Joel Reichenberger: Steamboat Marathon contrasts with Yampa River Festival |

Joel Reichenberger: Steamboat Marathon contrasts with Yampa River Festival

— Last week I wrote about what the Yampa River Festival could be if organizers decided they wanted it to be a statewide event or a regional event, instead of what is in large part a town celebration.

This week, we can see for ourselves. The Steamboat Marathon is the perfect example of something loved by locals but created for out-of-towners.

More than 2,000 runners are expected to swarm Steamboat's already crowded streets today for the 29th annual Steamboat Marathon, an event consisting of a 26.2-mile full marathon, a 13.1-mile half-marathon and a 10-kilometer race.

The marathon essentially signals the start of the summer sports season in Steamboat, and locals treat it as such. Hundreds and hundreds of Yampa Valley residents will pour into the streets, participating in all three races, using those miles as a launching point to the more intimate Running Series races later in the season.

But, particularly at the marathon distance, it's not their race.

Training for a marathon isn't easy by any standards, in any geographic location. It's significantly more difficult to do in Steamboat Springs, or any mountain town, than it is in other locations. It takes months to do correctly, but runners in Routt County have had maybe one month to really stretch their legs after the weather becomes running-appropriate.

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Sure, it's possible. Many of the top runners from the area get their miles in on the Yampa River Core Trail no matter the amount of snowfall. Others keep their fitness at a high level with extensive snowshoe or cross-country ski training.

Tack on a few weeks of real running training, and the grueling 26.2-mile marathon certainly is possible. Some locals will pull off the feat today.

But there is a reason the vast majority of local athletes participate in the shorter races, and it's not because they're scared of the marathon's distance. If there's any tried-and-true rule about Steamboat athletes, it's that they're not scared of any distances. It's because the first weekend of June is no time for a mountain-town resident to run in a marathon.

If the Steamboat Marathon were strictly a by-locals, for-locals event, it would be in September, before the snow but after local runners have had time to build to 26.2-mile form.

As it is, it's a tourist attraction, one meant to kick off not necessarily the summer sports season for locals, but the summer tourism season for local businesses.

In that, it's obviously successful. The half-marathon always fills up, and it has again this year (thanks in large part, as always, to heavy local participation.) The regular marathon is full, as well. That's thanks in large part to Front Range and out-of-state runners.

We're a tourist town, and without economic kickers such as the marathon, there wouldn't be events catered to tourists or locals.

There wouldn't be a whole lot of anything.

But compared with last week's river festival, it's definitely interesting.