‘Bye boys’: Denver resident becomes 1st woman to finish 2nd overall in Steamboat Marathon

Kali Cavey power through mile two during the Steamboat Marathon on Sunday morning. Cavey went on to take second overall and win the women's race. (Shelby Reardon)

There were whispers at the finish area of the Steamboat Marathon that the first-place female runner was in second place overall. At least, that was the case at the last checkpoint, but there would be no knowing for sure until she came into sight on Lincoln Avenue.

As the clock ticked toward the three-hour mark, race director Paul Sachs remembered an encounter he had at check-in the day before. There was a woman who told him she was going to run the race in two hours and 55 minutes. He thought she was crazy but wished her luck.

“Maybe that’s her,” Sachs said.

Five minutes later, Kali Cavey came into view. She crossed the finish line in 2:57.19, becoming the first-ever woman to finish second overall in the Steamboat Marathon and possibly the first in 30 years to break the three-hour mark.

“It felt really good to kick the boys butts,” Cavey said at the finish. “It was super exciting. I was a little bit behind the group of lead men from the beginning. At mile 14, I made a move … then I hung with them for like 6 miles, then I was like, ‘Bye boys.'”

Cavey went in wanting to run the race in 2:50, but after driving the course, she realized it probably wasn’t going to happen, as the uphill and downhill in the last six miles are brutal. However, the Denver resident and seasoned marathoner thought back to her encounter with a man, Sachs, at the check-in expo the day before. When he said her goal was unlikely, it didn’t waive her confidence.

“You’ve never met me. Just wait,” Cavey told him. “So, he congratulated me at the finish line. I was like, ‘I told you.'”

Women's winner and second-place finisher Kali Cavey hugs third-place finisher Tim Straffen at the finish of the Steamboat Marathon on Sunday morning. (Shelby Reardon)

Once she split away from the pack of men, Cavey was on her own. She didn’t know exactly where she sat in the overall standings, but she liked her pace. With a few miles to go, a cyclist dropped back and told her she was in second.

She wasn’t dying, but she was hurting and no longer comfortable. The sun was warming the pavement below her feet with every passing minute, and she was getting closer to her goal with every mile marker.

“I’m just thinking about how bad I want it,” she said. “And what it’s going to feel like to cross the finish line and about how many people that I’ve told I’m going to beat the course record. You want to be able to come back and be like, ‘Hey, I did that.'”

Cavey came close to beating the female marathon course record, which was set at 2:54.59 by Kirsten Whetstone, which according to an old race stats archive site, occurred in 1990. Whetstone won the Steamboat Marathon in 1988, 1989 and 1990 and is thought to be the only female to post a sub-three hour time — until Cavey.

“If even the race director doubts you,” Cavey said, “prove them wrong.”

The only other person in front of Cavey was Justin Zanotti, the overall and men’s race winner with a time of 2:44.09. This is Zanotti’s 40th marathon, marking a milestone in his goal to run 26.2 miles in each state. The Steamboat Marathon was the first one he’s completed in Colorado.

Overall and men's winner Justin Zanotti crossed the finish line of the Steamboat Marathon in two hours, 44 minutes and nine seconds Sunday morning. (Shelby Reardon)

He was in second from the beginning, following a male runner that started fast and developed more than a minute advantage.

“I just ran what I usually run, and that’s where I ended up. I was in second at mile two, I think,” he said. “The guy who was in first, he had a minute and a half on me, so I didn’t really plan on catching him. Then I saw him walking around mile 15, so I was like, ‘OK. I don’t feel great, but that’s motivating. I could probably catch him.'”

Catch him he did. Zanotti took over the leader spot ahead of the 20-mile mark, so it was up to him to push himself and maintain the pace needed to earn the victory. He took it one mile at a time, just running for the next marker. He also thought about his running group back home in Michigan.

“All the crap I would have got from them if I lost in the last mile or two was motivation,” he said.

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