It was snowing this week in Boulder, but the forecast calls for 60-degree weather on Saturday.
1. This will be one of the best running events in the U.S. this year.
On Feb. 7 in Boulder, Colo., America’s top cross country runners will battle a strong field, a challenging course and mile-high elevation in the hopes of making Team USA for the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China in late March. Cross country is always a blood-and-guts kind of race, but even more so when the chance to represent the red, white and blue is on the line.
Many top U.S. distance runners are expected to compete in the races at Flatirons Golf Course, which is hosting the races for the third time in the past eight years. Among the top seeds in the men’s 12K open race are two-time defending U.S. champion Chris Derrick, Ben True (sixth in the world championships in 2013), three-time U.S. champion Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:10 marathoner Ryan Vail, 2014 U.S. half-marathon championships runner-up Aaron Braun and rising star Jacob Riley. In the women’s 8K open race, the headliners are 1:10 half-marathoners Sara Hall and Anne Bersagel and rising young stars Laura Thweatt, Addie Bracy, Neely Spence-Gracey and Matti Suver.
Derrick appears to be in prime form after a victory in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Jan. 10.
“What I love about this particular race is that the time of year means that athletes have been training for this for quite a few months and they’re chomping at the bit to race, so it’s always very competitive,” says event director Sean Nesbitt. “You’ll have some of the best 5K guys in there and some of the best marathoners in there and everyone in between. And time doesn’t matter in cross country. It’s just a great racing—true, raw, running. It’s a lot of one-on-one competition out there. In championship years like this, it always brings out some of the best runners and that will be the case this year.”
2. Ritz is back in Boulder!
Dathan Ritzenhein, a three-time U.S. cross country champ and former University of Colorado All-American, has decided to return to the place he once called home during his college years and race in this year’s championships. Ritzenhein, who recently decided to part ways with Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project and relocate back to Michigan to pursue a coaching career, is coming off a string of impressive cross country performances with a win at the Campaccio Cross Country Run in Italy and a third-place showing at the Great Edinburgh XCountry International Challenge in Scotland. Ritzenhein says he’s racing the cross country championships to support the Boulder community that supported him for six years of his career, but he’s also very much gunning for a fourth U.S. XC title.
“I have always had success in XC and really enjoy being on the turf. Heading into the Boston Marathon I want to race more often. 12K at altitude will be a great opportunity to challenge myself and it will be a good turning point in training 10 weeks out from the marathon,” Ritzenhein said in a press release story published on the site of the race organizing group. “U.S. XC being in Boulder is very exciting for me personally. Eight years ago when it was in Boulder, there were four former CU [University of Colorado] NCAA champions in the race. This year I will be the only one in the field. I hope I can give it my best and try and win the title like Alan Culpepper did in 2007.”
3. Laura Thweatt is the real deal.
Sometimes at national championship events, runners emerge out of the shadows and take flight. Last year, Amy Van Alstine, a member of the Northern Arizona Elite squad in Flagstaff, Ariz., outran two-time Olympic track runner Jenny Simpson for the victory. This year, Laura Thweatt, a two-time defending champion of the U.S. club cross country championships, leads the women’s field. The former University of Colorado runner is starting to come into her own under the guidance of Boulder Track Club coach Lee Troop. In 2013, finished third at the .US National Road Racing Championships 12K behind Molly Huddle and Shalane Flanagan. In May, after signing a pro deal with Saucony, she ran 15:04.98 in the 5,000m at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I absolutely love cross country, it is my favorite discipline to race,” Thweatt said in a press release on BoulderUSACross.com. “So to have nationals right here in Boulder is extremely special. Training has been going great, now all that’s left to do is get there and have some fun.”
4. It’s not just about the pros.
In addition to the open women’s 8K race and the open men’s 12K race that conclude the day, the event also has a 6K women’s masters race, an 8K men’s masters race, 4K races for high school girls and boys, plus a 6K junior women’s race and an 8K junior men’s race.
“Registrations are up, both over last year and over 2007 as well, so that’s good,” Nesbitt says. “I was trying to do some historical tracking over previous races in other cities and it looks like we’re pretty high up compared to other championships in recent years.”
5. It’s not about the money, either—but it helps.
The 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships will offer the largest prize money package in history, as runners will have the chance to compete for a total prize purse of $50,000. The championships are a USATF Running Circuit “Super Circuit” event, offering bonus points for top-10 finishes. Sponsors include USATF, Boulder Running Company, Competitor, Miller Heiman, CRM Culture, Boulder Convention & Visitors Bureau, Boulder Road Runners and the Bolder Boulder. “Without Bolder Boulder’s commitment to U.S. athlete development, reaching a $50,000 goal would have been impossible,” Nesbitt says.
6. If you’re in Colorado, go watch the race!
At the 2007 U.S. cross country championships in Boulder, an estimated 7,500 fans showed up to watch the races. That year, Alan Culpepper won his third U.S. title, outlasting Ritzenhein, Adam Goucher and Jorge Torres to win the men’s race, while Deena Kastor outran Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher in the women’s race to win her seventh national cross country title. Last year (which was not a qualifier for a world championship race) drew about 1,000 fans.
Said Thweatt: “I expect the atmosphere on race day to be electric given the appreciation for the sport here, not only from those watching but from all those who are toeing the line themselves. I can’t wait!”
RELATED: Destination—Boulder, Colo.
The course is set up to be extremely spectator friendly.
“In some cross country meets, you might see the start and the first 200 meters and then you’ll see them come down the homestretch to the finish line,” Nesbitt says. “In this race, there are so many great vantage points. You can see every action going on, whether that’s jumping through a creek or going over a little berm or somebody making a big move. You’ll be able to see and hear all of those kinds of things.”
Plus, there’s a Run, Jump & Throw Competition for kids that will be going all morning long. The event, sponsored by Hershey’s, will include a series of jumps, throwing events, sprints and relays.
7. You can watch the races from anywhere.
The second stop on the USATF Running Circuit, the 2015 U.S. cross country championships will air live on USATF.tv with highlights and interviews available on demand.
For more information about the 2015 U.S. cross country championships, go to BoulderUSACross.com