A rite of spring returns as Colfax Marathon races attract 16,000 runners

With lilac bushes in full bloom near the starting line in City Park, the Colfax Marathon returned to its traditional position as a rite of spring for Colorado runners on Sunday for the first time since the pandemic.

The city’s largest running event attracted an estimated 11,000 in the marathon, half-marathon, 10-miler and marathon relay. Another 5,000 ran in a 5-kilometer race on Saturday. The return to near normalcy after the pandemic was on the minds of many.

“It’s awesome to see the community still wants to be here, that this isn’t lost, that people’s desire to do something and accomplish something hasn’t diminished at all,” said Patrick Rizzo, 38, who finished second in the half-marathon. “It’s seeing positivity in an atmosphere of camaraderie come back.”

The Colfax Marathon races began in 2006. It was canceled in May 2020 and postponed from May until October in 2021 because of COVID-19. It traditionally ranks as Colorado’s second-largest running event behind the Bolder Boulder Memorial Day 10K.

Al Herzl, 66, of Littleton, has run the marathon every year it was held, including the one last October to keep his streak alive.

“It’s huge,” Herzl said. “I’m so glad that this has become a fixture in Colorado. It’s a great thing.”

Adam Alban ran the half-marathon despite having endured a bout of COVID in April.

“It totally disrupted my training,” said Alban, 51, who live in Arvada. “I had to take a couple weeks off, and when I came back, I definitely wasn’t as strong as before. But it’s good to be out here with everybody.”

Christa Kamb ran the marathon with two friends to benefit World Vision, a faith-based humanitarian nonprofit that provides clean drinking water in poverty-stricken countries around the world. She quit running during the pandemic.

“I did not have the motivation,” said Kamb, 40, who lives in Aurora. “Life was so different, like working from home, weird things with kids in school, so I just didn’t feel like I had the energy. Now that things are starting to feel back to normal, this kind of energy is contagious, and it’s so much fun to be out.”

Victoria Mugo of Aurora overcame a different sort of medical crisis. She did Sunday’s half-marathon despite losing both hands and lower legs in 2019 due to sepsis after she was stricken with pneumonia.

“It truly broke me because I’m a mother and I had a 3-year-old,” said Mugo, 41. “I had to focus on something that would bring me back to life. Running was always my thing. My goal was, if I can get myself up again, and even just walk, I can be a better mother, a better sister, a better friend, a better partner. So this is a big accomplishment for me, because it’s only been three years. This is another boost in my life, to tell myself it doesn’t matter how life breaks you, you can decide to get up and do something about it.”

Like so many runners, being deprived of race events during the pandemic was a hardship for Adam Popp, who lost his lower right leg while serving in Afghanistan as an Air Force bomb disposal technician.

“When these events are such a huge part of our life, you really lose that community, the sense of purpose, and all these other things that mean so much to me and this community,” said Popp, 43, of Golden. “To get back to this just feels like we’re getting back to normal, and it feels good to be back.”

Tyler McCandless of Fort Collins, who ran the Los Angeles Marathon eight weeks ago and qualified for the 2024 U.S. Olympic marathon trials, won Sunday’s marathon and broke the Colfax record with a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 7 seconds. His last race before the pandemic was the 2020 marathon trials in Los Angeles, which attracted massive crowds along the race course. Less than a month later, the world shut down due to COVID.

“Then we didn’t leave our house for months,” said McCandless, 35. “This is a very important part of my life, and I love it. I love the community. It’s just amazing. I won’t take it for granted again.”

Rizzo could identify with the sense of isolation people felt during the pandemic because he became partially deaf as a teenager. Running became his coping mechanism. He believes the pandemic taught important lessons for many.

“Not to diminish anybody for their losses, but the thing that is going to get us through any health crisis is health and seeing people come back with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle,” Rizzo said. “I’ve seen people lose 80 pounds in the last two years. That’s inspiring, to see somebody changed their entire trajectory, their life expectancy. Those are the stories I love seeing around the race, what people did to get here.”

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