Gabriel Small pulls away from the swollen Elk River on Sunday during the Steamboat Marathon, closing in on his first marathon victory. Small won the race by eight minutes after finishing third a year ago.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Gabriel Small pulls away from the swollen Elk River on Sunday during the Steamboat Marathon, closing in on his first marathon victory. Small won the race by eight minutes after finishing third a year ago.

With varied motivations, runners take over Steamboat for a day

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— In an event that attracted all types — men and women, old and young, large and small, fast and slow — the motivations were as varied as the competitors.

Some sought to check something off a bucket list. Some looked to add a state to their running race resumes, some tried to eclipse a certain time, and some simply ran just to finish.

Gabriel Small ran to the Steamboat Marathon to prove something.

After finishing third last year despite amassing an enormous lead midway through the 26.2-mile race, Small entered this weekend hoping to prove his late collapse was the exception, not the rule.

Rule he did, dominating the 30th annual Steamboat Marathon to win by a comfy eight minutes, finishing in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 41 seconds.

Small was only one among thousands of winners Sunday as massive swarms of runners took to the roads around Steamboat Springs for the marathon, half-marathon and 10-kilometer races.

A hazy early morning gave way to a sunny Yampa Valley day, and many racers soaked up the rays as, step-by-step, they ran their own races, with their own motivations.

Everyone’s got a reason

Lynn Picking has long been familiar with the Steamboat Marathon. Her husband, Andy Picking, is regularly a top finisher and was good again this year, finishing 10th in 3:05:30. She’d never run a full marathon before, however, which she set out to change this spring.

During the race, she looked to her arm for motivation, where she had scribbled in bright purple marker a quote from the oldest of her three children, 6-year-old Sophie.

“I was struggling with my training. I didn’t know if I was going to run,” Lynn Picking recalled. “Sophie goes, ‘Did you sign up for it? Then you need to do it.’”

And she did, finishing in 3:44:19, 13th place in the women’s division and the best time posted by a Routt County woman.

“This wasn’t my best race in Steamboat, but I’m just so happy Lynn did well,” Andy Picking said. “I couldn’t be more excited. She showed our kids (that) you set a goal and you accomplish it.”

Michelle Lybarger, of Irvington, Va., ran in hopes of finishing her quest to run a marathon in all 50 states.

Like many Steamboat Marathon first-timers, she fell for the same trick that’s been luring runners to the race for all of its 30 years. It starts near Steamboat Lake at an elevation of 8,128 feet and follows Routt County Road 129 all the way down for a finish on Lincoln Avenue, at 6,728 feet.

Most of that drop comes in the first 10 miles, however, and the entire course features rolling hills that can grind up the unprepared.

“They said it was all downhill,” Lybarger said, mixing a laugh and a grimace.

The race was her 85th marathon. It completed her tour of the United States and pushed her toward her next goal: 100 marathons.

Small goes big

Small learned his lesson about the grueling hills a year ago and he entered Sunday’s race determined to run a more conservative race.

Still, he broke away from the pack after just a few miles. He wasn’t moving as fast as he did last year, but his consistent 6-minute-mile pace widened the gap and soon he was all alone.

He conditioned this year by permanently parking his car in March and running 80-mile weeks. That paid off, and even though he slowed near the end, he finished well out in front.

“I ran almost the exact same way as last year, but I felt a lot better,” he said. “I got to the hill I killed myself on last year, ‘Airport Hill,’ and as soon as I made it to the top of that without walking, I knew I had it.”

Craig’s Todd Trapp was second for the second consecutive year, finishing in 2:51:02. Andrew Maxwell, of Louisville, was third in 2:54:12.

William Edwards, of Boulder, won the half-marathon in 1:15:30, ahead of Todd Straka, at 1:19:02, and Daniel O’Connell, at 1:22:00.

Caroline Szuch, from Evergreen, edged out Steamboat’s Deirdre Pepin, winning the half in 1:30:16. Pepin was second at 1:30:39, and Carrie Zografos third in 1:31:38.

Small’s wasn’t the only race Sunday fueled by a desire to right a wrong.

Steamboat Springs’ Nick Sunseri was on track to finish second or third in last year’s 10-kilometer race when he and another runner took a wrong turn and were disqualified.

He left no doubt Sunday, blowing away the field to win in 34:15. The next closest competitor, Patrick Barrett, finished at 39:04. Kremmling’s Shawn Scholl was third at 41:09.

Gretta Fosha won the women’s 10K in 42:40. Steph Scholl was second in 43:08, and Eileen McCann was third at 43:28.

Waves of runners swept into town Sunday, many swinging to the sidewalk as they neared the finish line to trade high-fives with friends and family members gathered to cheer them. They pumped fists as they crossed the finish line in front of the Routt County Courthouse and collapsed with happy smiles on the green grass, each proud of a great race.

Denver’s Amy Schneider was among them, winning the women’s marathon for the second consecutive year. She had no challenger from her own gender and beat most of the men, too, finishing 14th overall with a time of 3:10:11, ahead of Becca Ward in second at 3:23:18, and Stephanie Meredith, third in 3:29:11.

Schneider said her motivation this year was having fun.

“This is one of my favorite races. The course is always good to me,” she said. “We have a lot of great memories. Whether it’s for the half or the full, we’ll always be back.”

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