Runners set for Western State challenge
June 23, 2017
There's an art to running on groomed snow, Avery Collins said.
If you can brave the cold and go early enough, and if you can stay on the most stable parts, you can scoot along without a problem.
Go late, and you encounter skiers coming down at you or drift from the packed line, and your legs punch through.
"All the way to my hips a few times," Collins said this week.
Finding that magic balance is what's allowed Collins to stay in Steamboat Springs. An accomplished trail ultra-marathon runner, it was the allure of the area's biggest, longest race — the Run, Rabbit Run 100 miler — that initially drew him to town. He didn't plan to stay so long, however, unsure if Steamboat could ever be the training headquarters for a successful elite ultra runner.
"I've definitely changed my mind on that," he said.
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Training in Steamboat, he went on to master the 74-mile Georgia Death Race in April. He charged over the race's final 10 miles, overtook the leader with seven to go, then ended up winning by 17 minutes.
That earned him one of the most coveted prizes in ultra-marathon running: a spot in the legendary Western States 100-mile endurance run, which starts at 6 a.m. Saturday in Squaw Valley, California.
It finishes some hours later, 100.2 miles away in Auburn, California.
Collins is one of three Steamboat Springs runners set to tackle the course.
Sabrina Stanley, in a relationship with Collins, finished second in the Sean O'Brien 100-kilometer race in California in February to earn her spot.
"We're the first couple in the history of the race to ever earn golden tickets," Collins said.
Long-time local runner Cara Marrs, meanwhile, earned a spot in the race's lottery.
All three have a huge challenge in front of them.
Runners will hoof it up 18,000 feet and descend 23,000 through the race.
In an "only from a mountain runner" kind of comment, Collins said that's not actually his biggest concern.
"For this race, I've had to retrain my body to do things I've never had to do in the past," he said. " I've always raced big mountain races, and this is not a big mountain race."
Training for other races, he'd run those groomed trails every winter morning and reach the top of Steamboat Ski Area two, maybe three times per day and 10, maybe 15 times per week.
For this race, however, he spent the most time on Emerald Mountain, saying its more gentle slopes were perfect for what lies ahead.
Collins is considered one of the favorites for the race. He's won his last three ultras and is heading in confident — if not in a win, in a strong finish.
"Western States, it's where legends are made," he said. "It's where you find out where you rank among the best in the world."