Kyrstie Cox and Ben Cox pull together for a photo as they cross the finish line of Sunday's Steamboat Marathon.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Kyrstie Cox and Ben Cox pull together for a photo as they cross the finish line of Sunday's Steamboat Marathon.

Memories made: Steamboat Marathon draws streams of runners, each with a story

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View full marathon, half-marathon and 10K results here.

By the numbers

Sunday's Steamboat Marathon drew 1,490 finishers total among its three races, reversing a trend of declining numbers. It was the first time since 2009 the race has drawn more than it did the year before. The 2013 event had 1,370 finishers.

The 238 finishers in the full marathon was the lowest since at least 2000, down 20 from 2013. The 885 in the half-marathon was the most since 2011, and the 367 in the 10-kilometer race was the most since 2010.

Checking the time

Men's marathon champ Scott Howell finished in 2:53:53, the day's best time by a commanding 13 minutes. It was the slowest time in the past decade, however. This was the first Steamboat Marathon since at least 2000 that fewer than three racers slipped in under three hours.

Andrea Wilhelm, the women's winner, finished in 3:16:41. It was the slowest time since 2008 but exactly on par with average finishing time in the past 11 years.

— If marathon running is as much science as it is exercise — what to eat, what to wear, when to sprint, when to slog — then the marathon finish is positively art.

Throngs of runners competed Sunday in the Steamboat Marathon, 1,490 taking part in the annual June rite that, at least here, signals the start of summer far more than Memorial Day ever will.

And they did it in their own ways. Some were fast, like Steamboat Marathon champs Scott Howell and Andrea Wilhelm, both first-timers. More were slow, a seemingly endless stream of athletes from Denver to Des Moines, Iowa, who ran with friends, who wore costumes, who stopped to walk, who chased personal bests or who were just happy to finish.

It was at the finish line where personalities really exploded, however.

There, some threw their arms in the air, no matter if they had won the race or finished behind hundreds of others.

Some stumbled across with a dazed look, their energy completely sapped by the long, hilly course on a warm June morning.

Steamboat Marathon men’s champion Howell ended up more on the straightforward side of things.

The race had broken him — to a small degree, anyway. Competing in Steamboat for the first time, he took the lead 7 miles in and handled the trickier-than-it-seems descent from the race’s start, north of Steamboat in Hahn’s Peak Village.

He cruised through the green pastures and along the roaring Elk River, but as so many do, he faltered heading up the final hills near the Steamboat Springs Airport.

“I led for 16 miles. It was lonely,” Howell said.

He drew energy from the crowd lining the final stretch, along Lincoln Avenue, and cut through the finish-line tape with his arms raised. He finished in 2 hours, 53 minutes and 53 seconds, the best time of the day by a whopping 13 minutes.

“I love running rolling hills, so it worked out for me,” he said. “I had never been to Steamboat before, but I loved the race. The scenery was great.”

None were faster, but some were more creative with their finish.

Andy Troy Blanza, of Denver, paused a foot in front of the line and took a bow. Jennie Circo, from Papillion, Nebraska, sprinted the final yards; Justine Wahlert, of Gill, flexed her biceps; and Sarah Figueroa, from Denver, pumped her fists as she approached, then tossed her hat in the air as she crossed.

Kyrstie Cox, of College Station, Texas, and Ben Cox, of Atlanta, were as unique as anyone. Kyrstie pulled out her iPhone near the end, and the pair tucked in tight next to each other. They ended up with a half-marathon finish-line selfie, and they didn’t even break stride to get it.

Some even did the utterly unexpected.

Brea Larson, of Golden, crossed the finish line, 26.2 miles down, then immediately turned around, ran back down the finish chute and back onto the course. She returned moments later with her husband, Terry Trone, who struggled with the day’s heat.

“I was trying to get a PR today, so I said, ‘I’m going to finish, then I’ll come back and find you,’” Larson said.

She just missed the mark she was aiming for, but that didn’t ruin the day.

Wilhelm came away from the morning happy, as well, and for good reason. After a decade-long absence from the Yampa Valley, Wilhelm returned a year ago and, despite being pregnant, finished the half-marathon.

This year, she ran the full marathon for the first time and won. She built a three-minute lead at one point but feared it was shrinking.

She finally felt comfortable in the final steps, however, and her face flashed exhaustion and elation as she finished.

“I was pretty excited because I’ve never won a race before,” said Wilhelm, who trains with Heather Gollnick’s Ironedge Triathlon Team. “Seeing my teammates down there cheering, I got energy.”

She finished in 3:16:41. Julia Rowland, of Aspen, was second in 3:18:29, and Candy Granger-Underhill, from Glenwood Springs, was third in 3:29:57.

That feeling of the finish is something Heather Brady knows well. She finished her 102nd marathon Sunday.

She ran her first one just 11 years ago, the Kansas City Rib Run that ended up, for her, more miserable than delicious.

She stuck with the sport, however, and along the way raced Steamboat six times.

She finished it again Sunday and said the final stretch — down Lincoln Avenue and toward the looming Steamboat Ski Area, past restaurants and shops and hundreds of screaming spectators — was as sweet as it's ever been.

“There’s such an energy at the finish,” she said. “Even if I’m dead tired, I try to feed off of it, and off of the people at the sides. Those people and even the little kids who stick their hands out, that’s the best thing ever to have that. I try to get outside of my body, take that energy, and that’s what really helps me in the end.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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