STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Friday the 13th, they will come in swarms.
By day, hundreds will stalk Steamboat Springs trails. At night, under the light of a full moon, they’ll enter the city streets.
If it wasn’t for the snap of twigs below their feet, or their shoulders brushing leaves, you may not hear them coming. Their breathing is steady, their heart pumps ferociously and there is a slight hint of crazy in their eyes.
They are ultra runners competing in the 13th annual Run Rabbit Run, which commences on Friday the 13th and will conclude the following day.
Run Rabbit Run will feature a 50-mile race, and a 100-mile race, which is in its 8th year. Two hundred runners will compete in the shorter race, while 400 will attempt the epic 100-mile race.
Kyle Pietari, 33, isn’t scared by the unlucky number, saying it can’t get any worse than last year.
“I think that it couldn’t be any more nightmarish than some of the sections were last year when I was extremely nauseous,” he said.
Pietari, who lives in Denver, had trouble keeping food and water down around the halfway point. Despite his horrible experience, Pietari took fourth in 2018 and thinks he has a solid chance at winning this time around.
“The Emerald Mountain section that starts and ends at Olympian Hall, that’s where I started throwing up and I couldn’t keep any food or water down,” Pietari said. “That entire section, it’s like remembering a nightmare, a very bad dream. It was all in the dark too, so that helps make it feel nightmarish.”
Co-director Paul Sachs said the race sold out in record time. The field can’t get any larger though, as they’ve reached the maximum amount of competitors allowed by their current permit with the forest service.
“We fill faster and faster and I would not be surprised if we have to go to a lottery system in the next couple years,” Sachs said.
The 100-mile ‘hares’ or elite runners, are competing for $75,000, with $15,000 going to the first male and female to cross the finish line. Run Rabbit Run boasts the greatest prize purse of any trail ultra marathon in the world.
What isn’t divvied up to the top finishers will go to local charities.
The massive prize purse, as well as the fact that Run Rabbit Run is a Hard Rock qualifier, draws runners from all over the world. The 2019 field includes competitors from 13 countries and 46 states.
Michael Kelly, a 46-year-old Steamboat resident, is running in the Tortoise group, which embarks at 8 a.m. Friday morning. He has completed the race four times, including last year, and is hoping to finish this year in less than 30 hours.
He said he isn’t superstitious in the least, not even to the point of having a routine ahead of a race.
“I feel I’m very fortunate to get to the starting line. This race is more, for me, about overcoming the fear of failure,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing that’s gonna happen to me if I don’t finish the race.”
Kelly and the rest of the tortoises don’t run for money, so they must run for something else.
“A lot of people run these races for different reasons, and a lot of them I would say, it’s based on trying to overcome something, trying to do something that maybe seemed impossible at one point” he said. “Not to come in first place, or the top 10. There’s plenty of those. The majority of people when they start that race are trying to do something they thought was impossible.”
The course will be the same as 2018, which was altered slightly due to fires. Like most years, the competitors will endure a drastic change in the weather as temperatures hit the low 70s during the day, but dip into the mid-30s at night.
“No matter how many times you tell them, people generally don’t bring enough clothes,” Sachs said. “Hopefully they will. It does look like we won’t have precipitation, which is great.”