Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon in Steamboat draws special type of athlete |

Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon in Steamboat draws special type of athlete

Michael Schrantz

Lizzy Hawker runs Le Trail des Cerces ultramarathon in 2009 in France. Hawker is a renowned ultramarathon runner who will be in Steamboat Springs to participate in the 100-mile Run Rabbit Run race.

— If you're going to fill out an ultramarathon field with top talent, you're going to need some spare beds and maybe a couple empty rooms. One of your friends has an extra condo, right?

The high-caliber athletes heading to Steamboat Springs for this weekend’s Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon are steeled endurance freaks who thrive off punishing elevation changes and technical terrain, but running ultras isn't exactly a well-compensated day job, and boarding competitors just comes with the territory.

The $40,000 purse (the largest for any ultramarathon, according to race organizer Fred Abramowitz) probably is a draw for the inaugural 100-mile version of the race, but the characters who've signed up have tales and mythologies that testify to their true motivations.

There is the crop of runners well known in ultramarathon circles: Timothy Olson, who is considered a favorite and set the course record at this year’s Western States 100; Karl Meltzer, who has the most wins at the 100-mile distance in history; Nikki Kimball, who set the women's supported speed record for Vermont's Long Trail; and Lizzy Hawker, who's coming straight from her fifth victory at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Europe, holds racing records on trail and road and was named the 2011 Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Ultrarunners.

And the fantastic achievements of those entered aren't limited to just the running world. Mike Wolfe, an ultramarathon runner on The North Face team, has paddled 1,600 miles across the Arctic of Canada. Guatemalan athlete Juan Carlos Sagastume was the first Latin American to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat.

A couple of highly anticipated participants are two runners from a small tribe of Indians that lives in the Copper Canyon area of Chihuahua, Mexico. The Tarahumara were the stars of the book "Born to Run," which detailed the running-related injuries of author Christopher McDougall and his curiosity about how this remote group with a running-centric culture can travel so fast and so far on foot. Arnulfo Quimare, 32, who was featured in "Born to Run," and Miguel Lara, 22, are traveling north by car after a letter from Abramowitz helped them secure visas. Dave Hensleigh, who is helping the runners organize their trip, said the Tarahumara are often romanticized but the two traveling to Steamboat are strong runners.

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According to Hensleigh, Lara, who he called a "wiry, athletic, sparkplug guy," simply said, "We will win."

While the Tarahumara runners make the drive north, Olson has been in Steamboat adjusting to running above 8,000 feet — a far cry from the 2,000 feet around his home in Ashland, Ore. — and treating the preparation as a vacation with his wife and newborn son.

While noting it'd be nice to win the purse and cover the costs of his family's vacation, Olson said the type of person who gets into running ultramarathons likely is drawn by a love of the outdoors and is good at being by themselves.

"These longer ones kind of just strip you to your core, and you can't fake anything out there," Olson said about runs like the 100-mile Steamboat course. "What are you going to think when it's 2 a.m. and it's pitch black? It's intriguing and kinda fun."

Olson said he wasn't as competitive when he first got into running. He wanted to spend more time outdoors and started looking for venues to do that.

Running became his version of church and a competition against himself.

"The trail becomes a hypnotic trance," Olson said. "You feel connected to everything in the earth and also just feel so insignificant, too."

Win or lose, Olson said the experience is worth it. He's been enjoying exploring trails around Steamboat and spending time with his newborn. He said he sees this weekend's race as a celebration of people coming together who love to run.

"In ultras and trail running, it turns into fellowship with each other, running against each other and also pushing each other," Olson said, noting he's made some great friendships through the ultrarunning community.

Ultimately, ultras are for "people who really want to discover themselves in a deep way," he said. They're for people who "make their own stories."

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email

Run Rabbit Run race details

What: 50- and 100-mile ultramarathon trail races

When: 50-mile race starts at 6 a.m. Saturday and has a 15-hour cutoff time for racers. The 100-mile race starts at 8 a.m. Friday for runners in the “tortoises” classification, and at 1 p.m. for the “hares” classification. The cutoff time is 35 hours for tortoise racers and 30 hours for hares racers.

Course: Both races begin and end at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. For complete course descriptions, go to

Details: The 50-mile race is sold out. More than 150 runners are registered for the 100-mile version. The total prize purse for the race is now at $40,000, with the bulk of it going to men’s and women’s top finishers in the hares classification. The first place man and woman in that field will each take home $10,000.

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