200 miles and done: Ultra runner Avery Collins finds his limit | SteamboatToday.com

200 miles and done: Ultra runner Avery Collins finds his limit

Local runner wins huge race

Steamboat Springs ultramarathon runner Avery Collins runs earlier this week in the Colorado 200

— He was through the section where he hallucinated, imagining he was seeing celebrities waving from non-existent billboards next to his high-mountain singletrack trail. He was well beyond the forest where he'd hid for three-and-a-half hours as a thunderstorm boomed overhead and a downpour soaked him to the bone, and he was finished with his final climb, the last of 41,570 feet of elevation gain he'd run and hiked.

Colorado 200, by the numbers

66 — Collins finished the race in 65 hours, 49 minutes, six hours short of three days. He ended up winning the race by 5 hours.

3 — That translates to roughly three miles per hour. Collins did stop for extended periods, including on 3.5 hour stop in the middle of a thunderstorm.

41,570 — The course included 41,570 feet of elevation gain and descent. That’s roughly 19 runs up and down the gondola in Steamboat.

300 — Durango runner Phil Wiley started the Hardrock 100 at 6 a.m. June 10 in Silverton and finished nearly 44 hours later, at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. He then started the Colorado 200 30 hours after that at 8 a.m. Monday and finished early Friday morning. That’s 300 miles of running and 75,000 feet of elevation gain in almost exactly one week, all with just 30 hours off.

Steamboat Springs trail ultramarathon runner Avery Collins was 196 miles into the absurd Colorado 200, a massive Gunnison-based race that warrants bigger words than "ultra" and "marathon," and he was worried.

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He had been consistently an hour or two ahead of his nearest competition every time an out-and-back section of trail had given him a chance to see any other runners. He'd tried his best to maintain a pace, running hard downhill, jogging slowly across flat terrain and powerwalking uphill sections, but that plan hit a flaw as he crested the final climb and faced four miles of downhill trail from the finish.

He couldn't run.

"I tried," he said Friday. "As soon as I tried to run, I tripped and fell over a rock. My mind had just … I had just lost it. It wasn't there any more."

He turned and looked over his shoulder again and again, afraid he'd see another light bobbing through the dark, terrified it would all be for naught, and he'd be passed so near the finish line.

Collins, sponsored by Front Range companies Incredibles and Mary's Medicinals, moved to Steamboat Springs a year ago to train for Steamboat's 100-mile trail run, the Run, Rabbit Run ultramarathon. He did run in that race, but de-emphasized it as his race schedule changed to include the 120-mile Fat Dog 120 in British Columbia.

He was eager for the challenge of that race and darkly curious whether or not it would break him.

It didn't, and he finished third.

It made him wonder, though, what would break him?

That's what led him to the Colorado 200, which starts and finishes just outside Gunnison and wraps up and around Crested Butte, encompassing such a huge swath of terrain that it includes sections of two different national forests.

The race is so long it's a struggle to even talk about

"I felt like it was my day," Collins said, before hesitating, "or that it was my 2.5 days."

He wasn't so confident with four miles to go, waiting to see another runner coming around a bend.

He kept trying to reach into his pack, then to his belt for a bottle of water, disappointed every time when he couldn't find it, even though it was strapped to his chest the entire time.

He came to answer a question: Would 200 miles break him?

He found a resounding answer.

"Yes." Very much "yes."

"When I did the Fat Dog 120, I was expecting to be physically and mentally defeated," he said. "That didn't happen. This, though, I can totally say it broke me. I ran really strong for the first 180 miles, and the last 20 miles to the finish were some of the toughest, longest, most grueling miles of my entire life."

Still, he trudged on through the dark, encouraged by a Steamboat friend serving as a pacer, and finally, the trail opened up and he came to the finish line.

He collapsed across it and barely moved for several minutes, at once happy and relieved, devastated and exhausted, a million memories and 200 miles behind him.

He won, finishing in 65 hours, 49 minutes, five hours ahead of the next finisher.

"I was just very, very relieved," he said. "You’ve been alone for such a long time. It was just nice to know it was all over."

Next up? He's not sure. There's a 200-mile race in Lake Tahoe he may consider, and he's mulling Run, Rabbit Run.

"Right now," he said, "I'm pretty happy and content with what just happened."

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

Colorado 200, by the numbers

66 — Collins finished the race in 65 hours, 49 minutes, six hours short of three days. He ended up winning the race by 5 hours.

3 — That translates to roughly three miles per hour. Collins did stop for extended periods, including on 3.5 hour stop in the middle of a thunderstorm.

41,570 — The course included 41,570 feet of elevation gain and descent. That’s roughly 19 runs up and down the gondola in Steamboat.

300 — Durango runner Phil Wiley started the Hardrock 100 at 6 a.m. June 10 in Silverton and finished nearly 44 hours later, at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. He then started the Colorado 200 30 hours after that at 8 a.m. Monday and finished early Friday morning. That’s 300 miles of running and 75,000 feet of elevation gain in almost exactly one week, all with just 30 hours off.