So I cried a lot this weekend. Not the manliest thing to start an article with, but it’s true. Maybe I needed to let some things out. Maybe I’m soft. Allergies perhaps? Or maybe the BolderBOULDER 10k is way more than a race, and the impact of that just hit me this weekend. To understand the tears, we have to go back, way back about 26 years.
In the spring of 1990 I began my distance running career. It was an accident. I wanted to be a sprinter and high jumper, but as a freshman in high school it became apparent I wasn’t very fast and couldn’t jump very high. Our track coach did what any good track coach would do and put me in the mile. It took years for me to grow, but at that moment I became a distance runner, and I fell in love with the sport. As I began studying the sport, one name sat at the top. Arturo Barrios of Mexico had broken the world record in the 10k, and had won his 3rd and final BolderBOULDER in the summer of ’89. I read a Runner’s World article on the BB10k, clipped out the picture of Barrios to hang inside my locker, and I had my running hero and my goal race.
Fast forward to 2014. I’m now a 40yr old man, far removed from a respectable high school running career and a good though not spectacular collegiate running career. I’m also well over 200lbs, freshly moved to Colorado, and unable to run more than 2 miles. But I’m only 45 min from where the BolderBOULDER starts, and I’ve wanted to run this race for nearly 25 years. So starting with daily walks, moving to trying to run the flats, and graduating up to jogging, I began training for the BB10k. I ran my first BolderBOULDER in 2015, crossing the finish line in 41:38, placing 24th in my age group. I was thrilled. And then I saw the “Sub40 Club” t-shirts and I was hooked. Next year, I would run the BB10k in under 40 minutes and claim my shirt.
It became somewhat of an obsession. I began running again, lost nearly 35 pounds, and my whole family got behind me. It was a true group effort. When the 2016 BB10k rolled around, I set out to break the 40 minute barrier after a year of training and focus…and finished in 40:11, 8th in my age group. Despite the improvement, I was crushed (momentarily), and even more resolved to be over 40 (years old) and under 40 (minutes) in 2017. So another year of focus and training began.
On Sunday, the day before the BB10k, I had the privilege of sitting in on the elite athlete press conference. I was sitting with Mrs. Bosley, wife of co-founder Steve Bosley, when Frank Shorter came up to chat. While chatting with arguably the greatest American marathoner in history, a familiar face walked up, but I couldn’t place him. Until he bent down to hug Mrs. Bosley and she said, “Arturo, it’s so good to see you.” I spent the next several minutes chatting with my childhood running hero and his family, and as I left that press conference the first tears came. Why? I’m not sure. I think it just hit me that the BolderBOULDER had just given me the opportunity to not only meet, but interact and engage with a man I had once wanted to be, and it was powerful.
At 6:50 on Monday morning, I stood in my start wave corral ready to begin my 3rd BolderBOULDER, and my 2nd attempt at sub 40. I was determined not to look at my watch this time, as I believe I was too calculated last year and it cost me. I was just going to run. As I looked around, I saw tens of thousands of others, all ages, and abilities and backgrounds, just getting ready to run as well. And more tears came. Why? Nerves probably, and again I was aware that the BolderBOULDER was including me in their community, a community that doesn’t recognize race or status or age or anything, just a community that welcomes people that want to gather together every Memorial Day.
The gun went off, and my quest began. I felt great through 4 miles, and then started battling a bit. I had only glanced at my watch once, seeing my 3rd mile split, and satisfied I kept running, not knowing my actual time. As I made the right turn onto Folsom just after the 5th mile, doubt started creeping in. What if you feel good because you’re slower? What if you don’t make it? This wasn’t just my goal, my family and several friends were invested as well. The worried “what if’s” started flooding in as I gave it all I had up Folsom St. I knew I wanted to enter the stadium at around 38 minutes to hit my goal. As I crossed under the 6 mile banner on the hill just outside the stadium, I stole another glance at my watch. It read 38:36, and doubt gave way to panic.
I plowed into the stadium trying to muster a finishing kick, but my head was in no place to kick, and instead I felt like I was running through mud. I kept trying to glance at my watch (a big mistake) but couldn’t see it clearly (tears, panic, who knows?). Amazingly I could hear my wife in the stands cheering for me, and again I wanted to do this, not just for me but for her and my girls. I gave it all I had around the Folsom Field track, looking at my watch against my will, knowing that was slowing me down and still unable to see the numbers clearly. As I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, I didn’t know if I had made it or not. I then saw the numbers clearly: 39:54 (I was officially clocked at 39:52, 7th in my age group!). I was completely spent and completely satisfied at the same time…and no tears.
I happily walked through the sea of BB10k volunteers, probably the best group of volunteers in the nation, taking my water and lunch bag and words of encouragement, and began making my way across the stadium to my family. My 9yr old daughter spotted me first and ran to greet me. When I showed her my “Sub40 Club” certificate, she literally bounced up and down saying “You did it!” and ran off without me yet had my card in hand to show my wife, and more tears came. My wife had encouraged me on the way to the race to sing Matt Maher’s “Lord I Need You” when I felt like giving in, and the last 2 miles or so that was my soundtrack. My wife’s encouragement, my daughters’ excitement, knowing this was a family goal and the BolderBOULDER was becoming a beloved family tradition, all caused the tears to come again.
We spent the next 4 hours watching a sea of runners enter the stadium. Nearly 55,000 of them in a non-stop, steady stream. Some in costume, some pushing wheel chairs, some doing antics to try and see themselves on the stadium big screen, all having accomplished finishing this great race. As a group of Marines ran in, and thousands rose to their feet in a roar, I cried again. A little while later, some firefighters in full uniform entered, again greeted with a standing ovation, and more tears came. I don’t really know why, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
Then the elite races started, and we got to watch the drama unfold on the big screen. In the women’s race, two Ethiopian women quickly separated from the pack and the huge Ethiopian cheering section in front of us waved flags and roared the whole time they were on the screen. Suddenly, the stadium erupts and the two women charge into the stadium. After a little more than a half lap of deafening noise, Mamitu Daska from Ethiopia crossed the finish line in first, for the 5th time since 2009. More tears. A minute later, Lindsay Scherf of the US came onto the track trailing a Kenyan runner, but began gaining ground. I can’t explain the noise in the stadium, as she came up on the heels of her competitor. It was every bit as loud as an NFL stadium. Lindsay rode the wave of the crowd and gave the US much needed points in the team race. Just minutes later, the men’s field raced towards the stadium in a tight pack, led by American Olympian Leonard Korir. Again, deafening noise as the men sped onto the track, with Gabriel Geay of Tanzania edging Korir at the finish. More tears. Again, I don’t fully know why. The BolderBOULDER had given me an opportunity to watch some of the best runners in the world–many Olympic medalists and national record holders– compete and my family was by my side, with my girls dreaming of one day running with the Olympians.
All of this and we weren’t done yet. At noon, America’s largest Memorial Day celebration got under way. We were joined by some true American heroes, and heard the stories of a WWII nurse who was there at the liberation of a concentration camp, a Vietnam War medic who dedicated his life to saving others, and had many die in his arms, and a military chaplain who did what he could to comfort those who were dying. We were blessed with the Star Spangled Banner, trumpeted by a WWII vet who couldn’t quite muster the wind to play it smoothly, and I’ve never heard it played more beautifully. More tears. Freedom isn’t free, and these folks that sat on the field in front of us knew that perhaps better than anyone could know it. My family and I sat comfortably overlooking the majestic Colorado mountains, because so many have given everything to make sure we are free.
I thought I was done. I thought I was cried out. I had joyfully read text after text of support, scrolled through the dozens of social media posts offering their congrats to me, soaking in just how much of a community effort my race had been, and loving the new community of BolderBOULDER participants that we were now welcomed into and fully a part of. I wasn’t done though. As we were leaving, we were greeted by perhaps the best running coach ever, Joe Vigil. I had met him on Sunday as well, and now he was meeting my family and thanking me for introducing them to him. Next, 4x US Olympian Abdi Abdirahman was chatting up my 9yr old whom he had met last year and remembered because he liked her sunglasses. My youngest then got to adopt “her athlete,” Olympian Diego Estrada, whose gentle manner and kindness won her over.
That night I sat on the couch, feeling wonderfully full and so grateful to be next to my wife who had played such a huge part in this two year long goal, and she handed me her phone. I read a heart felt and heart wrenching post by elite US athlete Stephanie Bruce, detailing her sacrifice to be an elite athlete and her despair at having had a bad day (she finished 8th in 34:35). Her final words read, “Then you damn Boulder people started cheering GO USA, you ran great. On my cool down! So I cried and remembered yes it is worth it. I’d rather my heart be broken but have my heart beat so deeply for something.” So I cried one final time.
The BolderBOULDER isn’t just a race. It is a community. It is an event. It is a tradition. It is a place of healing for alcoholics and victims of bullying and parents struggling with the death of their young son. It has brought my family closer through a common shared goal that we all sacrificed for. My family wakes up at 5AM to make the drive to Boulder so I can run my race, and they stay til 1PM to take it all in, and there’s no complaining, just joy. The BolderBOULDER is America’s premier 10k road race, and it is so much more.