Over the mountains and through the woods, Run Rabbit Run a success in 100-mile race’s 2nd year
September 14, 2013
Steamboat Springs — They ran more than 100 miles up and down some of the most rugged trails Routt County has to offer, yet, Run Rabbit Run co-organizer Fred Abramowitz joked, the final steps might have been the most difficult.
The top racers in the second-annual Run Rabbit Run 100-mile trail ultramarathon waddled as they made their way across the packed Bear River Bar & Grill at Steamboat Ski Area, and they grimaced as they made the final climb of their incredible journey, taking the steps up to the awards podium one at a time.
But the big check and the trophy that awaited at the top helped drive them across the rocky, steep trails and through a cold, thunderstorm-laden night, and it pushed them up those final steps, too.
Exhausted but grinning ear to ear, the champions stood atop the room and soaked in their victory.
"It's the biggest prize purse I've won," women's 100-mile champ Michele Yates said. "I'm really happy."
Saturday as much as anything marked a victory for the race itself, at least the 100-mile version.
Both the 100-mile men’s and women’s winners, Jason Schlarb and Yates, were attempting the race for a second time, and both finished for the first time. Last year, they each fell victim to one of the loudest complaints about the event's first year: the course markings.
Each took inadvertent detours that led to their dropping from the race last year, but each said everything was entirely different this year.
"They took that, and they fixed it," Yates said. "Now this race will continue to grow, and it will continue to bring in the top elites as it did this year."
Each relished in the course and its challenges, even Friday night's spat of thunderstorms. Ahead for much of the race, Schlarb said it helped take his mind off his pursuers and narrow his focus.
He put on the gas after 70 miles, hoping to build on a lead of about 6 minutes on second-place finisher and defending champ Karl Metzler.
Schlarb flew over the top of Mount Werner and down the final section of trial, pushing himself just fast enough so as not to lose his footing on the steep trail. Finally, he found the finish, pulled a small American flag from his pocket and ran his final steps whooping and hollering, celebrating loudly at 5:15 a.m.
"It was absolute relief," said Schlarb, who finished in 17 hours, 15 minutes and 20 seconds.
"Seventeen hours, that's a long time to be really pushing your body," he said. "I came in, screaming and yelling, and it was emotional, a teary kind of finish."
Metzler was in at 18:32:07, and Jeff Browning was third at 18:52:00.
The story was much the same for Yates. She pushed the pace late and rushed down Mount Werner fearful that she could be hearing footsteps at any moment. They never came — not even close, actually — and her heart beat fast when it finally dawned on her that she would win.
"Every section had its challenges and was an adventure in itself," Yates said. "They all had a different view of Steamboat or the sun rising. It was a continuous new experience.
"I didn't expect to win all the way up until that last point. It's pretty emotional."
She finished in 20:16:54. Nikki Kimball was second at 20:59:13, and Rhonda Claridge was third in 21:45:05.
Dane Mitchell won the men's 50-mile race, finishing in 7:32:40. Morgan Williams was second at 8:03:27, and Steve Liechty was third in 8:05:34.
Kerrie Bruxvoort was tops in the women's 50-mile field, finishing in 8:18:19. Mary Mahoney was second in 9:18:53, and Rebecca Hall was third at 9:20:26.
Of course, for the great majority of the the weekend's racers in the 100- and 50-mile versions, Run Rabbit Run wasn't about money. For them, running isn't a career but simply a passion or, as they like to joke, an illness.
It would seem there's no sport more lonely than trail ultramarathon running. And indeed, racers talk about the low moments on the trail, sometimes at night, always when they're alone.
Still, there's a great sense of community that on Saturday night defined the Run Rabbit Run event as much as any amount of money or big-name racer. Abramowitz and many of the racers fell all over themselves singing the praises of the volunteers from Steamboat Springs who turned out to staff the multitude of aid stations and line the long route.
"This goes out to the community in Steamboat," Abramowitz said. "It was all about the aid stations and volunteers. This race is going to take off, and it's the community that makes the race."
And at the end, even more people waited. The big names had long finished when darkness set in Saturday evening. They'd eaten once, maybe twice, and slept or at least napped. Still more racers were coming in, and they were greeted at the finish line by a loud ovation. Time and time again, the cowbells clanged and a crowd roared, celebrating not just the day's money winners, but all its winners, all its finishers.
"I don't know if they all had a great time," Abramowitz said, "but they had a great experience."