High Five

Jason Saitta wins fifth marathon; Amy Shelley gets first in debut

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Jason Saitta couldn't sleep Saturday night.

Inclement weather and premarathon jitters kept the 27-year-old from Parker awake. But Saturday's snow and rain gave way to perfection Sunday, as Saitta won his fifth Steamboat Marathon title beneath blue skies.

In years past, Saitta has crossed the finish line wearing a bandana bearing a Steamboat map. He didn't like it, but he kept tying it around his head because he kept winning with it on.

After Saitta had to withdraw from the 2003 Steamboat Marathon with an injury, however, the bandana went bye-bye.

Now, Saitta is blond, a return to the color his hair was dyed when he ran his fastest half marathon split -- 69 minutes -- in 2003. Judging by the way he finished Sunday's race in 2 hours, 41 minutes and 2 seconds, Saitta has returned to form, as well.

" I feel great," he said. "I felt really good finishing but we started out slow, which was fine with me because I was cold, and I wanted my body to warm up a little bit."

Anytime Saitta gets off the bus at Hahn's Peak Village, he is considered one of the favorites -- if not the favorite -- because of his success and experience on the challenging 26.2-mile course.

It likely helped him win again this year.

"I was ahead, and this man came from nowhere and started to do 5:30 (minutes per mile) paces on a downhill," Saitta said. "He looked strong, so I thought I had better just hang around."

At about mile nine, Saitta had to stop to retie his left shoe, which was triple knotted too tight. He caught up with the leader two miles later.

"We were running together to the halfway point," Saitta said. "I saw he was struggling, and I decided to surge."

Always interested in where he stands, Saitta asked the lead cyclist to periodically check the field behind him. No one was close at the end, as Saitta defeated runner-up Mike Wasson of Monument by more than nine minutes. Lakewood's Steve Krebs, last year's champion, was third in 2:50:42.

Not far behind was Steamboat Springs' Andy Picking, who was Routt County's top finisher, in fifth-place overall in 2:54:05. Steamboat's Luis Guerrero was sixth in 3:00:05.

Picking competed in the Boston Marathon six weeks ago, where he broke the 3-hour barrier. He hoped for a similar result Sunday, despite the short gap between races.

"Six weeks is a little close," Picking said. "But that's why I don't set high expectations for Steamboat. I just wanted to break three hours."

Picking, who usually spends the winter skiing and skate skiing with his wife, didn't this winter because she's pregnant. Instead, Picking ran -- a lot -- and it has paid off so far this summer.

Although Steamboat is famous for its Olympians and endurance athletes, it is one of many places in Colorado where exercising is as much a lifestyle as a hobby. Amy Shelley, 26, is from Cedaredge in southwest Colorado, an area rich in distance runners and cross-country skiers. Sunday's marathon was her second ever, and in her debut in Steamboat, Shelley ran away with the women's championship -- literally.

The runner-up, Sandy Schuster of Denver, was more than 16 minutes behind.

"I found out about (the marathon) through a friend," Shelley said. "I had friends who had run this before, so I knew about the course. I did some training runs with a hill at the end to prepare for this."

The hill Shelley was referring to was the gradual 3-mile climb near the Steamboat Springs Airport from miles 20 to 23, which few -- if any -- in the field enjoys, but Shelley said "a lot" of people were standing in the area to push the runners on.

"I came here to keep at 7-minute miles," Shelley said. "I didn't know if I could."

With a winning time of 3:07:06, she was close. Littleton's Shannon Kerth was third in 3:23:49. The top Routt County finisher was Abigail Beth Reichley in fifth in 3:32:26.

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