Bigger and better: Steamboat Marathon returns Sunday | CraigDailyPress.com

Bigger and better: Steamboat Marathon returns Sunday

Joel Reichenberger

— The Steamboat Marathon offers athletes a downhill run from the shores of the high-altitude reservoir, Steamboat Lake, through aspen groves and brilliant green rolling grazing land, along the rushing Elk River and, and finally, down mainstreet Steamboat Springs, along Lincoln Avenue toward the hulking Steamboat Ski Area to a finish in the heart of downtown.

The key for those marketing this year's race was reminding people how beautiful an experience that run could be.

The annual Steamboat Marathon will return Sunday, and organizers say the registration numbers show a dramatic reversal to years of slipping participation.

"The marathon is a key event for us, so we need it to succeed," said Kara Stoller, marketing director for Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "We were faced with a challenge and needed to really turn things around."

The numbers indicate that may have happened.

Changing the tune

Last season's marathon marked a recent low-point for the race, now in its 33rd year. There were 1,370 finishers of the marathon, the half-marathon and the 10-kilometer race. At the race's peak in the past decade, in 2009, there were 1,773.

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The 22 percent decrease in racers was most evident in the longer two races. The marathon had 258 finishers, a little more than half of what it had in 2000 and about 100 less than it managed just two years ago.

The half-marathon, meanwhile, had 766 finishers, the first time it had less than 800 since 2004, and far below its peak of 1,032 in 2009.

The 10K stayed steady throughout the past decade, with 346 finishers in 2013, more than in 2012 and roughly on par with recent performance.

"It was time to shake things up," Stoller said.

That started with marketing meetings in the fall that quickly turned into a completely new style of marketing campaign, one that got out early and reached out often via email.

First up was an appeal to locals, runners organizers thought likely already had plenty of events in mind who may have just needed a prod to try the Steamboat Marathon again. The race typically opens registration Jan. 1, but this year started in December, just for locals, offering them a 50 percent discount.

Later, they shifted their sights to runners who'd competed in the event in the past five years, capturing some of the biggest crowds the race has enjoyed. They lured those runners with more discounts of 30 percent.

"We tried to hit people early so they could see the discount and think, 'Oh, I have time to train for that,'" said Maren McCutchan, events and member relations manager for the Chamber.

They also tried to shine up what exactly the "Steamboat Marathon" was as a brand.

They changed the logo.

Ads in area running magazines highlighted the event's selection by Colorado Runner magazine as a top 10 marathon in the state.

Changes at the finish line in recent years have made it more of an expo, bringing in several retailers and offering more activities for children.

The idea was to paint the Steamboat Marathon not as one race, or even three. The idea was to show it as an experience.

"We pointed out some key things about the race, reasons why people should want to run," McCutchan said. "It's a weekend retreat, a mental break, even though it's a strenuous activity. The scenery and the setting make it a special place to run."

Rising tide

So far, so good.

Race director Paul Sachs said he's expecting this year's numbers to easily surpass those of last year. The marathon should stay roughly the same, with between 250 and 300 finishers likely.

The half-marathon, however, will be swollen again. Signing up Jan. 1 used to be important as it was likely to sell not. It's not been a concern recently.

But this year the race could again approach 1,200 registered runners, putting it right on par for 1,000 finishers.

"We're excepting a lot of runners, which is always wonderful," Sachs said. "We may have 400 or 500 more than last year, which is getting closer to our capacity."

He also said registration in the 10K are up dramatically. It's hard to tell whether or not that will result in a surge of finishers. Are those new racers, or did the old racers who signed up day-of decide to sign up online this year?

Either way, it's welcome, just like every other change the race has made heading into its 33rd running.

"I'm really pleased because there are so many races to chose from now," Sachs said. "That's what's changed the dynamics over the years. We used to be one of the few early marathons in the mountains. Now there are all kinds of things going on.

"It's a great half. It's a very hard marathon, but it's beautiful, and it's going to be great, as always."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

Sign up still available

Registration remains open for the event, which begins Sunday at 7:30 a.m. The marathon will start at Hahn’s Peak Village and race down Colorado Highway 129 to Steamboat. The half-marathon will begin halfway up 129, and the 10K starts in downtown Steamboat and winds around town and into Strawberry Park.

Registration costs $91 for the marathon, $78 for the half and $45.50 for the 10K.

For more information, go to http://www.steamboatmarathon.com.

Times to beat

Routt County racers swept last year’s event. Nathan Allen won the men’s race in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 14 seconds. Callie Bradley won the women’s side in 3:10:38.

Sachs said neither may run this year, however, so new winners could be crowned.

Race weekend schedule

Friday: Noon to 5 p.m. Packet pick-up at Sports Authority, 705 Marketplace Plaza

Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Packet pick-up at Sports Authority

Sunday: 5:45 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Transportation to the start of marathon and half-marathon

7:30 a.m. All races start

11:45 a.m. Kid’s Fun Run in downtown Steamboat Springs

1 p.m. Race courses close

Road closure

The Steamboat Marathon will result in the closure of the westbound lanes of Lincoln Avenue from Fifth to 11th streets from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. There also will be traffic delays along Elk River Road throughout the first half of the day.