Wild West Relay brings long-distance runners to Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Wild West Relay brings long-distance runners to Steamboat

45 teams will travel 198 miles from Fort Collins to Gondola Square

A group of runners cools off in the creek in Gondola Square after completing the 2017 Wild West Relay.
Courtesy of Paul Vanderheiden, Timberline Events.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After putting 198 miles, three national forests and two passes behind them, long-distance relay runners will arrive in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, Aug. 3. The Wild West Relay will see 45 teams take off from Fort Collins on Friday and finish in Gondola Square the next day. 

Ahead of the race’s inception 16 years ago, race director Paul Vanderheiden scoured the area between Fort Collins and Steamboat for the perfect route. 

“There’s been long-distance relays going on for 20 or 30 years, and I had ran a couple, and I thought it would be fun to create one in Colorado,” Vanderheiden said. “I wanted to end at a destination place, so Steamboat made sense. Having lived in Fort Collins, I thought that was a logical place to start. I spent a winter just driving around trying to figure out a route.”

Teams, composed of six or 12 runners will take turns running the 36 legs of the course. A 12-person team will rotate through the runners three times, while a competitor on a six-person team will end up running six times.

When the first runner reaches the end of their leg, the second runner waits along with a team van waiting to pick up the first runner. They’ll go on like that until all 198 miles have been run.

Runners will take off north of Fort Collins and work their way west through Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests before taking a turning north into Wyoming. They’ll dip back into Colorado through Walden before climbing Rabbit Ears Pass and descending into Steamboat. 

The first teams will arrive between 8 and 10 a.m. and cross the finish line at Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Resort.

Teams will be trickling in until the early evening, greeted by the cool water of the creek at the base of the mountain, a cold beer and a catered feast. 

A map depicts the Wild West Relay course and exchange zones.
Courtesy of Paul Vanderheiden, Timberline Events.

Within the relay race, is another competition, “Get Your Ass Over Deadman Pass Time Trial” presented by Altitude Running. The 14th leg runner will be timed as they scale Deadman Pass near Red Feather Lakes, which stretches 8.5 miles, 1,180 feet of elevation gain and 738 feet of elevation loss through the descent. The fastest three men and women will win gift certificates. 

Wild West is part of the Road Less Traveled relay series that Vanderheiden and Timberline Events put on. The Flaming Foliage Relay begins in Idaho Springs in September, and the Civil Way Relay takes place in Oregon in December.

The Wild West Relay race grew in its early years, capping out at 141 teams in 2009. Ever since, it’s declined, and the 45 teams in 2019 is the lowest number yet. 

Still, Vanderheiden said the race is profitable, so it will continue operating. While he notes fad races, such as mud runs, and heavily-branded races are growing in popularity, he takes pride that his is a local race. 

“I think there’s a lot of things special about my race, but that’s one of them, that it’s still locally owned and produced,” he said.

While it’s a for-profit event, Vanderheiden said the Wild West Relay has raised and distributed more than $265,000 to community nonprofits along the route through the Volunteers with a Purpose program. Vanderheiden said the Concordia Lutheran Church in Steamboat has been involved with the Wild West Relay for at least five years, helping marshal exchange zones and accepting a donation in return.

“I get compliments every year about the volunteers, the race marshals,” Vanderheiden said. “A lot of these nonprofit groups have been involved in the relay since the first year. They bring expertise in what to do. They make the relay look good because they know what they’re doing, and they’re just very friendly to the runners, and the runners love that.”

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

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