Colton Overbeck overcame doubts and pain in a spontaneous marathon
Like many an audacious athletic endeavor involving an adolescent, Colton Overbeck’s spontaneous marathon run last week was born of idle time and untested bravado.
Overbeck, 18, was eating dinner with his family, including his older brother, Avery, 23, a seasonal wildland firefighter in Idaho who spends the spring getting in shape to return to his fire crew. At the end of dinner, Overbeck — a Liberty Bell High School senior who had never run more than 7.2 miles at a stretch before, and hadn’t in six years run more than 5 miles — announced, “I think I could run a marathon, like right now.”
To which every member of his family responded with some version of “You’re crazy,” delivered in less tactful phrasing.
Despite his family’s underwhelming faith in his prowess, Overbeck felt pretty confident. “Once I announced it I wasn’t thinking about whether or not I could actually do it,” said Overbeck, “I was just thinking through the logistics.”
Once Overbeck made up his mind to forge ahead, his brother and his father, Ron, immediately employed time-honored masculine motivational strategies like baiting and bribery, while his mother, Katie, an athlete and sports-loving educator, gently tried to dissuade him from the plan.
“I told him ‘this is stupid,’” said Katie. “I was picturing shin splints, lifelong injury. Or him getting discouraged and quitting. He hadn’t trained for a minute.”
Swagger and naivete prevailed, and incentivized by Avery’s offer of $20 and Ron’s of $100 to complete the run, Overbeck prepared to run his marathon three days hence, when his parents would not be working and could serve as his aid stations along the route.
Ron’s $100 bribe was cunningly constructed, after consulting with physical therapist friends who had advised Ron on his own training for the 50k runs he has completed. “To a person,” said Ron, “they all said ‘Oh, he’ll bail by mile 15, mile 18 tops.’”
Ron told his son he would pay him in increments adding up to $100, to keep him motivated throughout the run, adding “and he would owe me $100 if he ran fewer than 5 miles.” Friends and other family members pledged cash prizes as well, and by the time Overbeck began running, he could anticipate $300 at the finish line if he managed to reach it.
But Overbeck was never motivated by the money. “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” he said. “When I set my mind to something, I’m pretty stubborn. I felt like I could do it.” Overbeck knew that the marathon would be a mental game, but said that a rigorous National Outdoor Leadership School semester program last year had equipped him with some of the mental toughness he would need to stick it out.
Initially, Overbeck said, he planned to put himself on a three-day training program — 5 miles, then 10 miles, then a rest day — before undertaking the 26.2-mile marathon. But his mother advised him against it, saying “Save your legs for Friday.”
From the Barn, and back
Bolstered by courage, youth, and the strong genes of two distance-running parents, Overbeck set off from the Winthrop Barn on Friday, April 3, on what Methow Valley residents may recall was a day of high winds and snow flurries. Having selected an entirely paved marathon course on Highway 20 from Winthrop to Mazama with the sole redeeming quality of it being precisely 13.1 miles each way — a route choice he soon regretted — Overbeck set forth alone into a punishing headwind and in an hour had completed what would turn out to be the fastest 6 miles of his entire course. “That was the high point of my run,” he said.
Around Big Valley, Overbeck’s 14-year-old sister Lilian accompanied him for 6 miles on a bike, and his mother joined him for his final 3 miles, but for most of the marathon, Overbeck ran alone. As Overbeck approached his halfway point at Highway 20 and Lost River Road, he became increasingly excited about turning around and having the wind at his back for the second half of the run. Unfortunately, however, he said, “I wasn’t going fast enough for wind drag to be a factor, so even though it felt like I had been running into a strong headwind, the tailwind had no appreciable effect.”
Overbeck’s legs tired in the second half and his right hip began to hurt, but his determination did not flag until the 23-mile mark. “It was cold, my muscles tightened up, and I was in a lot of pain,” said Overbeck, “but I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity for self-doubt.”
Katie, who put 100 miles on her car that day driving back and forth providing food, water, and support, saw that Overbeck was struggling, and laced up her shoes. “Near the end, my mom joined me and encouraged me, and in that final straightaway when I could start to see the speed zone, I turned on the jets,” Overbeck said. “My final mile was my fastest.”
When Overbeck reached the Barn and saw the rest of his family waiting to greet him, all he could think was “I am so ready to stop moving.” So he did just that, eschewing conventional cooldown and recovery strategies the same way he had steered clear of established training regimens. He took a bath, had some food, and by later that evening had recovered enough to win a 100-yard foot race, garnering him an additional $50.
Overbeck’s brother Avery summed up the adventure with this mathematically challenged conclusion: “My brother said it was 15% physical strength, 35% mental strength, and 60% stupid,” said Overbeck. “He knows I gave more than 100%, and the stupidity deserved no less.”
“But we’re all very proud of him,” Overbeck’s parents said. “At first it was disbelief, but now we’re just totally impressed.”