John F. Russell: Take my breath away | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell: Take my breath away

The journey from Hahn’s Peak Village to the courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs is breathtaking.

The miles are filled with rolling hills, the roaring waters of the Elk River and some of Routt County’s most historic ranches.

Make the trek on a cool Sunday morning in June, and you will know what I’m talking about.

For years, the idea of running the 26.2 miles from the quaint village at the base of Hahn’s Peak to the historic Routt County Courthouse has tempted thousands of runners. Many have returned again and again.

Every year, the Steamboat Marathon kicks off the summer in Steamboat, but for those who live to run, it’s a test of strength and determination.

Some will fail, but others will discover what it takes to join an elite group of runners who have accomplished something special.

Only a few in the field have a legitimate chance of winning. But that will not deter the hundreds of other runners at the starting line.

They will endure miles of pain and exhaustion, not for the glory of the finish line, but for the glory that comes from setting and toppling a personal goal.

Every year, I stand along the road and watch the runners pass. I can’t help but wonder why some of them do it.

Long after the winners have crossed the finish line, I watch the slower runners as they make their way past me. They still are several miles from the finish line, so I often offer words of support as I press the shutter of my camera.

Many will force a smile as they pass me, but it’s hard to hide the stress and pain brought on by miles of running.

Still, they continue to run, knowing the pain will be replaced by the euphoric sense of accomplishment just a few feet past the finish line.

But the marathon isn’t for everybody.

Several hundred people will take part in the shorter half-marathon, and many more will compete in the 10-kilometer race.

By the end of the morning, they all will congregate in front of the courthouse as runners.

They will share the same sense of joy that comes from knowing that they accomplished a goal and rose to a physical challenge.

They will gather not as winners or losers, but as finishers.

I’m not a runner, but I’ve watched enough Steamboat marathons to know that this weekend is not about where a runner finishes in the race.

It’s about facing a challenge and overcoming your own limitations.

Sure, there will be elite-level athletes who will lead the field and amaze us all with their fitness and abilities.

But far more will amaze themselves during a day that was created to take our breath away.