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Steamboat Magazine

Becoming an Ultrarunner

06/07/2013 05:59PM ● By Christina Freeman

Sarah Kostin and Hannah Williams run the Gilpin Gold loop in the Zirkels. Photo courtesy Amanda Grimes.

By Sarah Kostin

Steamboat Springs, CO - Wondering how someone goes from being an everyday runner to becoming an ultrarunner? It starts like any relationship, really. There’s an initial connection and spark. Suddenly you’re meeting up more and more, thinking of each other when you’re apart. And the next thing you know, your laundry is co-mingled and you’re married. It just kind of happens.

In running terms, you start running a few times a week on your own. You do a long Saturday run with friends. That long run may start as six miles; the next week someone says, “Hey, let’s run eight.” Within a month, the long run has inched up to 12 miles. After a summer, maybe you’ve worked up to a marathon or a few half-marathons. You build, repeat until it’s comfortable, then build some more. A “race” is just a fully-supported long run, hopefully with a free t-shirt at the end.

Becoming an ultrarunner is a slow development. If you’re starting from zero miles, you may make a goal of running ultras in two or three years. If you are a seasoned 5K or 10K runner, you could probably get there after one summer of focusing on longer distances. Don’t strive to become an ultrarunner; just let it happen. Run to enjoy the run, to feel good in your body, to feel connected with nature. By enjoying all of those aspects during a run, you’re naturally going to want to run more and more. And maybe you’ll start to inch closer to the ultramarathon distance, which is any race over the traditional 26.2 marathon.

On running her first 50-mile race, Steamboat Springs’ Run Rabbit Run, last year.
I absolutely loved it! The weather was perfect, about 35 degrees to start at 5 a.m. and warmed up to almost 70 by the afternoon. The aspen leaves were at peak fall foliage with large swathes of gold blanketing the mountain against a bluebird sky. I met a lot of great folks on the trail and the aid stations were full of friendly, familiar faces that wished me well as I passed by. Running through Dumont Lake on my way to (and from) touching the Rabbit Ears was the highlight of my race. My husband was there to change my socks, feed me M&Ms and give me a much needed, encouraging hug. Many locals were there cheering on friends and family members. I remember feeling such a huge sense of gratitude for all of these wonderful people and this beautiful valley that I call home. After that dose of inspiration, I ran the second half of my race twice as fast as the first half.

On training.
Basically, I run a few times each week with a long run on Saturday. Each week, I just try to run a little longer than the last until I am at a distance close to the upcoming race distance. For the 50-mile race, the farthest I ran in my training was the Mount Werner 50K (33.2 miles), about six weeks beforehand.

Roads or Trails?
For me, it’s all about the trail. Being in the woods is one of the main reasons I run. My thoughts still, my lungs fill with fresh mountain air, and my heart expands so much that it feels like the entire world could fit inside it. For whatever reason, when I run roads I am unable to reach that transcendent space. My joints hurt as they pound the pavement. I tense as I dodge passing cars. I find myself constantly checking the time to see how far I’ve gone and how much more is left still to run. 

What’s the one piece of gear (other than sneakers) you couldn’t live without?
Aside from my running friends and my dog, I’d have to say my Nathan Intensity running vest is most precious. It holds two liters of water, a couple packs of Honey Stinger chews or waffles, some dog treats and my cell phone – essential items when running longer than 15 miles on a hot summer day in the Routt National Forest.

How does someone get started trail running?
Sign up for one of the Steamboat Running Series races that happen all summer long. The Howelsen Hill 4-miler is a perfect beginning goal to get you motivated and introduce you to the trail-running experience. I’ve been to a lot of different towns for races and Steamboat has by far some of the best races around. If you’re going for the long haul, this year’s Run Rabbit Run 50- and 100-mile ultramarathon is Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13-14.

Sarah Kostin is the youth services librarian at Bud Werner Memorial Library. She kicked off her summer race season with the 25-mile Collegiate Peaks Trail Run in Buena Vista in May.