Steamboat Springs At the urging of his marketing teacher, Jason Saitta joined the high school cross country team with all intentions on getting fit for basketball.
He hated it. His lungs hurt, his body ached and he disliked racing in the heat. Plus, Saitta wasn't all that good and his basketball coach let him know about it.
Naturally, Saitta decided to stick with running and phase out basketball because no one was going to tell him what he could and couldn't do.
At the age of 24, he is the three-time defending champion of the Steamboat Marathon, and unless someone comes out of the woodwork, like Saitta did several years ago, he is the heavy favorite to seize yet another men's title today.
"This course is hard," Saitta said. "All the downhill and rolling mashes your quads. Around mile 22 or 23 it gets the hardest out by the airport. There's a horrible hill and there's nothing there to take your mind off it."
Not that Saitta thinks about much while he is running 26.2 miles. He prefers to talk to the competition to gauge how they are holding up while using communication as his distraction tool. However, the past two years he has essentially run alone in Steamboat, finding comfort in the bike guy ahead of him and the other race officials along the course.
"I just run and stay loose and think about my form," Saitta said.
Christopher Prior holds the men's marathon event record at 2:23:59. Saitta said he hopes to be running around that time later in the season. The elevation and makeup of the course in Steamboat isn't conducive to turning in personal-best marks, but he is 100 percent healthy for the first time in the past several years, which helps training and, ultimately, results. Saitta has consistently finished the Steamboat Marathon in around 2:45
"This race deserves a little better time than I've run, but I'm running alone," he said.
Saitta won't be alone at the start. Once again the field is full for the 21st running of the Steamboat Marathon. Around 500 participants will begin the 26.2-mile race at Hahn's Peak Village at about 7:30 a.m. at an altitude of 8,128 feet. The field will separate as racers weave down the Elk River Valley to the finish line at the courthouse downtown. Final altitude is 6,728 feet.
"I don't pay attention to the scenery," Saitta said.
Though he did say the Jeep full of kids that he spotted on the course last year provided a nice distraction.
"They were honking and ringing bells and just being goofy," Saitta added with a smile. "It was great."
In preparation for today's marathon, Saitta ran roughly 75 miles a week over the past three months. As an accountant, he squeezed the mileage in even during tax season.
"It was certainly a good stress reliever," he said.
He hopes to resume a 100-miles-a-week load shortly because he plans to run in the Long Beach International in October. While it's obvious putting in all that training time takes a toll on his body, it destroys his shoes.
He keeps four new pairs of last season's model handy. He replaces them every five to six weeks, but they will need to be replaced every three when he begins running around 100 miles a week.
"They look brand new on the outside, but the soul is shot," Saitta said.
The success Saitta has enjoyed inside and outside of Steamboat has enabled him to pick up five sponsors for this year's races. They provide him with money, which he uses to purchase their products. He is still young and loves to run, which makes him a wise investment.
Winning marathons doesn't hurt his visibility either.
"I love this race because it's fun to win," Saitta said. "If someone shows up and beats me, I might start doing other races."