One Rabbit won: Hundreds find out a lot can happen during Steamboat’s 100-mile Run, Rabbit Run ultramarathon
September 21, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Nearly 250 runners took to the trails above Steamboat Springs last weekend for the annual Run, Rabbit Run trail ultramarathon, and each had a different story to tell when, or if, they emerged back at the finish line in Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
Often, those athletes had logged well more than a day of running. It proved too much for a great many people who'd trained and prepared and who desperately wanted to finish. They came up sore and came down sick.
And it proved just enough for many more. They shared water and food, joy and pain but also endured experiences all alone high on a cold mountain trail.
In the end, those who finished and those who didn't shared one message: A lot can happen in 100 miles.
This marked the eighth year for Run, Rabbit Run. It started in 2007 as a 50-mile trail ultramarathon, then underwent a game-changing transformation in 2012. That year, a 100-mile race was added, turning the race into a two-day event that immediately drew the running world's attention with its enormous prize pot.
This year's race featured the largest payoff in the event's history, with $50,000 total being doled out. The male and female winner of the 100-mile hare division each would net $12,000. About one-third of the total funds raised by the event are pledged annually to local charities.
For Run, Rabbit Run volunteer coordinator Brady Worster, the 2014 Run, Rabbit Run started about two days after the 2013 Run, Rabbit Run ended.
She spent a year recruiting volunteers, ordering supplies and planning aid stations, then on the Monday of race week, her schedule kicked into a new gear.
She spent that day organizing the food, then separating it out into piles for each of the nine aid stations that lined the course.
It kicked up yet again at 5 a.m. Friday, when her alarm went off and she rolled out of bed. Soon, she was at the starting line in front of Bear River Bar and Grill in Gondola Square at Steamboat Ski Area, unlocking the door as the first of the racers in the tortoise division arrived.
This was Worster's second year as one of the lead volunteers in the race. Paul Sachs, who along with Fred Abramowitz coordinates the race, identified her as organized and capable, and, as a personal fitness trainer, potentially interested in helping.
"I didn't know a thing about ultra running. Not a lick," Worster said. "I thought those people were nuts. I still think they're nuts, but they're very nice, and very nuts."
In some eyes, she may be drifting toward nuts, too. She logged only one hour of sleep between 5 a.m. Friday and the race's last gasp at 10 p.m. Saturday.
The tortoises started at 8 a.m. Friday, and Worster rode the gondola to the top of Thunderhead Peak to cheer them as they passed and to make sure they didn't take a wrong turn.
She returned to the base and did it all over again for the hare division.
Then, it was off to check on her aid stations, making sure those preparing for runners at places like Olympian Hall and Fish Creek Falls were ready for the onslaught headed their way.
Each station was stocked based on how many runners were expected to go through it. Olympian Hall and Fish Creek Falls each get hit twice. A station along the Continental Divide on Long Lake has racers come through five times.
"We had everything from hot chocolate to potato soup to M&Ms and Nutella and grilled cheese and breakfast burritos and pretty much anything you can think of," she said.
Worster is a trainer at Anytime Fitness in Steamboat Springs, so she's an obvious advocate for something like a running race. Still, she had no idea what she was getting into with Run, Rabbit Run.
She learned last year from Abramowitz's experience of serving as race director of the Steamboat race and competing in ultras elsewhere. This year, she had a better sense of what the job entailed, and when she was left to coil up on a couch in a building near the start/finish line for an hour early Saturday morning, she wasn't surprised.
She awoke again well before the sun to help start the second day of the race, which featured a 50-mile version of the event. Just before those runners took off at 6 a.m., Worster was waiting with the rest of the race officials and plenty of runners and fans as the first 100-mile finisher approached.
She greeted him at the finish line with one of Run, Rabbit Run's more unique quirks: "a mug and a hug."
She wrapped the winner, Rob Krar, in a bear hug, then handed him a beer mug, one of his finisher's prizes.
"These are amazing individuals," she said. "All the blood, sweat and tears they put into this show at the finish line with the joy in their face. All they want is someone to hug them. That's one of my favorite parts of the race."
The 100-mile race started at Gondola Square, went over the top of Steamboat Ski Area to Long Lake, down the Fish Creek Falls trail and to Emerald Mountain, where one of the day's most active aid stations was situated in the grass at the foot of Howelsen Hill and beneath the ski jumps.
There, friends, families and support crews waited to see their runners twice, both on the way into and on the way out of a 25-mile loop on some of Steamboat's finest singletrack trails.
Avery Collins didn't make it to Olympian Hall, at least not running.
He'd planned to, of course. In fact, he invested as much or more in his quest to run the race than most. An Indiana native and, at 23, still relatively new to ultras, he moved to Steamboat Springs in July to train in the mountains and run the race.
Collins got into running two years ago. He started with half-marathons but couldn't be as competitive. He then went the opposite direction, running a double-marathon.
He finished fourth.
"The rest is history," he said. "It became an addiction."
Collins began to focus on ultras and found quick success, winning four of his next races, three with course-record times.
He met 20-something ultra runner Devon Olson at a race in North Carolina. Both signed up for Run, Rabbit Run and agreed to move to Steamboat together.
Their house is all ultra, all the time.
"It gets a bit excessive," Collins said. "Every topic in life can be related in some way or another to running and to ultra running specifically."
For Collins, the summer had two focuses: the Steamboat race, of course, but first was the Fat Dog 120-mile trail race in British Columbia, set for August.
The first stage of the plan worked our perfectly. Collins ran a great race in Canada and finished third.
The second didn't.
He added a 50-kilometer race at Copper Mountain into his schedule earlier this month. It was supposed to be training, but it ended up wrecking his legs and leaving him sick.
He decided he could still run in Run, Rabbit Run, but he couldn't compete. He decided to put down a 30-mile training run ahead of a 100-mile race in October. After that, he'd crew for Olson.
So, he dropped from the run, and he arrived at Olympian Hall and was ready when his roommate came off Emerald Mountain into the aid station.
Olson was optimistic.
"I'm taking some chances here, but I feel OK," Olson said, upbeat as the sun dipped behind nearby buildings. "I want to do as good as I can do. I want to finish."
He turned his attention to Collins, who encouraged him to eat more and to take gloves for the next stretch.
"Thanks, brother," Olson said as he turned to run again. "Later."
As it turned out, gloves weren't enough.
Olson made it deep into the night, but with nothing more substantial than a light jacket, he was stuck for hours at the Summit Lake aid station, atop Buffalo Pass, hypothermic. He eventually continued but was drained.
He met up with Collins, and the pair set out together down Spring Creek Trail, hours and hours off schedule.
Finally, Olson decided to drop rather than walk the final third of the race. The two newly local ultra runners went home.
Jason Ostrom, a 38-year-old Fort Collins runner, was the first 100-mile runner into the Olympian Hall station, but whatever lead he had, he gave up by stopping for less than a minute to inhale a banana and replenish his supplies.
The top runners didn't even slow, with their crews handing off water bottles in exchange for new ones. Some runners slipped out of their hydration packs so they could be refilled and ready again by the Fish Creek Falls stop, 4 miles up the road.
Fish Creek was a more serious stop. Darkness was set to descend on many as they made their way up the rocky trail, so they loaded up with headlamps, extra batteries and other supplies. It would be nearly 20 miles until they saw their crews again, after running up Fish Creek, to Long Lake, over to Summit Lake and down to Dry Lake Campground.
There, another large crowd waited.
Bundled up against the Buffalo Pass cold, Carl and Susan Hazen waited for their son, Jared.
Ultramarathons attract all types, and the Hazens certainly qualify as unique, at least in that world.
Carl Hazen worked in banking and Susan at the hospital, and for his first two years of high school, golf was the only sport Jared played.
He dropped that before his junior year at Titusville High School, however, and took up cross country and track. He was good, never great — he finished 21st in the 3,200-meter run at the Pennsylvania state track meet — but he caught the long-distance running bug there.
When his friends were less than a month into their freshman year of college, he was running, and winning, his first 100-mile ultra — the Oil Creek 100 Trail Run in his hometown.
The sport soon consumed him.
"Once he went out for cross country, he gave up golf and he ran, ran, ran," Carl said. "One of the things that's incredible is what a historian he is of the sport, what he knows about the past greats and current greats and how he'll recognize them at aid stations when he's never even seen them before," Carl said. "He's listening to podcasts all the time. It's amazing what a student he is of it."
Jared recorded another strong finish in February, coming in third at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas. That qualified him for the Western States 100, one of the sport's premier events.
His parents were there every step of way, learning how to properly crew a race.
They learned it's far more efficient to get to an aid station as early as possible and spread out everything Jared could want on a blanket rather than waiting to see what he wants when he arrives and digging through a bin looking for it.
Carl and Susan offered drinks, snacks and encouragement when Jared arrived at Olympian Hall.
"This is your race," Carl said, looking his 19-year-old son, the race's youngest athlete, in the eye. "It's all up hill from here."
They were in Texas with Jared and helped him through that race.
They followed their son to California for Western States, where he pieced together a superb second half of the race to climb from 35th place to finish 14th.
And they came to Steamboat Springs.
"My best friend said, 'That's a cheap sport compared to golf.' It's not when you live so far away," Carl said, laughing.
Carl has a mix of pride and apprehension about his son's decision to move to Colorado and pursue racing. Jared's working at a Colorado Springs sandwich shop. He lamented on Twitter that the entry fee for Western States, $405, consumed one entire paycheck.
Still, the Hazens said they admire Jared's willingness to follow his dreams — to do what he loves and to do it where he wants.
On Friday, they showed their support simply by being there, on a cold mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains.
"It's just amazing, his dedication," Carl said. "When we were at Western States, we felt like celebrities because so many people came up to us and said, 'Hey, you're the parents of the 19-year old.' Not many 19-year-olds are into it."
They had high hopes for Jared's race as they waited at Dry Lake, watching as the time ticked away and shivering as the cold crept in.
That excitement came to a halt, when the voice of an EMT from the aid station shouted through the din of music and conversation.
"JARED HAZEN! Is anyone waiting for JARED HAZEN?"
Carl and Susan, set up several feet away, jumped into the light.
"He's dropped at Summit Lake."
The tortoises started with a four-hour lead on the hares, and by Dry Lake, 65 miles in, some were still clinging to that advantage. They came down Buffalo Pass Road, their gleaming headlamps signaling their arrival.
People cheered and clanged cowbells, and the runners limped into the camp. There was no sign of the lead hares, however, until one of those lights bounding down the dirt road turned out to belong to Rob Krar.
Krar is yet another newbie to ultra racing.
He's raced in just 11 events, and his first one was in February 2012. He never finished worse than second in a race longer than 20 miles. He was second at Western States in 2013, then won there this June and at the Leadville Trail 100 in mid-August, barely a month before Run, Rabbit Run.
A track athlete in college at Butler University, Krar now is a Flagstaff, Arizona, pharmacist. Ultra running isn't a full-time gig, even for the best of the best.
And he's undoubtedly one of the best.
He hung in the lead pack for most of the day Friday, then broke away with Boulder runner Josh Arthur, fourth in Steamboat in 2013.
The pair worked their way up the craggy Fish Creek Falls trail together until they reached the smoother portion of the trail, where it leads to Long Lake.
Arthur was intent on following a heart-rate-based, pre-race strategy.
"This is the first time I've ever done this," he said. "I was really going off of that. I didn't want to go over 140 beats per minute."
Once they were on the flatter roads, Krar took off.
It wasn't the first time.
Arthur had stuck to his heart rate run and had reeled in Krar several times before.
This time, however, Krar was gone.
"It was shortly after Long Lake, a long dirt road section. That's my bread and butter. It's real smooth, a very runnable grade," Krar said. "I come from a shorter track background, so I'm really comfortable on that. It's definitely risky doing that so early in a race. You risk blowing yourself out, but I thought it was an area of the course I should take advantage of, so I found that balance between working hard, but not too hard."
Arthur didn't worry about it.
"I never really tried to push it until mile 80," Arthur said. "When he took off, I just said, 'I'm going to maintain what I'm doing. If it works out for him, he deserves to win.'"
Krar earned it. He had a solid lead by Dry Lake, and it grew wider as the race went along. Arthur began to push the pace later, but Krar was well on his way to the winner's check.
Meanwhile, Nikki Kimball, a 43-year-old ultra veteran from Montana, took control of the women's race. Oregon's Stephanie Howe, 30, dominated early, building a big lead and running close to the men's pace. She slowed as the race went on, however, hurt by a throbbing knee.
Kimball found herself face to face with her close friend and one of her closest competitors on Spring Creek Trail early Saturday morning.
"She described to me what was happening to her knee," Kimball said. "I'm a physical therapist, and it was clear she could have done permanent damage if she'd kept walking. She asked, 'Should I walk it in, 30 miles?’ She's a beautiful runner, and you just can't waste the talent she has when she's so young. She was clearly going to be out of the money. It was easy advice to give."
Kimball kept going and ended up crossing the finish line with a huge lead on second place.
"This is my 16th year of racing ultras. My first nine years were fantastic, and I won all the big races. But none of them had money," she said. "I was running top times that would still win money now. We were fighting for that, and now, the next generation has that. To actually — at 43 in my 16th year — come back and win a big prize is amazing."
The $13,000 she won — $12,000 for winning and $1,000 for being the top masters runner — was the largest check earned in a trail-running ultra for the sport.
The night had come, and gradually, it went — the second day of race dawning after Krar had crossed and while most of the rest of the racers still were battling the terrain.
The 50-milers went out, and by midafternoon, they began to come back, too, swarming into the base area where bottomless beer and pizzas awaited.
Each finisher had a story. Bob Froehlich, a 100-mile hare, ran toward the finish line after more than 30 hours on the trail and was met 100 yards out by his son, 2-year-old William, who wanted to be picked up. Froehlich obliged but only for about 10 feet, before he had to set him down.
William still followed him, however, past the cheering, cowbell-clanging crowd and to the finish line.
For Run, Rabbit Run volunteer Ashley Arroyo, the race started at 4:30 a.m. Friday — 3 hours and 30 minutes before the start of the first 100-mile racers.
She initially was stationed atop Mount Werner, at the end of the first major segment of the course, and the runners who came through had all the pep in their step one could expect of those who sign up for a 100-mile running race.
"They were all smiles," she said. "They were like, 'I can't believe I'm doing this,' and all jittery and nervous."
She spent the whole day volunteering, heading downtown to serve as a crossing guard where the route swung over to Emerald Mountain. She was back up on Mount Werner in the middle of Friday night and Saturday morning, too, as the lead runners returned.
"When they're coming back, they're just happy to see people," she said. "They're coming out of the woods in the middle of the night, and they're like, 'Food! People! Warmth! Civilization!'"
Finally, Arroyo ended up at the base of the mountain at the finish, joining Worster as a primary hugger and mugger.
"Most people that know I'm the designated hugger are like, 'Yes! I've been waiting for this,'" she said. "Some runners don't know that's a thing and are like, 'Who's this person who wants to touch me?'
"I'd say 90 percent of the people are happy to get a hug."
And Arroyo and Worster stayed there, after the awards ceremony and even after the official 9 p.m. finish line cutoff. They were beyond tired, but racers continued to trickle in for another hour, finishing with wide grins on their faces, with clapping and cowbells in their ears and, at last, with a mug and a hug.
Finally, 38 hours after it had begun, Run, Rabbit Run was over.