One Sunday finish not enough for Steamboat Marathon champion
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jesse Wilkins didn’t run and didn’t jog. He almost fell across the finish line Sunday of the annual Steamboat Marathon. The orange banner that organizers stretched across the line for the winner wrapped around him as he made a feeble attempt to throw his arms up, utterly exhausted.
In his defense, this was the first of the two times he won the Steamboat Marathon on Sunday. It was just that almost no one saw it as he came to the line in a pack of half-marathon finishers.
Before he cooled off too much, organizers asked him to trot out on the course again and re-do his last few steps for the cameras, and with those labored steps, Wilkins finished the Steamboat Marathon for the second time in five minutes, winning the race in 2 hours, 55 minutes and 2 seconds.
Wilkins went the fastest and the farthest on a day when more than 1,000 runners poured into Steamboat Springs and to the downtown finish line.
The marathon drew 174 finishers. The half-marathon had 754 and the 10-kilometer race 376. Only the 10K had higher participation from last year. The marathon was down by 56 finishers and the half by 132. The 10K gained 29.
Wilkins won his race by getting out front and staying out front. He was aiming for a similar pace to what he ran three years ago, when he first attempted the Steamboat Marathon. Racing in 2015, he placed fifth in 2:51:34, 14 minutes off that year’s winner.
“I went out at that same pace I ran it then, but this year, no one came along,” he said. “I just tried to hold it.”
That’s often not as simple as it seems on the Steamboat course, which loses 1,400-feet over its 26.2 miles. A series of hills in the last few miles, near Steamboat Springs Airport on Routt County Road 129, often throws an unexpected wrench into the plans of runners who thought they were cruising to the finish line.
Again this year, those hills — almost nothing by Rocky Mountain standards but primely placed to inflict pain — were a focal point.
“I fell apart,” Wilkins said, “but I wasn’t too worried because pretty much everyone falls apart.”
Steamboat’s Lucas Crespin won the half-marathon, finishing in 1:18:12. He built a comfortable gap and used it late in the race.
“It’s not as easy as you think it would be,” he said. “Your legs start to cramp up and it drains your energy.”
It was his second win in the half-marathon.
“It’s definitely a mental battle, for sure,” said Cassandra Geerdts, who won the women’s marathon in her first attempt at the distance, finishing in 3:20:45.
She came up from Parker on the Front Range and didn’t realize she was in line for the win until race organizers unfurled the banner in front of her as she approached.
She’d wanted to run 26 miles on Sunday, on what was her 26th birthday.
She had to get past the hills to enjoy the celebration.
“At mile 20, I feel like my legs gave out on me,” she said. “After that, the fans helped, and I dedicate it to my dad, the strongest man I know.”
It was a strong year for locals in the big races.
Five of the top seven men’s finishes, and the top two, were from Steamboat. Ryan Larson was second in 2:58:01, about three minutes behind Wilkins.
Daniel Evens, of Rogers, Arkansas, was third at 3:04:26. Donnie Haubert was fourth, Travis Mattern fifth and Allen Belshaw seventh.
On the women’s side of the marathon, Bryn Morales of Boulder was second and Travey Lipfert of Bellvue third. Andrea Wilhelm was the top local finisher, in fourth.
Michael Kraus was second in the men’s half-marathon and Riley Allen, a 19-year old from Craig, third. Shawna McClain from Broomfield won the women’s half, ahead of Steamboat’s Pearson Alspach in second and Anna Leer from Denver in third.
Jack Rogers, in Steamboat from Gainesville, Florida, won the 10-kilometer race in 37:42. Steamboat’s Josh Smullin was second at 38:27 and another local, Finn O’Connell, was third at 38:42. Boulder’s Melody Fairchild won the women’s 10K in 41:49. Natalia Muller, also from Boulder, was second, and Christina Rolandsen from Steamboat was third.
Runners on the marathon, half-marathon and 10K races swarmed into town, covering their distance however they could. Some listened to music as they ran. Others took advantage of an unofficial aid station offering bacon, beer and ice pops. One young woman pulled up from her jog several miles from her goal and called home.
“Mom,” she said, “I made it to mile 9! Someone back there was giving out beer.”
They made the turn from C.R. 129 onto Lincoln Avenue and waved their hands as they approached downtown Steamboat and the finish line. Some were greeted by poster boards. “We love you!” one screamed in orange glitter. “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon, but Cory did,” another offered.
Many mothers and fathers running the race stopped for a high-five with their friends, spouses or children a block or two from the finish line, and a few grabbed those children and pulled them along for some support on their final steps, crossing the finish line as a family.
Daniel Evans was in awe after his third-place finish in the men’s marathon. He draped a cold, wet towel over his head and found a place to sit near the courthouse. He’d run the race not in a tight jersey or a race t-shirt from another event, but in a short-sleeve button-up shirt more at home on a yacht than a marathoner.
“Are you on the marathon board,” he said to one race volunteer, taking a rest in some shade.
He’d come from Arkansas to run his first marathon, picking Steamboat after a Google search had suggested it.
“Thank you very much!” he shouted.
He was happy. So many were, maybe thrilled with the weather, just cloudy enough to keep things manageably cool. Many were thrilled with their times, and many more were thrilled just to have finished, some pausing after they’d received their finishers’ medals to snap a quick pic for Instagram.
“This was amazing. It was great,” Evans said, beaming.
Of course, he only had to finish once.
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