Rocky Running: How Steamboat contributes to the growth of trail running |

Rocky Running: How Steamboat contributes to the growth of trail running

Runners climb up Steamboat Ski Area in their first 2 miles of the Run Rabbit Run 100 on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.
Leah Vann

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a three-part series on trail running.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Trail running is still developing as both an amateur and professional sport.

The American Trail Running Association formed in 1996 to help foster the growth of the sport domestically. The ATRA ensures organized trail runs are safe, provides a platform for the business side of trail running, compiles data as a central source for trail running and encourages participation through camps, runs and clinics.

“The reasons you see the growth, there’s more people participating in the sport, more opportunities, brands are getting more involved in the sport in terms of providing products and sport,” ATRA executive director Nancy Hobbs said. “All those pieces together are really supportive of growth.”

But the overarching umbrella for trail running is the International Trail Running Association, which formed in 2013 following a conference in 2012 where 150 delegates from 18 different countries met about the future of the sport.

The ITRA came up with the ultimate definition of trail running: a pedestrian race open to all in a natural environment with minimal possible paved or asphalt road that does not exceed 20% of the entire course.

The association was a way to foster communication in an organized way on an international scale. It also came up with an international ranking system.

Trail running operates on a large scale in Europe, and Colorado serves as a hub for trail running in America, being the home of the ATRA.

Steamboat’s prestigious ultramarathon

Steamboat Springs is home to Run Rabbit Run 100, an ultramarathon with the highest prize purse in the world and continues to promote trail running in its community through the summer Steamboat Running Series.

The 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100 was a Hardrock 100 qualifier and offered $12,500 in prize money to the top male and female winners and cash prizes through seventh place.

The 2019 Run Rabbit Run 100 expects to pay its winners $15,000, second-place winners $8,500, third-place winners $5,000, fourth-place winners $3,500, fifth-place winners $1,500, sixth-place winners $1,000 and seventh-place winners $500.

The winners of the masters and seniors divisions will receive $1,000 and $500 respectively, capping off a total prize purse of $75,000.

And that’s just an estimate.

“This is going to be our 13th 50-mile race and the eighth 100-mile race,” Run Rabbit Run race co-director Paul Sachs said. “We had no prize the first year, had about 60 runners. The prize purse started with the 100-miler. It was a lot less than what it is now, still maybe have been the biggest prize purse in trail ultra running.”

Sachs guesses the prize purse started around $40,000 to $50,000. The money is 90% generated from race registration while sponsorships provide 10% along with supplies. But instead of trying to make money off its runners, Run Rabbit Run operates on an all-volunteer basis, enabling the large prize purse and the rest of the proceeds to be designated to local nonprofits.

“Aid stations are manned by nonprofits, and that’s how we decide who we donate the money to,” Sachs said. “Our dream was that prize money mainly come from sponsors, but haven’t been able to get larger ones. Altra Footwear is our biggest sponsor then Smartwool, but most aren’t money. Someday we’ll get the big sponsor we’ve been hoping for to put up a prize purse, but it’s just not done in the ultra world, at least not yet.”

Aid stations tend to be the biggest expenses, so sponsorships are helping eliminate costs. The race is capped at 350 people for safety reasons and because the run goes through Routt National Forest.

“We always wanted to put on a 100-miler,” Sachs said. “When we started the 50-miler, it was to generate more people coming to Steamboat in what was the offseason for trail running. Now, it’s not so much offseason.”

The American Trail Running Association tracks a variety of types of endurance racing and posts them on its calendar.

Steamboat hosts almost all kinds, even in the winter.

Steamboat’s many paths

Competitors start to kick their heels as early as March, starting with a fun 7-kilometer race to get runners in the mood for a summer of running. The race is a part of the Steamboat Running Series, which offers trail races that increase in length and difficulty throughout the whole summer, including the Continental Divide 50-kilometer race, where famed utlrarunner Courtney Dalwater is known to make a winning appearance. It culminates its summer season with a run up Emerald Mountain just before Run Rabbit Run 100 and a fun run in October.

“When I moved to Steamboat 23 years ago, the running series was way looser,” Steamboat Running Series director Cara Marrs said. “You go to Christy Sports, pay application, pay $20 … When I took over, we started advertising in the state and nationally. We created a registration system online, and it really was elevated then.”

Although the Running Series does not organize Run Rabbit Run or the iconic Steamboat Stinger, it’s geared to help runners get ready for it.

The Steamboat Stinger includes a 50-mile mountain bike race and trail marathon race, where the most elite compete for the crown of King Sting and Queen Bee.

Cash prizes are awarded to the top three finishers in the pro mountain bike race, full marathon, King Sting and Queen Bee categories. Runners can choose to just run the half or go for the full. Mountain bikers choose from a variety of distances and define the bike they wish to use.

Steamboat continues to grow and adapt to the trend of endurance racing on the trails.

Along with being “Ski Town USA,” Steamboat claims to be “Bike Town USA,” offering a variety of mountain biking events, including its Town Challenge Series, which are bimonthly mountain bike races up Steamboat Resort.

The community surrounding endurance racing seems to migrate to Steamboat throughout the year, where people foster friendships or even train at the highest levels.

The craziness of it all stems from a love of being out in nature and traveling its narrow, pristine trails through the mountains.

“It’s really just about the freedom of being out on the trails,” Marrs said. “It’s good for the body.”

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @lvann_sports.

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