Meet the mom-son duo who are taking on the Colfax Half-Marathon this month for the seventh straight year
For Mother’s Day, many sons give their moms sentimental cards or flowers. Others, jewelry or candy. Still others, something practical like a cookbook or cappuccino maker.
Nathan Phelps does something different. Every year for the last six (this year will make it seven), he has gone out with his parents, Sheila and Gary, for a big meal the night before, tied on his running shoes early Sunday morning and joined Mom at the starting line of the Colfax Half-Marathon. They hug for a photo (Dad is there, too, to cheer them on), wait for the starting gun and take off.
Pretty quickly, they part ways. “Nathan’s way faster than I am,” Sheila says. “We think of it as running the same course but different times. I wouldn’t want to slow him down and he wouldn’t want to speed me up too much. And running at your own pace is what it’s about—beating your own time.” The best time for Nathan, 30, on the 13.1-mile course is one hour, 42 minutes. And Sheila, 59, goes at her own pace, last year having her best finish at two hours, nine minutes.
Sheila, who lives on a farm in the northeast Colorado town of Peetz, just south of the Nebraska border, trains on gravel roads on her property (the 1-mile grid out there makes it easy to judge how far she has gone), as well as on a treadmill. Nathan, who lives in Parker and is the father of a 1-year-old son, has to rely more on a treadmill but loves to go home to Peetz for occasional runs, too.
The pair arrives early in the morning at City Park “before the masses of traffic,” Nathan says. “We pack breakfast to go and find a spot where we can just camp out, eat and watch the madness unfold—like people scrambling to find parking.”
The Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon weekend (always the third in May), drew more than 19,000 runners last year for the marathon (Denver’s only one), half-marathon, urban 10-miler and 5K. The half-marathon is relatively flat and has great mountain views. It winds its way through historic Denver neighborhoods on Colfax, detours for 1 mile through the Denver Zoo (Nathan’s favorite part—“free admission!”) and also makes its way through the Aurora Arts District. Aurora fire fighters cheer the runners on at mile 11 (“pretty awesome,” Sheila says), and the race ends in City Park. That’s where Nathan waits, with his dad, for Sheila to cross the finish line so they can enjoy something from Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q.
Though they’ve done other races together, including a 10K on Labor Day weekend last year in Fort Collins (both are CSU grads), and Nathan has tried to convince his mom to do a Tough Mudder (“There’s a couple of parts where you crawl through a tunnel in the mud and I said, ‘I don’t think so, Nathan’ ”), the Colfax Half is special. “Even though we don’t run side by side,” Sheila says, “it’s about sharing the moment.”
Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon Weekend
Denver’s largest running event, in its 13th year, takes place May 18–20. The Colfax Marathon partners with 200-plus nonprofits, collectively raising more than $2 million since 2014. This year’s schedule: May 18: Health and fitness expo at Mile High Stadium May 19: 5K (strollers and pets welcome); health and fitness expo continues May 20: Marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon, 10-mile run, after party at City Park.