100 miles and a hug: Ultra runners light up Steamboat
Steamboat Springs — It wasn’t a mystery for Paul Sachs.
He’s a co-founder of the Run, Rabbit Run trail-running ultra-marathon in Steamboat Springs, and back when the event consisted of a mere 50-mile race, he ran it four times. He’s strictly been a supervisor since the introduction of the 100-mile race five years ago, but those duties include almost year-round conversations with runners, talking about the extremely long course, the incredibly difficult challenge and the uniquely huge prize purse.
He’s long been well aware that running 100 miles — running this 100 miles, to be specific — is difficult.
He still gave a hint of shock Saturday after doing it himself for the first time.
Even nearly two hours after his finish, Sachs wobbled when he walked. He spoke quietly.
Even his words seemed tired.
“It’s really, really hard,” he said, his voice barely rising above a whisper. He slowed between words, adding emphasis.
“It was good for me to experience it, since we send all these people out to do it,” he said.
Sachs was one of hundreds who took to the mountains starting Friday, a mass of runners chasing a goal that, to some, seemed to defy logic. They battled the trail and the cold and their bodies, and they spent all day Saturday streaming down Mount Werner to the finish, at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
Hopping to it
Some went fast.
None were quicker in the 100-mile race than Alex Nichols, a 30-year old ultra runner based in Colorado Springs.
That huge prize purse — $50,000 total and $12,000 each for the men’s and women’s winners — draws an elite field of competitors, many of the biggest names in the sport.
Nichols bested them all, finishing in 17 hours, 57 minutes and 33 seconds, nearly 90 minutes ahead of the rest of the pack.
Mark Hammond, out of Salt Lake City, was second, finishing in 19:19:20, and Durango’s Kyle Curtin finished third, at 19:27:04.
Courtney Dauwalter, from Golden, took the big check on the women’s side, finishing in 21:23:37. Alissa St. Laurent, from Edmonton, Alberta, was second at 22:38:48, and Dallas runner Nicole Kalogeropoulos was third at 23:10:36.
Timmy Parr won the men’s 50-mile race, finishing in 7:26:59. Dillon Gotshall, one of a heavy stream of Steamboat Springs runners who tackled the weekend’s challenges, was second, in 8:37:29. Canada’s Patrick McIlroy was third at 8:47:10.
Denver’s Blair Doney won on the women’s side in 9:18:59. Amber Sachs, also from Denver, was second in 9:54:05, and Christy Vecchio, from Colorado Springs, was third in 10:09:02.
The day’s first runner, Nichols, and the day’s last — trickling in just under the 8 p.m. deadline, 36 hours on course for some of the 100-milers — finished a day apart.
Some ran toward the finish line and dished out high fives. Others were joined by family as they made their final surge, running with husbands or wives or children or just friends. Luis Antonio Avalos Jimenez and Edgar Guzm, both from Mexico City, spread their country’s flag between them as they finished nearly at a sprint, despite the 100 miles they’d put on their legs.
Denver 100-miler Peter Neilson hobbled slowly toward the line. His ankle seized up with about four miles to go. At that point, he didn’t consider quitting an option, so he moved as quickly as he could.
“Tiring,” he said, asked to sum up the experience of finishing such an endeavor.
Seventeen Steamboat runners finished the 50.
A dozen conquered the 100-mile race. Donnie Haubert was the fastest of them, in 25:37:35. Nicholas Ramberg, Michael Kelly, Alex Pashley, Gavin Malia, Michael Hlavacek, Angie Withey, Cale Rogers, Cara Marrs, Devin Dummit and Don McLaughlin followed him, as, of course, did Sachs.
Finding the finish
There were plenty of great moments, Sachs said.
He relished running late at night under the full moon. He delighted at the fall colors, nearing their peak in the high country, and savored the aid stations.
“It’s unbelievably beautiful,” he said. “But, it gets really hard after 50 miles. Really hard.”
There were plenty of times he thought about quitting and a few when he nearly did.
The race started Friday and sent runners up and over Steamboat Ski Area and Mount Werner. They then back down into Steamboat along Fish Creek Trail, logged 25 miles on Emerald Mountain and went back up into the wilderness. They came back down again through Buffalo Pass, to Spring Creek, then went back up one last time, crossing back over to Mount Werner and back down to the finish.
That Spring Creek stop may have been the hardest, Sachs said. “You’ve got more than 30 miles still to go, and it’s hard to wrap your head around it,” he said.
But, he went, and as the sun was setting Saturday evening, he approached the finish, his family at his side.
There’s a tradition for the race where volunteers — often either Sachs, his fellow co-founder, Fred Abramowitz, or volunteer coordinator Brady Worster — provide hugs to the finishers.
It’s something they take seriously, especially for the 100 milers. Even with other volunteers on duty Saturday night, Abramowitz struggled to step away even to help set up the awards ceremony. Every time he’d get a few steps away, another 100-mile finisher came down the trail, and he returned to offer the finish-line hug.
He was waiting for Sachs, who knew what was coming and threw open his own arms in anticipation.
They met with a huge hug, 34 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds after it all began.
Sachs tackled the beast he helped design, Steamboat Springs’ toughest race, the one he’d preached about to so many runners.
And like every other finisher Saturday, he won.
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