I ran out of eligibility at Adams State after the indoor season of 2010. It was a bummer to not have a 5th year for outdoors, but the major plus about that was it allowed me to run in the elite field of the 2010 Bolder Boulder. That race was my first ever professional road race, running for team Colorado alongside Brent Vaughn and James Carney. We finished second to team Ethiopia, earning us each roughly 10,000$ as a reward! This was a huge boost to the start of my professional running career; and is among one of many reasons why Bolder Boulder holds a special place in my heart.
Growing up in Colorado, Bolder Boulder was/is THE race you hear about as a runner, its hard not to when roughly 50,000 people run the race each and every year. I don’t know the stats for sure, but I would guess that the next biggest race in Colorado doesn’t get close to half that number of runners. I’d say the race is as special to me as the Boston marathon would be to a young runner growing up within an hour radius on Beantown. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be an invited elite athlete now in 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13, and yesterday, the 2015 edition.
If you’ve never done or heard about the race, here’s the highlights, at least from my perspective. It all starts a little before 7:00 am on Memorial Day. Every year, even this year when it had been unseasonably rainy the week leading up to the race, you can count on a beautiful sunny Colorado day. The push-rim athletes get things started, closely followed by the first wave of the citizen’s race. The last three years that has included my wife, Annika, who every year has been treated like an elite athlete by the race’s staff and volunteer’s; which we are both super grateful for. Wave after wave of runners run the course which finishes in the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field. A little after 11, its time for the international team competition: aka my turn! There’s usually 8-10 teams of 3 runners from different countries, with the competition scored cross country style. One of the very few times as a professional that you are running as part of a team. An element I loved, and still miss from my high school and college running days. Running with a USA bib on Memorial Day is not only a huge honor, it also makes me a big target for some amazing cheering sections lined up throughout the course. Upon closing in on the finish of this grueling net-uphill 10k held at a mile above sea level, I’m rewarded with a roar of 50,000 people cheering me on to the finish. I know that nearly all of them are there more so for the biggest Memorial Day celebration in the US held immediately after the elites finish, than to watch our race, but I don’t blame them. Upon finishing, elite runners and those spectators are treated to service men and women parachuting into the stadium, new enlistees being sworn in, helicopter or jet flyovers, honoring veterans from years past (this year a few from WW2!), and plenty of Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, etc. for any good red-blooded American! All of this make Bolder Boulder special to anyone who runs it, especially me.
You may be wondering, ok the title of this blog mentions a sometimes hate relationship, where does that come in? Well it is this: having run this race now 5 out of the last 6 years, in all but one of those years, upon finishing, when reporters ask ‘How did it go?’ there’s little I can say outside of “that was so hard!” As I mentioned earlier, the course is a net uphill. There’s not really any steep hills along the course, at least until the last 400 meters heading into Folsom; but just long, gradual climbs the entire time. You basically go uphill from the start to mile 4, the highest point in the course, finally get a downhill section from there until 8.5k, when you make a turn and start a non-stop gradual climb from there to the finish in Folsom. The course would be difficult held anywhere in the world; placing it in Boulder, Colorado; you turn difficult into torturous! And for me, racing that close to noon in the elite race, you also get to add the challenge of the sun beating down on you. This year the temperature was cooler compared to other years, but while cooling down with the other Americans, we all asked each other “I think it felt pretty hot out there, didn’t you?” All of which make me think at some point later that day “I hate this race, I’m done with it!”
But in the end, isn’t that kind of challenge the stuff all us runner’s crave? Training can be fun, relaxing, a good time to socialize with friends; but when we run races, aren’t we looking for that kind of challenge? To cross the finish line, thanking God that he has finally answered your prayers of asking it to come. Finishing knowing you gave it all you had on that day, always wishing you had a little more to give. Immediately afterwards and in the next 24-48 hours of DOMS you wonder to yourself “why do I keep doing this to myself?” and “why did I ever think this was fun?” But after a night or two of good sleep, and the legs start to feel better; all you’re left with is the memories of a great day, a good effort, and “gosh, I love that race; next year will be my year!”