I ran my 3rd marathon in two weeks this Sunday. This time I ran the Steamboat Marathon in Steamboat Springs. This marathon course has been rated as one of the Top 10 Most Scenic Marathons and I was really excited to take on this race and to make it part of my “3 Marathons in 2 Weeks” challenge. Steamboat Springs is about three hours away from Denver and so we took the opportunity to turn this event into a mini-vacation for the family. We left Highlands Ranch where we live on Thursday afternoon and arrived in Steamboat Springs pretty much at the three hour driving mark. Originally I had booked us a room at the Hampton Inn & Suites, but a last minute check earlier in the week showed me a great deal at the Steamboat Grand Hotel – which is a more luxurious Hotel that offers rooms and condos and due to this week being one of the least busy ones for them we got a great deal on a condo.
The hotel has a really nice outdoor pool area with a year-round heated pool and two large hot tubs. Shortly after we arrived we made the trip down to the pool and enjoyed a nice relaxing time in the water. This was just perfect after a three hour long drive. We probably stayed in the water for over an hour and then went back upstairs. Our condo had 2 bathrooms, one bedroom with two queen-size beds, and a large living room area with a small kitchen. The kitchen had everything we needed – including a microwave, a coffee maker, a fridge (incl.freezer compartment), and a stove. We went shopping to the local grocery store so that we did not have to go and eat-out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The Steamboat Marathon
Well, race day came quickly and on Saturday night I prepared all my stuff for the race. This time I would use the bag check for a very first time in any race that I ran. The reason for this was the fact that the race started at 8,500 ft. altitude and the forecast at least until mid-morning did look a bit chilly and so I wanted to at least wear a sweat-shirt while waiting, but during the race (smart move – more on this later). I went to bed at around 8.15 PM on Saturday and my alarm clock was set to 4.35 AM. The Steamboat Grand Hotel offered a free shuttle bus for runners and the bus would leave at around 5.30 AM. I decided to have breakfast on the way and to save myself the time in the morning. The Shuttle bus would drop me off in downtown Steamboat Springs and from there the race organizers would have us drive with one of their buses to the start line. It kind of felt like being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and having to run back into town to “survive”. I was cool with the type of setup as it also means that you will see new things all the time and not do an in and out course of some sort. So, when I came outside for the first shuttle bus it really felt cold – probably because of a mix of colder temperatures and high humidity because it had rained last night.
Well, my breakfast was made out of two bananas and two Powerbar bars, but I felt well fed and prepared when the bus arrived at the start line area at Hahn’s Peak Village. I clearly broke the rule of not doing anything new on race day, but I was familiar with both types of food and knew that my stomach would be just fine with this (and it was). While on the bus going up to the start line I saw several mule deers right next to the road – we were clearly heading into the countryside. We arrived at Hahn’s Peak Village – a tiny village at the bottom of Hahn’s Peak. The village was made out of a loose collection of houses at ~8,500 ft. altitude. There were plenty of portaloos and a volunteer was even handing out hot coffee. I used the portaloos a few times while waiting in the cold mountain air. The bag check closed at 7.20 AM and it felt a bit chilly until the start accordingly. All runners lined up on County Road 136 which would be our “home” for the next few hours. The organizers counted down the remaining minutes and then seconds for the start and off we went.
I was not sure how my legs would hold up after having run another marathon just 6 days earlier and so I kept my initial average pace at around 9:20 to 9:30 minutes per mile. The course was supposed to be a downhill course with a total drop of almost 2,300 ft., but there were quite a few uphills in between as well. I used the downhill stretches to run a bit faster to make up for my slower pace and overall this strategy seemed to work quite well. Over time I also improved my speed and my average pace moved to 8:55 minutes per mile which would bring me into the finish at just a few minutes under 4 hours. While this was my “A” goal for the race, I was not too worried about missing this goal. If you run 3 marathons in a 2 week time span something’s gotta give. Here is my only “complaint” about this race – the number of portaloos along the course could have been a bit higher – meaning, put two instead of one portaloo into the different locations – especially if they are stretched out as far as they were. The first two already had runners waiting when they came into sight. When the 3rd one came into sight I had about 10 runners ahead of me. I sped up and was able to pass 9 runners, but not the 10th and of course that lady had to make a pitstop, too. I do not blame her in any way and in the end that one extra minute did not make a difference, but overall seeing runners waiting at several portaloos along the way makes me think there need to be two portaloos at each location and not just one.
After my pit-stop I continued my run and was able to quickly get back to my previous pace. I started passing those runners again that passed me while waiting for/doing my pit-stop. My legs felt good and things were going well. I followed my usual refueling strategy and enjoyed the scenery. The scenery was really beautiful. The sun had burned up those early morning clouds within minutes after the start and it started getting really warm. I noticed a lot more sweat on my skin compared to last Monday’s marathon and I reminded myself to use the salt stick caps because I am a very salty sweater and losing a lot of sodium can have dramatic effects on your performance or well-being.
With mile #21 I started feeling the heat and I became super thirsty, but I was probably another mile to one and a half miles away from the next aid station. I drank the remaining fluids from the bottles I was carrying in my hydration belt, but it barely made a difference. I slowed down and “suffered” my way to the next aid station. I felt really hot and the thirst was just mind boggling. I used several cups of water and poured them over my head and upper body. I drank another 5-6 cups of PowerAde and also refilled one of my own bottles with PowerAde. I felt refreshed and I felt the difference this “treatment” had made and I really think that my body’s temperature had probably reached a critical level and I was happy to have this under control. At this point I ditched my “A” goal (sub 4 hours) and just ran by feel. I recovered decently, but at this point I kept my pace on the slower side of things (9:13/Mile #24 and 9:44/Mile #25). At around mile 24.5 I saw a younger woman going from running to walking just right in front of me and I motivated her to keep on going. I slowed down a little bit for her and let her catch up and we ran together for a little bit and chatted a little bit. It helped me to get my mind away from my tired legs and I had the feeling it helped her as well. Turns out she is actually a fairly well-known Ultra Runner (well-known in UM runner circles) and usually she would run a marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes (so she told me), but today the heat got to hear as well. We reached the final aid station and I grabbed two water cups for myself while she was getting her own drinks. She slowed down probably to get more fluids and I decided that I “had to” keep going because I was afraid if I would start walking I would have problems going back to running again. Not that I was running super-fast at this point, but if you are a runner you know how difficult it is. I checked the official results and she arrived at the finish line roughly two minutes after me (#74).
The final 1.2 miles were hard. It felt like the course was going uphill, but I just kept plugging along. I actually walked a few steps when drinking the entire bottle of Powerade from my hydration belt and then went back to running. I passed a few runners that were doing the half marathon (yeah) and then I had two other runners a few hundred yards ahead of me. I did not expect to pass them before the finish line, but they both started walking. One was joined by a running coach (at least that’s what his T-Shirt said) who kept on motivating the guy, but even that final motivation did not do the trick and he just kept on walking. I assume it was this guy’s very first marathon and I do not blame him for walking. The heat made this a very difficult final race. Kudos to both of those guys for getting to the finish line in such a great time (anything so close to the 4 hour mark is an awesome accomplishment in my opinion). In the end it does not matter if you walk a little bit – you just finishied a freaking marathon.
The last 1/3 mile of the race finally had many people standing along the course cheering on runners. It definitely motivated me to keep on running. For me it felt like I was speeding up a little bit, but a) I had nobody to pass anymore which would have helped to go faster (=lack of motivation in this case) and b) what felt fast for me probably wasn’t much faster than what I had been running all along. About 50 yards before I reached the finish line I saw my wife and my son in the crowd cheering me on. This totally made my day.
I reached the finish line as the 71st runner with a finisher time of 4:02:45 – just about 3 minutes more than my “A” goal. Heck, the time did not matter to me anymore – I just completed my own-made challenge of running 3 marathons in a 2 week time period. Mission accomplished.
The Steamboat Springs Marathon made an extremely well organized impression to me. The aid stations were plenty and very well stocked. The course is really beautiful and the scenery made this fun to run. If I have a complaint, it would really be just the request to place more portaloos along the course so that runners do not have to wait in line suddenly. Other than that this was a great race and I really enjoyed it.