Not just another number |

Not just another number

Last weekend's Steamboat Marathon was more than just 26.2 miles for one participant

Dave Bell nears the finish line of last week's Steamboat Marathon - his 200th such race - as supporters cheer him on. Bell ran both his first and his 100th marathon in Steamboat and now is working on his fourth trip around the United States, running one race in each of the 50 states.

— Dave Bell woke up early Saturday morning and tied his faded blue-and-white running shoes tight, just as he has done 200 other times in the past 13 years.

Bell made his way to the starting line for the Governor’s Cup Marathon in Helena, Mont., and he sprinted forward when the race began, again, as he has done 200 other times.

Bell, who lives in Highlands Ranch south of Denver, finished well back in the race. He finished far behind the winners, behind most people racing for ever-better times and behind many who were just out to soak up the experience.

Speed isn’t even really a thing of the past for Bell. Speed never was his gift. Endurance, however, was, and it’s endurance that kept him plowing forward Saturday, just as it had 200 other times.

“I run for the three F’s of running. I run to have fun, for the fellowship and to finish,” the 45-year-old Bell said. “It’s just become an addiction.”

Bell finished his 201st marathon Saturday afternoon, just six days after he finished his 200th in Steamboat Springs.

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He was nearly last in Steamboat, trudging far behind race winner Jason Saitta, behind 176 other men and 286 overall marathon participants. But few – if any – who forged ahead of Bell were set on accomplishing what he did in Steamboat.

The Steamboat Marathon has become Bell’s signature run. It’s where he ran his first marathon 13 years ago.

He was faster then, covering the rolling 26.2 miles from Hahn’s Peak Village to downtown Steamboat Springs nearly 90 minutes faster than the 5 hours, 30 minutes and 13 seconds he needed at this year’s race.

He returned in 2005 to run his 100th marathon, and finally this year for his 200th.

“This has become my milestone marathon,” Bell said. “I’m originally from Missouri, so I thought I might do No. 200 there, but last year when I started to get up in the numbers, I realized if I mapped it out right, I could do it in Steamboat again.”

Bell has done a lot more than knock off the Steamboat Marathon three times.

Running one marathon in each state is considered a crowning achievement among marathon maniacs. Bell has done it three times and is working on a fourth.

Going the distance

It all started in Steamboat. An accomplished five- and 10-kilometer runner at a younger age, Bell traveled to town initially to run the 10K race, only to switch and register for the marathon at the last minute.

It would prove a fateful change as one marathon quickly turned into two, two into five and before he realized it, five into 100.

“I had no plans when I ran my first one, but after that, I decided to run another,” Bell said. “I ran a few more, then a couple years down the road, I decided I wanted to travel a little, go to some places I hadn’t been and run. I was at one of those when I saw someone wearing a “50 state” marathon club shirt.

“As soon as I saw that, in the middle of my fifth marathon, I said ‘I have to do that.'”

His approach has changed plenty throughout the years. When he first traveled to Steamboat in 1995, he launched from the starting line “like a madman,” he said. He recorded one of his best times in that race but couldn’t walk for days.

He no longer chases the four-hour marathon, though he said he’s recently been focusing on lowering his times. He slipped in under five hours in Helena, and blamed the warm Steamboat afternoon for a poor showing a week ago. Confident he’s getting enough miles just by racing, he tries to supplement his workouts with time on the stationary bike or an elliptical machine.

Whatever he does to stay healthy has worked. One of the main aspects of his success has been his ability to avoid injury.

“I just have one of those bodies that manages to handle it well,” Bell said. “It doesn’t bother me to be slow. I just enjoy being out there and being able to do it.”

Steamboat’s status as Bell’s marathon of choice may be up in the air. At his current rate of 25 to 30 marathons a year, he could be ready for No. 300 in early 2011, a timeframe that would coincide perfectly with the early-June Steamboat race. But he’s moving from his Denver-area home to Kansas City, Mo., at the end of the year, making the short jaunt to Steamboat a much longer trip.

Don’t count the idea out, however. His ultimate goal is five circuits of the United States. Along the way, there should be plenty of room for more stops in Steamboat.

“It’s definitely one of the prettiest,” Bell said. “Some people don’t like running downhill, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m sort of a big guy, and gravity works in my favor. But it’s such a scenic and beautiful area. There are only two or three marathons I’ve done that could challenge it.

“Plus, Steamboat will always hold a special place in my heart.”

– To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail