Lacing up a tattered pair of running shoes for a day-long adventure up the Poudre Canyon week after week sounds typical â€“â€“ almost enjoyable â€“â€“ for many Fort Collins residents.
Being ditched 20 miles up the river at a vehicle pull-off with only a few hours before dark and just your feet and burned-out legs to get you to a waiting car in civilization â€“â€“ well that’s a different story.
Itâ€™s all part of the training plan on the long road to the world famous Boston Marathon taking place Monday morning â€“â€“ a journey three friends are embarking on this weekend after months of juggling work, school and logging countless miles during six days of training each week.
â€œThe running aspect of it is what helps you keep balance,â€ said Justin Mathis. This will be his fifth marathon and second shot at running the famed Boston course from the rolling hills near Hopkinton, Mass. to downtown Boston.
â€œYou need to have that component of ending your day and having that release,â€ he added. â€œRunning plays well into the delicate balance of school, social life and everything else.â€
Mathis, a master’s student and small animal emergency care resident, will be joined this time by Bryon Malang and Sam Sternburg, both graduating seniors from the College of Business.
Before anyone can even attempt to enter the worldâ€™s oldest footrace, which draws the most elite and Olympic-caliber runners from across the globe, they must run a Boston Qualifying â€“ BQ â€“ time during a certified 26.2-mile marathon.
Many try for their entire lives to meet the qualifying mark, but Mathis, Sternberg and Malang, each met the mark during last yearâ€™s Colorado Marathon, held each May down the Poudre Canyon and into Old Town.
Each athlete broke under the 3-hour mark running a course average of around 6:40 per mile for the whole race, shattering the minimum benchmark qualifying time of 3 hours 10 minutes.
â€œThey were there helping me the whole time,â€ Sternburg said, adding that the arduous training and weeks of logging more than 50 or 60 miles were made easier thanks to the camaraderie and group mentality.
â€œWithout them, I wouldnâ€™t have been able to make it this far.â€
The trio met early in fall, 2010 at the Jack Christiansen track at CSU, when Malang and Sternburg wanted to draw in runners of all backgrounds for a social atmosphere where they could fine-tune their training goals.
Mathis, a former triathlete, learned of the club, and soon the bond was immediately formed.
â€œRunning is my passion,â€ Mathis said. â€œIt always has been.â€
Since its inception, the group, Ram Runners, has become a fully-recognized club at CSU, drawing the curiosity and determination of nearly 30 off-and-on athletes from around the community. Though only formally meeting at the track Monday and Thursday nights, members of the group often tweak their skills and training on different events and interests, from sprinting to the allure of the 26.2-mile-marathon.
â€œYouâ€™re blending a competitive atmosphere with those who are looking for a social group,â€ Malang said. â€œItâ€™s a way to go and meet people. The overall goal is just to better yourself for running.â€
The club â€“â€“ which is not affiliated or in competition with the track or cross country teams â€“â€“ even got the helping hand of a trainer who volunteers with the group and helps them to meet individual goals, from 5ks to marathons.
â€œIt’s been really cool to see how people have been able to change,â€ said Nick Heimann, a certified personal trainer who volunteers to train people who come out to Ram Runners twice weekly. He said that, while runners from all backgrounds and with different goals come out, the determination and drive for this group of marathoners definitely shows â€“â€“ both in academics and athletics.
â€œThis is their lifestyle,â€ he said of Malang, Mathis and Sternburg. â€œIt’s who they are. They are runners. If they can’t run, I don’t think they’d really be as happy as they are.â€
As Marathon Monday nears, the trio of endurance athletes is well into their tapering period where muscles begin to heal in preparation for the taxing race that is celebrated up and down the East Coast.
Malang promises this will be his second and final race, though his friends chuckle and doubt his conviction to give it up, citing an athletic drive to shave off seconds each race that cannot be helped â€“â€“ an addiction in a sense.
He hopes to come in around last year’s race time of 2:57, though he said he wouldn’t be too disappointed to go over 3 hours.
Mathis and Sterburg anticipate finishing around their qualifying times of 2:59 and 2:56 respectively, though anything is possible. As Mathis pointed out, the infamous Heartbreak Hill, which rises just 88 feet, comes so late in the race when fatigue is highest that it can really crush any remaining morale.
In his mind, it really is â€œa true story.â€
Of running, each agreed that parts of it may seem crazy or even psychotic at times, but having a chance to compete in the 116th running of the Boston Marathon is a chance they just had to take.
â€œIt’s one of those things you truly have to love,â€ Sternburg said of running. â€œYeah, it hurts a lot, but the sense of triumph and accomplishment you get from finishing a run (and) watching yourself get better â€“â€“ it just gives me a purpose.â€
â€œI couldnâ€™t go without it.â€
Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at email@example.com.