By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
As I lined up to start the Bolder Boulder 10-kilometer race at 7:24 on Memorial Day morning, it was difficult not to think about the staggering set of numbers involved with one of the biggest races in the world.
I would be one of more than 50,800 participants in the event, the seventh biggest event in the world and the fourth in the United States. That’s more than three times the size of our own Turkey Trot. Usually that sort of number is associated with big marathons, but this race came with a much more accessible distance – 6.2 miles. During the next 68 minutes, I’d find out what all the fuss was about.
The first question was – how was the race staged with that number of people? The simple answer is that entrants are put into groups based on their expected time of finish. Therefore, the fastest group of non-professional start off in a group at 6:55 a.m. That meant some of them no doubt were going to be finished with the 10-kilometer distance around the time I started. That group was followed by wave after wave of runners and walkers, each of them seeded by their expected finishing time. Every 90 seconds, a couple of hundred entrants headed down 30th St., which is something like the Transit Road of Boulder. There were close to 100 such waves on the day, so there were few empty spaces on the streets but there was enough room to run at all times.
When it was finally our turn to start, we were greeted by a trumpeter who played the piece of the song associated with the start of a horse race called “First Post.” Founder Steve Bosley pointed out someone in our group who had participated in all 40 Bolder Boulders – there were 60 such people in the overall field that day. Then a starter’s gun went off … and we were all on our way on a 62-degree overcast morning that was absolutely perfect for running. Since all of us were approximately running at the same pace, no one sprinted ahead or fell behind at the start – unlike every other road race I’d ever done.
Less than a minute later, five planes flew directly above us in a V-formation to give us a psychological boost. It felt pretty special to be part of it all.
I wasn’t in a position to take notes while running, but here are some items that stuck with me about the race as I went along:
* When you think of Boulder, you think of the Rocky Mountains. They serve as a backdrop for the city, and they are spectacular. Luckily, much of Boulder – and all of the race course – is located away from the steep hills of the city. The best description of the course might be “rolling,” with two or three sections that were steep on the uphill side. Running at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park probably is a bigger challenge.
* No one needed headphones with music on the course. Bands were placed about every quarter-mile along the way. My personal favorite came a couple of miles in when two well-dressed ladies were joined by a musician under a tent. The sign said, “Boulder Opera Company.” I wish I could report on what song they were performing, but they were drowned out by a Southern rock band just down the street. Oh – I was guaranteed that Elvis would be on the route, and he was indeed there.
* Speaking of entertainment, one of the acts has been working the race for all 40 years. Miss Tutu apparently found a home at Mile Three. And I heard that some of the belly dancers – you read correctly – had been performing for more than 20 years ago. You don’t see that in Buffalo.
* The streets weren’t exactly lined with spectators at that point in the day, but there were some who got out of bed early to help us. A couple of girls tossed marshmallows at runners who wanted a snack. Another Boulder resident was unhappy that his treat wasn’t more popular, yelling at one point, “What, are you runners too healthy to have some bacon?” Some less-than-healthy beverages were also dispensed for those who weren’t too worried about their times.
* The last walking wave started at 9:30 a.m. The morning was capped by a race for professionals, who used a different course than the rest of us.
The biggest thrill came at the end. Runners head up a bit of an incline on the University of Colorado campus, take a right for a short distance, and then turn left to go through a short tunnel. When they emerge, they are on the floor of the Buffaloes’ football stadium. Folsom Field seats about 50,000 people. It would be filled later for a Memorial Day ceremony. But even with a gathering of a mere few thousnad, it was an awesome feeling to look up at the surrounding stands upon arrival. The run around the edge of the football field went by far too quickly for everyone’s liking.
After finishing the event, I climbed the stairs and surveyed the scene. From above, the runners looked like they were coming out of a fire hose – a constant stream that lasted indefinitely.
For the record, I finished in 18,545th place overall. Awards didn’t go that deep into the field, as you’d expect. On the other hand, I finished ahead of more than 30,000 participants. How often does that happen?
There was no finisher’s medal, which was a surprise. But I saved my bib number, and have a spiffy long-sleeve t-shirt and the lunch bag that held post-race snacks. I wore that shirt on the plane ride home the next day (wouldn’t you?), and saw a few others on people in the Denver airport. When I checked in at the gate for the flight, the attendant said to me, “How was your run?” I replied, “Well, I didn’t win … but I finished.” And he smiled.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)