Run Rabbit Run 100-mile Trail Ultramarathon, which begins Friday in Steamboat Springs.
That may not be life-changing money, but for a physical trainer who’s always dreamed of making her sport of running her full-time job, a $10,000 purse is a delicious prize.
“Mortgage payments,” she said, grinning. “It’d be lots of mortgage payments.”
But the sweetest part, that’s a bit more complicated, she explained. As great as winning that money would be, winning a race with that kind of check — knowing she had beaten the competition drawn to it — may be the true prize awaiting her at the end of the brutal test.
“The pride you feel in winning a $10,000 race, that’s big,” the Bozeman, Mont., athlete said. “The money is a mark of having made it somewhere.”
Fred Abramowitz and Paul Sachs founded the race a year ago with that big-time prize purse at the center, hoping it would draw the best ultra runners there are.
The inaugural race drew an international field, and the course — a grueling route up and down the terrain above Steamboat Springs — broke some of the sport’s toughest competitors.
Now, the co-founding duo said they have an even deeper collection of competitors on tap for the sophomore effort, and this time everyone knows what to expect.
“There are a lot of big climbs. Take it easy on those and run the runable parts,” said Jenny Pierce, a former champion of the event’s 50-mile distance.
The Livingston, Mont., runner tried the 100-mile version last year but pulled out with asthma after 41 miles. That didn’t deter her at all when it came time to sign up for another try.
“Each race is different, even on the same course,” she said. “I just want to finish. Finishing a 100-miler is a great accomplishment in my mind.”
The event begins at 8 a.m. Friday with the start of the 100-mile tortoise division from Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The hare division starts at noon, and the 50-mile race begins at 6 a.m. Saturday.
The course runs up to the top of the gondola, then up and over the top of Mount Werner. It will cut along the Mountain View Trail, then eventually down the Fish Creek Falls Trail, into Steamboat Springs and to the base of Howelsen Hill. About 20 miles of trail await on Emerald Mountain before another trip back to Fish Creek Falls, this time heading up the trail. That’s almost halfway. The race continues back up to Long Lake, down Buffalo Pass Road and Spring Creek Trail, then right back up both. Finally, the race comes back over the top of Mount Werner for a finish at Gondola Square.
Pierce insists she’s just out for a finish. Kimball, though, is among the racers who will be gunning for that prize. A three-time winner of the prestigious Western States 100 and this year’s runner-up, she knows exactly what she needs to do to win.
“I have to be smart,” she said. “I expect not to be super far up in the women’s pack in the first 50 miles. I tend to run from behind. I’m going to use the same strategy I used at Western States, where it was the same sort of competition, but not as good a course for me. I was very good that day about letting the other women get ahead. I have to be patient.”
With the size of the prize pool and, just as importantly, the prestige of winning such a difficult race waiting in the distance, patience may not come easy.