Run Rabbit Run finishers conclude 100-mile race with an embrace (with video)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For 19 hours, Kyle Pietari ran. 

In that time, he ran 100 miles, climbed and descended 20,191 feet of elevation, winning the 2019 Run Rabbit Run male hare race on Saturday, Sept. 14. 

Upon finishing a task that such a small fraction of people will ever complete, Pietari experienced something that any human of any ability can achieve: a hug. 

“There’s no better way to celebrate,” he said. “Even if it wasn’t standard, it’s just what I would do. At the finish, you want human connection because you’ve been inside your own head and suffering on your own for so long. There’s nothing better.”

Pietari won the men’s hare race with a time of 19 hours, 14 minutes and nine seconds. Six minutes and 23 seconds later, he passed along the gesture as second-place male hare finisher Jim Rebenak crossed the finish line. The two embraced by sort of falling into each other, congratulating one another for the close finish.

“A lot of races have some iconic thing when you finish. Hard Rock, you kiss the rock,” Race co-director Paul Sachs said. “Ever since we started this race, we just decided you don’t finish until you get a hug from one of the bunnies. We have people at the finish line, you get a hug, we tell you you’re done. It’s the end of your race and you made it.”

Pietari and Rebenak were less than a minute apart at the Long Lake Aid Station, about 13 miles out from the finish. Sachs said the tight finish was the closest in a long time. Determined to win after taking fourth last year, Pietari put some distance between Rebenak and himself in the closing stretch.

“It was an adventure. I really struggled early,” Pietari said. “I was throwing up at mile 36. That’s the earliest I’ve ever had such bad stomach issues in a race. I had to troubleshoot all day and figure out how to keep my stomach settled while still running as hard as I could. And Jim forced me to run as hard as I possibly could.”

Pietari wasn’t entirely alone in his suffering, though. He had a crew that met him at various points throughout the course, a crew that included Joshua Stevens. Stevens, who is also an ultra runner, stayed up the whole time Pietari raced, meeting him at aid stations, ensuring he had everything he needed. 

“It’s a small sacrifice to make sure someone of Kyle’s ability has everything he needs,” Stevens said ahead of the start. “I’d be too nervous to sleep. He’s such a talented guy, staying awake for 18, 19 hours, is not that big a deal.”

Two hours after the arrival of Pietari and Rebenak, word spread of the first female finisher approaching. There was no question who it was. Leading from the very beginning, Michele Yates won the women’s hare race with a time of 22:10.59. Adding to her impressive accomplishment, she was an hour and 24 minutes ahead of the second-place woman. It was her second straight year winning the race.

Sipping a soda a minute after finishing, Yates said she never runs like she has an advantage.

“When you’re out there, people tell you so many things. I never believe them,” Yates said. “I never believe them because, even if you have that lead, so much could happen. Then the whole time I’m being hard on myself, ‘Don’t slow down, you can’t slow down too much.’ But then I was like, ‘Well, you got to make it to the finish line, though. Otherwise it’s pointless.”

Just moments ahead of Yates was the first female tortoise winner, Sachs’ daughter, Amber Pougiales, who finished in 26:08.

“It’s her first 100, it’s really overwhelming,” Sachs said. “I got to run with her from Olympian (Hall) to Dry Lake and it was incredible.”

Finishing ahead of everyone else was male tortoise winner, Michael Martinez. Not only was he greeted at the line with a hug, but from his wife and young children, as well. He sat, shivering, despite being bundled with layers of down, his daughter holding a hand warmer to his forehead. 

The Colorado Springs resident crossed the line just shy of 7 a.m., clocking in at 22:59. Having only run one 100-mile race previously, Martinez was happy with his finish.

“It was really hard. I think I had a pretty good plan. I started out slow and tried to take it easy, but I still hit some rough patches at the end,” he said. “I was able to pull through and pull away from somebody trying to catch up to me.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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