Friday morning, 100 miles earlier

According to tribal history, the Ute people have roamed the lands of the Routt National Forest since the beginning of time. They were the first peoples to inhabit Colorado and eons before they adopted the horse from the Spanish, they formed the first human Colorado mountain trails. This weekend, Eric and Anthony relied upon the Ute spirits to give them strength as they roamed the trails above Steamboat Springs for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile ultra.

The start to the tenth annual Run Rabbit Run

Anthony brought Ellen along for the trip. They went to school together with Eric at Beloit College. Ellen ran on the women’s track and cross country teams while Anthony and Eric ran on the men’s teams. Anthony and Ellen married in 2019, just like Brit and Eric, as if they’d predicted the pandemic. Ellen is a nurse in Minneapolis, studying to be a nurse practitioner. Anthony is a biologist/ecologist, studying to be a mechanical engineer. They say you never stop learning.

Across the creek at Fish Creek Falls

Brit, Margot, Ellen and I crewed Eric and Anthony at the first aid station we could reach, Fish Creek Falls. It’s a three and a half mile drive outside of town. Eric came in a few minutes under pace feeling strong, not in the top ten, but after ninety minutes of running, within range. He didn’t ask for all the gels he’d planned to consume, which left us wondering if he was running too hard.

Anthony at Fisk Creek Falls

It’s funny Anthony looks to be running by himself above because he was with a large pack of other runners at this point twelve miles into the race. Like Eric, he was essentially on his planned pace. True to his analytical nature, Anthony would run the entire distance to plan. Eric was another story.

Siobhan and Tracy

The women were fun to watch run through aid stations or out on the trail because they shared such strong camaraderie and spirit. A couple of 40-49 year olds are pictured here crossing the bridge over Fish Creek – local trail runner Siobhan Pritchard from Steamboat and Tracey Larsen from Breckenridge.

Addy Rastall won the women tortoises race

Addy Rastall, also of Steamboat, paced neck and neck the entire 100 miles with Heidi Farfel from Carbondale. They would eventually finish first and second – top ten overall. I’ll finish the women theme with the pair below with Fish Creek Falls in the background. Their bib numbers aren’t visible so I couldn’t get their personal details.

The race timing provided online tracking at a dozen checkpoints, counting the finish. This allowed us (the crew) to meet up with our runners at the few aid stations where we were allowed to crew without having to hang out all day waiting, because we could estimate their arrival based on their pace. Eric hit the Dry Lake aid station about two hours under pace and in fourth place. We panicked upon this discovery but beat Eric to the Olympian Hall aid station a good fifteen minutes ahead of him. This was where I planned to join Eric as a pacer for the segment termed the Lane of Pain – a twelve mile segment with an 8% grade for the first three miles.

While waiting for Eric’s arrival, the wind kicked up and the rain fell hard. I looked for Eric under a tent like the boy in Cat in the Hat staring out the window thinking if the sun will not shine, it is too wet to play. I shall sit under this tent on this cold, cold, wet day. But Eric showed up still in fourth place and ready to run up that steep, muddy hill. I was more dead weight than a pacer and couldn’t keep up with Eric. Three miles later, I reached the summit about a minute behind him. He continued on for another three-plus mile loop while I waited for him at the aid station.

We knew I wasn’t fit for the full twelve miles and planned to rejoin Eric for the drop down the six mile descent back to the Olympian Hall aid station. The Lane of Pain route was a figure eight with the aid station at the intersection. The descent was twice as long as the ascent, but consequently much more shallow with generous switchbacks. Eric paused for maybe one minute at the aid station and launched back down the single track as the darkness of night replaced the light of day.

I couldn’t keep up with Eric on the way down the Lane of Pain anymore than I could going up. He left me in oxygen debt almost immediately. Just as well as my headlamp didn’t provide enough lumens for me to run too fast. I ran as fast as I could in the darkness but fell three times. Once by tripping over a tree root. I fell hard on that one. Then by slipping in the mud. Lastly, I rolled my ankle. Fortunately, the mechanics of my ankles allow me to run again right away. A blessing for trails. Eric reached the bottom in third place. With over half the course behind him, he was running fast and we were concerned he might blow up and DNF. A couple of hours later, Ellen and I crewed Eric as he completed the Lane of Pain.

Ellen crews her husband

We drove Matt, another of Eric’s running buddies, up to the Dry Lake aid station on Buffalo Pass to pace Eric for the final thirty-plus miles overnight. His original pace would have had him finish at 8am. With his competitive bid, we were now projecting a finish between 4am and 6am, assuming he finished at all.

Fortunately for the crew, Eric crossed the finish line at 6am – after twenty-two hours and twenty-three minutes in first place for the tortoises division. The only person to complete the course ahead of him was the first place finisher for the hares division which started four hours after the tortoises. Eric would have placed twelfth had he competed with the hares, something he’ll have to consider for his second 100 mile ultra.

In an event where it’s common to drop out, Anthony finished as well at the more gentlemanly hour of 12:30 in the afternoon. Both runners felt strong to the end as they completed their very first 100 mile ultras. They celebrated by purchasing leather belts in town to go with their customary award belt buckles.