I haven’t had much experience when it comes to running races. Before yesterday, I’ve only raced in two of them – a 10K last November, and a 5K a few weeks after that (recaps of both can be found on my Races & Events page). But, despite my rather short race resume, I’m completely confident when I say that I will never have a day like yesterday.
The BolderBOULDER 10K Memorial Day Race is, simply put, unbelievable.
I had read the statistics long ago: 54,000 runners ran last year, from all over the world. It’s the largest all-timed race in the country, and the fifth largest in the world. Reading those statistics is one thing, though – being a part of them is completely different.
Let me take you through the race – I took pictures, and have memories that I won’t forget any time soon!
I ran the BolderBOULDER with my sister Sarah, who has run it twice before. The route snakes through Boulder, Colorado, starting next to the Twenty-Ninth Street Mall, and finishing inside Folsom Field, the football stadium on the University of Colorado campus.
We had to get there early, and it was already a beautiful day – warm but not terribly hot, and with a nice breeze. The starting line area was already crawling – no, teeming with runners when we showed up at 6:30am.
One of the biggest questions I had going into this race was how 50,000+ runners were all going to run at the same time – talk about a clusterfuck! Turns out there’s a wonderfully efficient and well-organized system that spaces out runners, preventing stampedes. Participants are divided into heats, and each heat has a few hundred runners. Each heat is given a start time. In total, there were 92 heats, starting every 60-90 seconds between 7am and 9:30am. Faster runners started earlier, and the last half of the heats were more general: for first-timers, or people planning on jogging more slowly or running/walking. Sarah and I, based on results from our previous races, qualified to start in the same heat – we were group EE, which started at 7:22 and 10 seconds.
Our heat congregated behind our banner, and each each heat in front of us started the race, we moved closer and closer to the start line. I took the time to stretch and get warmed up. Here we are a few minutes before racing:
Before we knew it, we were at the starting line, and right at 7:22 and 10 seconds, a starter pistol was fired and we were off!
The race itself was a lot of fun. Everyone in our heat had a qualifying time within a minute of each other, so we were all basically the same pace, which was helpful in keeping me from blowing my wad too early on.
There were 30 bands playing along the route, on little stages and under tents. The route went through residential neighborhoods, and the center of town, and was lined with people cheering us on, including a high school pom-pom squad. People ran in costumes: our heat had 4 people dressed as the Teletubbies, and we also saw people in bear and cow costumes, and covered in purple and green balloons, so they looked like bunches of grapes.
In addition to water and Gatorade stations every mile, there were people passing out more interesting things that I’ve never seen during a race before: Marshmallows. Cotton Candy. Doritos. Bacon (with a sign that said: “Pork: The Other Energy Bar”). I heard that in years past, there were people passing out beer and tequila shots, but I didn’t see any myself (which doesn’t mean they weren’t any this year). One house, using a tarp and a hose, turned their front lawn into a big Slip ‘N’ Slide (which I didn’t use). There were spinklers set up so you could run through water and cool off (which I did do), and people were squirting runners with big water guns.
The run itself was exhausting. I was well-prepared – I’ve been doing a lot of running in recent weeks – but the one big variable was the altitude. Los Angeles is basically at sea level, and the highest point on this route (which was marked with a banner) was 5,391 feet above sea level. And the altitude really took it out of me. By the third kilometer, my chest was hurting, my lungs felt tight and heavy, and I could tell my breathing was more labored and less efficient than it normally was. It felt strange to feel so tired in my chest before I felt tired in my legs, but I didn’t stop, which was my biggest goal.
Speaking of goals, because I knew the altitude would be a new (and possibly difficult) experience for me, I didn’t set a goal involving my time or making a personal best. I ran my first 10K, last November, in 59 minutes, 6.5 seconds, and I was thinking that finishing the BolderBOULDER in under an hour would be awesome, but perhaps not reasonable. So my goal became not to stop. No matter my time, I’d be happy if I pushed through, always moving, always moving, always moving.
And I did it. I never stopped. Although the altitude-induced, asthma-like breathing that set in around the third kilometer never went away, I did get used to it, and I synced my heavy breaths to the beats of the songs I was listening to on my iPod. Because I was unfamiliar with the course and there was so much activity going on around me, I focused on taking it all in and enjoying the experience, and that worked.
The course, for the most part, wasn’t terribly hilly – there were gentle undulations throughout the whole thing, with the exception of the final kilometer, which featured a big steep hill up to the stadium. I was exhausted by the time I got to the hill, but I summoned everything I had, put on my favorite song, and charged up the hill, giving it everything I got.
The final few hundred yards were a big lap inside the stadium to the finish line, and I got the best rush when I turned that corner and entered the stadium. The stands were already filled with thousands of people, and there was music and cheering and noise. It was overwhelming. Even though the whole day had been pretty spectacular, it was when I entered that stadium that it really hit me: I’m a part of something that’s rare, thrilling, special, and that’s truly extraordinary.
Thanks to my surge up the hill, I barely had anything left for the lap around the stadium field, but I finished as strong as I could, and crossing that finish line felt magical. This photo was taken a few minutes afterward:
I ended up breaking ahead of Sarah about a third of the way through the race, and she finished a few minutes after me. We cooled down, got some refreshments, and headed into the stands to watch the other racers finish.
We ran into a friend of Sarah’s in the stands, and we sat up there and chatted for about an hour. The whole time, there was a constant stream of runners finishing the race. It never slowed up – literally hundreds of runners arriving into the stadium every minute. This race is so freakin’ enormous!
After all the civilians finished, the elite competitors ran. These are Olympic-caliber athletes that go around the world to compete, and their heat was last so anyone that wanted to watch them finish in the stadium could. Sarah and I didn’t stick around for them, but we did wander a little bit through the expo, where all the sponsor companies had booths and were passing out samples and coupons.
A few hours later, Sarah checked online, and our race results were already posted!
Here are my official results:
I was downright SHOCKED to see that I finished only two seconds slower than my personal best. 59:08.46 – HOLY SHIT! I was roughly in the top third among all men, and roughly in the top half among my division (which was men who were 33 years old). All in all, I came in 12,920th place!
The best feeling of all – better than crossing that finish line, even – was realizing that the BoulderBOULDER served as a fantastic reminder of the magnitude of my weight loss. Losing 162 pounds, and keeping it off, has opened so many doors, and given me so many opportunities to push and challenge myself, physically and mentally, in ways that were simply unfathomable before.
I ran the BolderBOULDER. I finished the BolderBOULDER. And I did it faster and stronger than I was expecting. I won’t ever get tired of surprising myself with what I’m capable of doing. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I intend to keep surprising myself for as long as I possibly can.
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!