Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race Report: 2012 BolderBoulder

Oh, how I love this race! It’s tempting to just sit here and gush about what a great event this is, but I’ll actually try and provide a decent summary of the day.

I live in Parker which is more or less the extreme southeastern corner of the metro Denver area. Boulder is more or less the northwestern corner. In other words, it’s way across town. It’s only 45 straight-line miles, but when driving that works out to more like 55 miles and well over an hour. There’s always a bit of a traffic delay when 50,000 plus descend on the city at the same time. My brother, sister-in-law and I left my house a little after 5:30 but it was past 7:00 when we parked.

Fortunately, even with thousands of people arriving, we were actually able to very quickly secure parking at the 29th Street Mall which is right next to the starting area. It was close, but I had time to see to my pre-race business and still get into the EA start coral with time to spare.

The race is often characterized by, shall we say, less than perfect weather. Rain and/or overcast have been a feature in more Memorial Days than not. This year, it was sunny and just cool enough to make for pleasant running conditions. Ideal, I would say!

While they do use a timing chip, BB continues to use a wave start. This is sensible since you need to space out those thousands of participants. As a result, waves go off in roughly 1 minute intervals. I am amazed at how well they stay to their schedule. Near as I can tell, my wave started at 7:17:40 just as planned.

This is the second year of a new course that takes you north, rather than south from the starting line and just as I though last year, it just works. North I went until making a left at Valmont Road and soon after another left heading back south on 28th Street. Before I knew it, my watch was vibrating on my wrist telling me the first mile split was 8:02. I felt pretty good and figured it made sense to bank as much time as I could. I doubted I would be able to continue that pace. In fact, mile two has the first hill and I figured that would slow me down.

However, the split on the second mile was 8:05. I still felt pretty good. Might as well keep banking that time, I figured. Three miles in the low eight minute range ought to make it possible to improve on last year’s finish time of 55:47. As you finish the third mile, you’re on one of the few down hills—the course contains 232 feet of climbing. So at this point I felt like I should continue to keep going. I felt okay and my heart rate, while high, was not bothering me.

At mile four, you are about to climb the highest hill on the course. After my experiences at Horsetooth last month, this monster hill that always seemed so hard went by without much notice. Better still, after cresting it, you’re headed back downhill and it’s a great chance to pick up speed and recover your heart rate.

When my watch told me that my split for mile 5 was 8:01, I knew I was going to have a good day. The question was, how good. With 1.2 miles left, I had a net time of 40:51. I could have slacked off to a 10:00 pace and still had a modern-day PR. Of course I was not going to let that happen, but there was also no question it was going to be harder coming into the finish.

I was also attempting to capture a few pictures along the way (my iPhone camera was behaving poorly so sorry there are not more in-race shots). I wanted to get those, but not at the expense of a good time.

As I approached the turn off of Folsom Street onto the ground of the Stadium, it was clear that I was not going to finish under 50:00 so I figured it would be okay to get a quick shot of the entrance into the stadium. No picture can really explain what it is like, but after having done this 15 times, I still love it. Only an Olympian gets to finish in a stadium. Well, only an Olympian or a BolderBoulder participant!

When I complete the ¾ lap around the field, my watch showed 51:19 and the official time from the race says 51:18. That’s only 4:20 behind the last time I ran it as a young man (1991 when I finished in 0:46:58) and faster than I did in any of my first three years. It made me a happy camper!

Not far behind me, my brother was pacing his wife and got her to a finish of 58:18, more than 8:00 better than last year!

Post-race for us has always been hanging out in the stands, enjoying the food in the complimentary lunch bag and watching other finish the race. The highlight of that has to be the entry of a group of Marines wearing black t-shirts and combat pants entering the stadium in formation with the two of them carrying the colors.

 This is always greeted by a roar of approval from the crowd. Just before reaching the finish, the group runs off to a side area and, being Marines, they do push-ups. Then they reform and cross the line.

We all enjoy races, barbecues, time outside and other leisure activity on Memorial Day. And that’s okay. But it is a poignant reminder of the reason the holiday was originally established after the Civil War. This day, above all other reasons, is to remember and appreciate all who have served our country, active-duty, retired, alive or departed, we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. The entry of these admirable young men and women as the race winds down drives that point home. Nicely done, Marines, nicely done!

So here’s the overall review of the race:
The Bad:

Price: I’ll always pay what they ask (within reason) but I can see how this could get expensive for a family. I know that they have costs to put this one on, but with 50,000 or more entrants, dozens of sponsors, and lots of ancillary way of making money (sales of T-shirts, Crocs, posters, etc.) there has to be a way to make it more affordable for folks, even if they just want to run and not pick up any of the swag. Some races offset their entry fees by including a charitable fundraising option. They might want to consider that.

That’s it. This is a great race and this is the only area of criticism I can offer this year.

The Good:

Organization and Logistics: Since Dick’s Sporting Goods is the key sponsor of the race, they are also the primary way to pick up your packet. Within a week or so of registering, I was able to go by the store near my office and get my stuff with no hassle. I also received e-mail updates as necessary and the website is kept up to date with all the info one could possibly need. Once the race starts, I never find myself in a huge mass of people, stuck at the pace of the slowest person. Sure, I have to run around a few folks, but that’s really not a big deal. It’s nothing short of amazing that they can do this with so many tens of thousands of participants.

On-Course Support and Entertainment: How many races do you run where you see Elvis, the Blues Brothers, two sets of belly-dancers, and every kind of band from garage, to middle school kids, to tribute to professional club band? And while most of what I hear is while running by, they all sounded pretty good to me. What’s more, there’s an army of volunteers doing everything you need done at a race. BB signs them up in droves and I’ve never thought to myself, gee, they could use more help.

Pre & Post Race Access: There’s tons of parking in the vicinity of the start. I don’t know what the capacity of the garage at 29th Street is, but I would imagine that it’s significant. Additionally, there’s parking available in the surface lots until 10:00. Now that the start and finish are so close, that’s a realistic cut-off for most participants. Unlike last year, there were no issues with leaving. Although the elite race had yet to start, we were able to depart the garage and be on our way back to Parker without any detours or excessive delays.

Finish:  There’s just nothing like it. The finish is nothing new, but it’s a great feeling to end your race by running into a football stadium and take most of a lap to the line. I’ve finished in some unique places like on the parade grounds of the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot at the end of the Rock & Roll Marathon or through the legs of a gorilla in Greeley last year. Nothing compares, however. Additionally, with seating for nearly as many people as there are participants, it’s a great place to hang out after the race.

There’s little question as to why this is referred to as America’s Best 10K. I always seem to have a good at this one and I hear those sentiments echoed by others. Throughout the race, participants and spectators alike end up getting caught up in just how fun this thing is. It’s the reason most of us do a race anyway. Otherwise, just training would enough. No matter how old, slow, or fat I may get in the years to come, I hope each early Memorial Day morning finds me at the start of this race.

Okay, I guess I did gush a little bit after all!

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