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  • Writer's pictureEric Spitz

Colorado - A Marathon in Every State

A Test of Endurance at 8,128 Feet - It’s funny to think that the proceeding string of events all started with a Google search.

As I sat in my office January of 2019, I was eager to plan my vacations for the year. While I usually pick a marathon to run in a state I plan to visit anyway, that year I did the opposite. I made a point to plan my trips around the most scenic, reputable and memorable races I could find, regardless of the state.

In order to do that, I typed “best marathons to do in the summer” on Google, and was brought to an article on Map my Run‘s blog. In their numerical list of the top 10 best Spring/Summer Marathons, the Steamboat Marathon in Steamboat Springs, Colorado was listed at number eight. The photo used in the article was breathtaking with the desolate dirt road and snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the background. The elevator pitch description sold me with “one of the top destination marathons in the country” and “historic hot springs.”

I never even knew Steamboat Springs existed until that day. But after deciding to make Colorado my ninth state in my 50 state marathon goal, I suddenly felt compelled to tell everyone about this hidden paradise. While telling my close friend Bri about my plans to venture to Colorado, she was all hands on deck to road trip from Nevada with her boyfriend Joe to join my brother Joel and I in the experience (check out After Midnight Adventures Around Area 51 for the full backstory on them).

I suddenly started remembering all of the people I knew out in Colorado, and tried to coordinate catching up with as many of them as I could. I reached out to my friend Steve first, who moved out to Denver a few years prior. Steve is one of the few people I went to High School with that I still talk to regularly. We were close friends then, and the same holds true today. He was also just as eager to meet up and join in any activities we had in Steamboat Springs.

For as simple as this trip started, it was slowly blossoming into a well-organized epic adventure, with a group chat coordinating where to meet, which Airbnb to book, which rental car to get, etc. In the words of George Costanza, worlds were colliding. My heart was filled with so much joy thinking of my friends from Nevada meeting one of my closest friends from High School. An encounter I would have never guessed in a million years. I felt incredibly fortunate to have such amazing friends that were willing to join me in the random trips I suggested.

When May 31 finally came, Joel and I boarded our flight to Denver, eagerly anticipating seeing our friends once again. Steve picked us up at the airport, and we quickly dove into natural conversation as if no time had passed at all since our last interaction. The group settled on meeting at Skylark Loungethat night to catch up over drinks, followed by a 26 inch pizza across the street at Fat Sully’s, because who could argue with that?

I reached out to several of my friends in Denver to try and meet up, but they unfortunately couldn’t swing it in their schedule. However, my friend Jordyn from High School was able to join us for food and drinks, which made an amazing start to the trip. We hadn’t seen each other in close to ten years at that point, so we had a lot of catching up to do. But like that initial meet up with Steve, we all joked and interacted like Skylark was just a regular hangout for us. Worlds were colliding, and I was loving every minute of it.

The following day, the entire group minus Jordyn began our venture north from Denver to Steamboat Springs, where we would call our Airbnb in the heart of the ski town home for the next few days. The momentum from the day prior carried us to the next day as we had our breakfast at Goody’s Eatery. We were cracking jokes like close friends at a High School cafeteria, likely causing eye rolls at the surrounding tables. But we were having the time of our lives and didn’t seem to mind. With a deadpan expression, I asked the waitress if the Denver omelette was local, which remains my proudest dad joke moment for the intentional delivery.

Out in the parking lot, Steve got into the wrong vehicle, unintentionally. It took him being halfway into the backseat, with a wide-eyed child staring in horror, for him to realize his mistake. He failed to see the red flag of the car seat that he climbed over. Awkwardly backpedaling away, he muttered “wrong car” to the very puzzled looking Mom standing outside the vehicle, and that was the end of it. Other than all of the jokes that proceeded to come as a result, of course.

The joking and light atmosphere took a serious tone shortly after. While making the drive east on US-40, we noticed the weather getting slightly more frigid, with the hail causing the roads to be slightly more slick than they appeared. As we approached a bend, we could see a vehicle heading west veer off the road down into a ditch traveling at close to full speed. Dust was flying everywhere, as the silver SUV then flipped multiple times down the hill, leaving a trail of broken glass in its path. None of it felt real in the moment, and felt more like a Michael Bay film. Like some calculated stunt that could only be witnessed in movies. Being the closest to the incident, we all reacted quickly to assist in any way we could.

Joe’s job revolves around emergency preparedness, and it showed that day. He acted swiftly, calling for an ambulance as the rest of us went down the hill to assess the situation. We were all trying to remain optimistic, but still expected the worst. Questions were racing through our minds, such as how many people were in the vehicle? What’s the proper protocol for someone badly injured? Are we able to offer assistance before the medical professionals arrive? I think we were all half prepared to pull a body out of that silver SUV, possibly more.

For as devastating as the wreck appeared, to our surprise, the woman inside was coherent.

Shaken up and in shock, obviously, but all-together appeared to not have any visible physical ailments. For as quickly as the accident happened, more and more people stopped to offer assistance. Some who once served in the military, some firefighters, even a woman who recently graduated from medical school, all having supplies and huddling around the woman to offer assistance. Their prior experience and knowledge prepared them for moments like this.

For what felt like an eternity, the ambulance arrived to escort the woman to the hospital. Other than possibly a few broken bones, she was able to escape relatively unscathed. Those around to witness the incident and to help out considered her very lucky, as did we. For as tragic as these moments are, it’s humbling to see a group of strangers huddled around each other, taking the time out of their day to help someone in need. Everyone on the road that day had somewhere they had to be, and quickly sprung into action when the moment called for it.

In shock from the event ourselves, we continued the drive into Steamboat. We spoke briefly about the experience, but ultimately I think we were all just thankful that so many people were there to assist and get the woman the medical attention she needed.

The energy of the group was mostly back to normal the following day. Prior to the trip, Bri and Joe made hot pink matching t-shirts that read “If lost, please return to Joe Potato,” with Joe having the only shirt that was different, reading “I am Joe Potato.” While the intent is usually to blend in while traveling to not come off as tourists, we took the opposite approach. We stuck out like sore thumbs wandering around the city, getting smiles and chuckles from the surrounding passerby.

The following morning was race day, and I was more excited than ever to breathe the mountain air and soak in the surrounding landscape. Joel was the only one in the group brave enough to wake up at 5 AM to drive me to the bus shuttle. With the race starting at 8,128 feet of elevation at Hahns Peak and finishing at the courthouse downtown at 6,728 feet, I was thankful the race was at least downhill. The fact that I once again didn’t train specifically for high elevation didn’t seem to bother me. The only concern I had was the slight knee pain I developed a few weeks prior. However, my sheer excitement made my fears subside.

The bus ride to the starting line was gorgeous in itself. The snow-capped mountains and natural landscape created picturesque images around every bend that words can’t possibly do justice. There were multiple individuals prior to the start who were taking selfies with the mountains in the background. Since the race only brings in around 200 people, it made me think how many of the participants were locals, and who made it a destination race like myself. Do the locals who grew up in the mountains view them the same as the outsiders who remain in awe of them, or does the allure eventually fade over time?

As the race began, I joined the lead pack of eager and experienced runners. I could tell in their stride that this wasn’t their first race at altitude. One of the runners I could tell was a few decades older than me. Unlike with other sports, age doesn’t affect the abilities of distance runners nearly as much. While an NFL running back is reaching the end of their career as they approach 30, distance runners are aging like fine wine. The peak age for an elite distance runner is 35, while some can actually peak around 50.

I had my eyes locked on this individual, and was slowly closing the gap on him throughout the miles. I had it convinced in my head that I would eventually catch him and work towards the front runner. However, as the miles progressed, the gap continued to widen in favor of that older runner that I was sure I’d eventually best.

The morning sun and mountain air was taking a toll on my steady rhythm, as my miles progressively got slower. The wide open spaces and ranches served as a pleasant distraction while time slowed down for me, both literally and metaphorically.

That nagging knee pain made a vengeful return around mile 19. By mile 21, I was a bonafide Gordon Ramsay, uttering any obscenity my lips could conjure as it felt like a hammer was bashing my left knee with every step on that concrete. Clearly seeing I was in pain, or possibly hearing some of the foul language coming from my mouth, runners stopped and tried to offer assistance. Some offered a protein bar or energy gel they were carrying, and even helped me stretch out. It made me think back to all of the strangers who stepped in to help that poor woman who flipped her car. These were my competitors in a race, stopping to make sure I made it to the finish line in one piece.

With the helpful spirit from those strangers and the energy emanating from the crowd as I entered the final stretch, I made it. I still managed to place 16th overall, which I still find surprising. As I lay helpless in the grass after the conclusion of the race, breakfast burrito in hand, I remember seeing an older gentleman talking to some of the volunteers under a covered tent. On his shirt, it said that he has ran a marathon in every state. Not only once, but twice. It made me think about the path I was on in that regard, and where I was going to be in five, ten, or 20 years. With Colorado securing my ninth spot, I was excited to eventually experience the remaining 41 as the journey continued.

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