The Continental Divide Trail Run starts at the base of Fish Creek Falls, cuts up to Long Lake, then back down along the Mountain View Trail, through the top part of Steamboat Ski Area and to a finish at the top of the gondola. Here, Cara Marrs nears the finish of the 2010 race. This year's race is Saturday.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The Continental Divide Trail Run starts at the base of Fish Creek Falls, cuts up to Long Lake, then back down along the Mountain View Trail, through the top part of Steamboat Ski Area and to a finish at the top of the gondola. Here, Cara Marrs nears the finish of the 2010 race. This year's race is Saturday.

Continental Divide Trail Run returns Saturday

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— The Continental Divide Trail Run, set to return to the mountains above Steamboat Springs on Saturday, has acted as a mirror to the running world in its nearly 15 years of existence.

Consider, in 2001, that 44 runners took on the course, then easily the most rugged challenge in the Steamboat Springs Running Series.

“It was the longest run we had back then,” said Paul Sachs, a two-time champion in the race’s first years.

For the next seven years, the numbers rose and fell sightly, never attracting more than 61 finishers and never fewer than the 44.

“It was a big, long and scary race,” said Cara Marrs, director of the running series since 2009 and co-director of this year’s race. “It’s still a hard race, about as hard as a 15- or 16-mile race can be, but people thought it was too much. They were frightened of it.”

That trend has turned around in a big way, mirroring the much larger growth in interest regionally and nationally in long-distance trail races.

The race went from 52 finishers in 2008 to 92 in 2009.

The event had been one athletes focused on throughout the summer and one organizers only could hope would draw enough interest.

Suddenly, after 2009, organizers were worrying about registration caps.

The event topped out with 101 finishers in 2010, and while it’s stepped back slightly in the years since, to 97 in 2011 and 89 in 2012, this year it again will pull in well more than twice the attendance it did for many years in the early 2000s.

That same surge is seen in trail running numbers nationwide, which has grown by as much as 17 percent annually in recent years by www.runningusa.org numbers.

All those new runners have had plenty of opportunity to run, too. The American Trail Running Association reported the number of trail races tripled between 2000 and 2012.

Sachs himself has overseen one small bit of that growth, serving as the co-director for the Run, Rabbit Run trail ultramarathon in Steamboat Springs, an event which offers races of 50 and 100 miles.

He said that race is on tap for another huge year, with more than 500 runners signed up to take on the two distances.

The Continental Divide Trail Run certainly didn’t start the trend, but the desire for longer on-trail races can be seen in its growth.

The race starts at the base of Fish Creek Falls, cuts up to Long Lake, then back down along the Mountain View Trail, through the top part of Steamboat Ski Area and to a finish at the top of the gondola.

“I love that run,” Sachs said. “The Mountain View trail is just so beautiful, and it’s beautiful running up Fish Creek Falls trail to Long Lake.”

Registration for this year's race remains open and available at www.runningseries.com for $45 and will be available during packet pickup from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at Ski Haus.

Race day registration will not be available.

Racers will be shuttled to the starting line starting at 7 a.m. from the Knoll Parking Lot.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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