Steamboat Springs Things have changed quite a bit for Jason Saitta since his days at Thornton High School when he didn't make the varsity cross country squad.
Steve Urban, Saitta's high school coach at Thornton, was on hand at Sunday's 25th annual Steamboat Marathon to watch his favorite athlete -- one who grew up to win the Steamboat Marathon five times -- try to race for a sixth title.
"I got him to come out late in his senior year," Urban said. "He hated it but got most improved by the end of the season, and I told him, 'You have talent, you should run track.' He did, and he ended up getting All-Conference."
Now running for PowerBar and Rudy Project sunglasses, Saitta has not stopped improving, running a personal course best on Sunday and winning the marathon with a time of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 49 seconds.
"With the sun, my legs felt heavy, and I did not feel good, not running the splits I wanted until the end," said Saitta, who still managed to average six minutes and two seconds per mile for the 26.2 miles of the course -- one that dropped 1,400 feet in elevation as it ran from Hahn's Peak Village down Routt County Road 129 to the front of the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Saitta has maintained a peak fitness level by competing in ultramarathons, including a March win at the U.S. 50K National Championships in Long Island, N.Y.
Wearing jersey No. 1, the 28-year-old Parker resident said he started hitting his stride after he began hearing the cheers on the last few miles from the half-marathoners whom he passed.
"This is one of my favorite races, everything is so green -- it's the most gorgeous," Saitta said.
Finishing in second place with a time of 2:54:32, Steamboat local Andy Picking felt positive about his personal best course time, not voicing the same immediate physical concerns as Saitta.
"You gotta love the hometown marathon," said Picking, holding his infant daughter Sophie in his arms. "I felt really good, a little stiff after the first hill. You get to a point in your training where you're going to finish where you want to and your not going to run drooling across the finish line."
Thomas Whalen from St. Louis took third place at 2:54:28, and Boulder's Laura Papas won the women's division at 3:29:28.
"I started out well and really went for it on the downhills and tried to keep a steady pace on the straight-aways," Papas said. "I didn't want to get too far under eight minutes per mile."
Although Papas, a Charleston, S.C., transplant, said she thrived in the dry Colorado heat, others among the more than 400 registered marathoners struggled on the hot and challenging, high-altitude course.
"The course is not easy," said a weary Justin Walker, finishing his fifth marathon in five weeks and summing up the sentiments of many tired competitors. "I'm a little bagged, it has a nice downhill profile online, but it's actually way hilly."
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