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Race Report: Bolder Boulder 10k 2016

I don’t run many 10ks. Actually, as far as I can tell, most of us don’t. The distance exists in a weird middle ground. It’s just a little bit too far to be as inviting as a quick 5k jaunt, but not far enough to give someone the same sense of accomplishment a half or full marathon would (or, if you’re an obnoxiously competitive asshole like me, it’s too long to power your way all the way through to a good finish, while still being too short to try and find the medal podium by out grinding the other competitors). But if you live and run in Colorado you can only avoid the famous Bolder Boulder 10k for so long. The race draws over 50,000 participants and 70,000 spectators, and eventually even your nonrunning friends are going to ask you if you’ve done it. So this year, I did.

I’ve been in well organized races before. The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon series is a machine that makes clockwork look as erratic as the heartbeats of an ODing heroin junkie. The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon somehow walk piles of snacks and buckets of water up and down a mountain for hundreds of runners so effectively that you’d never even realize they’re not just motoring them into place. But the Bolder Boulder might be the most efficiently run race I’ve ever seen. They even start ticking off the boxes before race day. In a normal race this size your only option for packet pickup is generally to show up for an expo the day before the race that requires you to drive all the way out and back (or spend the night there and juice the local economy). But, for the Bolder Boulder, more than a month prior to the race packets were shipped to running stores all over the state to be picked up at your leisure. Or, hell, grab it on race morning if you prefer. They don’t give shit. It’s your race, what’s easiest for you? Then when you show up on race day they’ve wisely situated the start line near both a college and a mall leaving an absolute fuck ton of places to park (which are needed). They’ve got a spacious area for the (many) portapoties so the lines aren’t cramped or backing into each other (and with cute little jokes from a sponsoring urology company on each one). They actually check to make sure you’re running in the wave you qualified for (something that helps immensely with congestion in the race, and would seem like an axiomatic thing to do if you’re divvying people up into waves, but I’ve found it to be surprisingly rare). And on and on it goes. Just about every niggling little thing you can think of is done well. Just about…

As for running the race itself though, well my experience might be a little colored by when I ran it. I was with the second wave of the morning, which means even two hours after I finished there were still hundreds of people just being released into the course, and that can make a difference for something like this where the crowd is universally hailed as the most memorable part. Going early meant a lot of people hadn’t shown up yet. Running along you would occasionally spy something that looked like an area clearly meant for large crowds to hang out and cheer in, but instead there’d be maybe one guy sipping Starbucks and occasionally nodding quietly to anyone who caught his eye. Not to say there weren’t people cheering us on, there were plenty of them, just maybe not quite as many and maybe not quite as crazy as a little later in the day. That being said, there’s still plenty of stuff to entertain you as you boogie along. Each wave gets a little bugle call before they head out as if they were about to run the Kentucky Derby. And out on the course I saw two slip and slides, two belly dancing troops, an assembly of bagpipes, a fake Chick-fil-A band composed of people in their cow mascot uniforms pretending to rock out on fake instruments (watching little felt hooves pound away at the keyboard was adorable enough to send a glow through even the permafrost of my heart), more real bands than I’ve ever seen at any racing event (including the marathon length ones with music in their actual name *cough, cough*), and a guy with a tray of bacon screaming at us to take some because we were “the faster runners who’ve actually earned this bacon. But you’re just gonna run by, leaving it all for the lazy slowpokes later on who don’t deserve this bacon, didn’t earn it, but are gonna get all of it!” Of course while I missed out on some of the more rambunctious roadside crowds, there were certainly enough runners crowding the street to make up for it. In fact they were piled so thick early on it was difficult to ever get into my own pace, particularly for those first two miles. I’ve never been jostled around that much during an actual race (and, as a strange aside, even though I’ve been in more crowded starting corrals the BO has never been anywhere near half that bad). Not to mention I actually had two different people flat out run me over (one of them was a fan, drunk off her ass at 7 AM, who ran into the middle of the road to high five someone). And that’s when barely anyone had been let onto the course. I can’t imagine how bad it must be even as little as half an hour later.

And one final complaint. The race ends in Folsom Field (one of the stadiums for the local college) where you’ve hopefully got a an entire stadium of onlookers cheering for you (again, not really that full at the beginning of the day) as you run along the track to the finish line. But they’d covered up the track (presumably to protect it from the wear and tear of 50,000 runners) with raised plastic platforms. On the plus side they had a lot of give to them, and it was a relief to feel your feet press into something soft for the first time all day, giving your legs a bit of a rest right there at the end… but it was wet and slick as hell just as you were trying to sprint out those last few seconds. It was a weird feeling to have to slow down with the finish line in sight, not because you were tired, but because you were afraid of taking a header into ground and getting trampled by the never ending hoard of well toned calves behind you. Although, since they sent me a personalized video of my run, I at least would have been comforted knowing my fall had been caught from 3 different angles in glorious HD. I bet we could have found the exact frame where my coccyx shattered.

Overall Race Impressions: The Bolder Boulder is a fun race, and that comes with some good and some bad. The good is obvious. Like I said, it’s fun. You can take a break from the heat with a slip and slide, catch your breath watching a little belly dancing, refuel with freshly smoked bacon (accompanied by rhythmic, enthusiastic screaming), and I even hear tell of a bouncy castle somewhere out there, although I never saw it. If you come into this with the right mindset, you’ll enjoy yourself. However, if you’re looking for a competitive race none of that other stuff’s gonna matter. What you’ll notice is the first time you get slowed down and boxed in by all the other runners and their tutus… and then the second time, and the third and the fourth. You’ll note the steady (although not particularly steep) uphill climb that constitutes the entire first half of the race, and all the times you have to slow down for turns as you weave through all the residential neighborhoods. So you probably shouldn’t show up expecting a PR, unless of course, because 10ks are such a rare bird, this is the only one you’re going to run between now and next year when you run it again. And to be honest that’s not a terrible choice. It looks like the track I’m on.

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