In it for the run

20th Steamboat Marathon gets under way today

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The night before the first Steamboat Marathon, race organizers painted cinder blocks and placed them along the 26.2-mile route to each mile of scenic race along Elk River Road.

By the morning, most of the blocks near town were gone, apparently stolen, said Steve Maloney, who ran in that race.

"They were good blocks," Maloney said matter-of-factly when asked why someone would steal them.

It was the only hitch Maloney can remember during that first marathon 20 years ago, and it didn't cause much of a problem.

"You always knew where you were," he said. "You just didn't know how far you had to go."

Maloney will be among the 530 people who tow the line this morning for the start of the 2001 Steamboat Marathon. The number is five times the 106 who ran the first marathon in 1982.

But that small group of runners gets credit for starting one of the longest-running, most scenic marathons in Colorado.

Maloney was the first Steamboat Springs man across the finish line in that first race. He finished 11th overall with a time of 3:07:59.

The next year he was involved with organizing the race and made sure that less desirable wood signs were used for mile markers.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Steamboat Marathon, the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association attempted to contact all 106 people who ran the race in 1982 to invite them run in one of the races today. Six runners from that list will line up for the marathon or the 10 kilometer race today.

Local Jill Leary is one of the pioneers of the Steamboat Marathon, running it for 12th time today. She also was the first women to win the race, even though it was the first time she ran a marathon.

"I was pretty surprised," Leary said. "I certainly had to keep it in perspective because not very women were in the race."

But when she crossed the finish line, which was at the Art Depot back then, not very many people outside of her group of friends took note.

"There was a lot of emphasis on the first man to cross, but not the first women," she said with a laugh. "It didn't really bother me."

It was different the next year, she said. But Leary never won the race again. However, she did move on to run 20 more marathons, including Boston and New York marathons.

"I've been trying to do one year," she said.

Ed Hill was one of the runners in 1982 and was on the first organization committee for the marathon. He was training to run this year's 10K but broke his left foot doing landscaping work, putting him in the cheering section for today's races.

Hill's recollection of Maloney's cinder block incident was foggy, but he said it is symbolic of one of the reasons the marathon started.

"Those were tough times back then. Someone probably used them to build their house," he said in half jest.

"We were all trying to figure out something to do to attract tourists," Hill said. "There was a strong group of runners who thought it would be a good idea to start a marathon."

That strong group of runners included John Thrasher, who was 22nd runner across the line 20 years ago.

"Has it been that long," Thrasher wondered?

He hasn't run the race since the first year, but is signed up to run it again this year.

Thrasher said the roots of the Steamboat Marathon, along with many of the other running races that are in the county, comes from a running club formed in the early '70s called the Steamboat Striders.

Along with a Tuesday night group run, the striders held races on Sundays mornings on River Road, south of town. The group hid a stopwatch in the weeds in front of the rodeo grounds to start the race.

"Whoever got in first picked up the watch and timed everyone else," Thrasher said.

By the '80s, marathons became a popular test of endurance for runners, so it was only natural for local runners to try to organize one in Steamboat, Thrasher said.

Steamboat Marathon original runner and long-time race organizer Larry Handing agreed.

"They were the big craze," Handing said. "It was kind of the starting point of extreme running."

Once it became established and the other races were added, it became a special event, he said. Looking down the line at the 10K to see former Olympians Rosa Mota and Arturo Barrios line up next to him is a thrill.

"It was just an unbelievable experience to have a marathon in the little town of Steamboat Springs," Handing said.

Handing has been a race organizer on and off since the race started, and he is organizing and racing the 10K run, which was added the third year of the race.

Maloney, who also helped with race organizing, recalled the marathon was actually at risk of not continuing during the time the 10K was added.

The first race was organized by the Steamboat Arts Council and was a fund-raiser. After the second year, the arts council couldn't maintain organizing such a large scale event that financially was just breaking even.

"That was really the only point when it almost died," Maloney said.

The Downtown Merchants Association picked up the race and moved the finish line to the courthouse.

"It was meant to attracted business downtown," Maloney said.

Then the event grew through word of mouth. Plus, most of the marathons in state went to the wayside during the late '80s and Colorado runners had no place else to go, Maloney said.

"It's also a unique course," Hill said. "It very challenging and scenic. I think that's important."

Recognition as one of the top 10 scenic marathons of the year in 1996 and the top 10 destination marathons in North America in 1999 by Runners World magazine just help solidify the event.

"It's now one of the premiere events in the state," Thrasher said.

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