Volunteers, spectators and competitors show Run Rabbit Run is bigger than themselves
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Underneath the morning stars at Steamboat Ski Area, spectators nestled in sleeping bags and lawn chairs, while volunteers refreshed their tracking devices in anticipation of the first runner’s arrival.
The Steamboat Springs Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race started Friday and spectators followed their runners to each aid station to cheer them on.
“It takes a village,” Joe McElroy, a supporter of runner Ted Bross, said. “I don’t recommend running them.”
But he knows how it goes having just finished an ultramarathon himself a month ago.
Fred Abramowitz, Brady Worster and Paul Sachs were among the volunteer race directors who organized the race in its entirety. They covered tasks like staying in contact with aid stations, or like last night, doing damage control. As experienced ultra-runners, they have the best minds for putting on a race.
The U.S. Forest Service called 10 minutes before the pre-race meeting for the 50-mile competitors Friday night, saying the Divide Trail would be closed due to fire. They came up with an entirely new course for the runners starting at 6 a.m. Saturday.
With all the exhaustion and nervousness over the headlamp-equipped runners taking on a new course in the darkness, the volunteers were anxious to see at least some of their sleepless work come to fruition.
At 6:23 a.m., Steamboat Springs local Charlie MacArthur came blazing through the finish in a way that seemed more energizing than the coffee that was just delivered. He finished with a time of 22 hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds.
MacArthur was a tortoise, meaning he was an amateur runner who started the race at 8 a.m. Friday. The elite runners, referred to as “hares,” started at noon Friday. In the past, the lead hare caught the lead tortoise hours into the race, but this was the first year that didn’t happen.
“Been running scared for 30 miles, they said they [hares] were 29 minutes behind me, I was terrified,” MacArthur said jokingly.
MacArthur sat on a cooler, hunching over with a water bottle in hand.
“It’s actually my first 100,” MacArthur said. “I didn’t know what to expect going into it, just kept at it.”
MacArthur, who ski races in the winters, has completed the 50-mile race two or three times. In this moment, he laughs at the fact he chose to do the 100-mile this year.
“I’m not very smart,” MacArthur said. “This ends up being kind of the pinnacle of the sport; it was worth giving it a shot. And why not do it here where I live?”
The will to quit
Twenty-five minutes later, Durango’s Jason Schlarb crossed the finish in 18:48:08. Ninety-three of his 101.7 miles had been under seven minutes, and this was his third time winning the Run Rabbit Run title for the hares.
Schlarb led the race through the first 20 miles, despite fighting painful tightness in his quads.
“I just thought it will turn around, and it got worse and worse and worse,” Schlarb said. “Mid-20s, I was walking flats, I stopped and did some stretches and went from 1st place to 5th.”
Schlarb was ready to quit, go to bed and cheer on the other racers. Last year, he felt the same pain in a 100-mile race in France, which forced him to walk and take 40th place.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to walk this one,’” Schlarb said.
In his pocket, Schlarb had a small American flag he brought back from his tour in Iraq and a picture his 7-year-old son, Felix, drew of Schlarb; his girlfriend, Meredith Edwards; and himself. They remind him that he’s running for more than just himself.
“I actually gave the picture to Meredith when she was puking when I crossed paths with her; she was in 3rd or 4th,” Schlarb said. “I always carry [the flag] … and I use that to kind of remind myself of the people that are out there.”
Run Rabbit Run is a hard race to give up, having the largest prize purse out of any ultramarathon. Schlarb took home $13,500 check, which is pertinent when running is your full-time job.
“Seven or eight years ago, there were hardly any professionals or professional races that gave money like this,” Schlarb said.
Edwards finished in fifth overall in the hare division later that day with a time of 25:46:16, meaning she would also take home prize money.
The money comes from race registrations, and a small sponsorship from Altra. Run Rabbit Run operates on a volunteer-only basis, eliminating the cost of labor expenses. The majority of the $65,000 raised benefits local nonprofits or organizations, while the other portion is awarded to the top seven runners in the hare division, first and second place winners in the tortoise division and first-place winners in the masters and seniors divisions.
But despite the large purses, sometimes giving up is the inevitable.
Fourth time’s a charm
For the past three years, Conifer-native and Run Rabbit Run record-holder from 2013, Michele Yates has dropped out of the race due to a variety of health problems.
In the early morning, Yates had made it through her 70.5-mile checkpoint as the first woman, but she had dropped out at that distance before.
She could win. If she makes it the whole way.
Abramowitz stood with open arms at the finish as Yates approached, wearing a grin on her face. The rule at Run Rabbit Run is that the clock doesn’t stop until you hug a volunteer at the finish.
“You’ve got to finish this time!” Abramowitz shouted.
Yates collapsed in his arms.
“This race meant so much more to me, you have no idea,” Yates said. “Not just for me, but for other people too.”
Two years ago, Yates was told by multiple surgeons that she needed a hip replacement and would never run again. Yates had hip dysplasia, a condition where the socket portion of the hip joint doesn’t fully cover the ball portion, which puts her at increased risk of dislocating her hips. That, along with cysts and tears were discovered through hip scope surgeries.
She also has thyroid disease, which led to one of her dropouts at Run Rabbit Run.
“I just hope that I brought inspiration to other people who may have been told ‘no’ before,” Yates said. “I would tell others to get a second opinion for sure, I just did my research and found the best doctor in the world.”
She also increased her strength training, adding heavier weights to her workout regime. But the hardest part of this race wasn’t the physicality of it, but the mental challenge of an unfamiliar course. In past races, Yates knew where she would be at different times of day, but with the new trails, she felt like nighttime came earlier than expected.
“It was super rough,” Yates said. “But I have a lot of awesome Rugged Runners I coach here, that’s my business. With them out here, I know they’re going through a lot of the same things or their own things. And I want to just keep going for them too.”
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