This town on the eastern edge of the Rockies is a runner’s dream.
For all of its lofty acclaim, Magnolia Road is rather dusty and desolate.
But for the thousands of top-tier runners who have trod on the 10-mile stretch of rolling dirt road in the mountains west of Boulder, Colo., that’s the way it should be. That this hilly, high-altitude road has been a world-class training ground for numerous world champions, Olympic medalists and world record-holders — and perhaps more importantly, countless aspiring age-group runners — belies its rather unremarkable appearance.
In fact, if Magnolia Road, situated near 8,500 feet above sea level, were anywhere else in the U.S., it might just be another rugged, rolling road. Instead, an ambitious local running population counts it as one of several dozen great places to run in and around Boulder, a place often referred to as America’s running mecca.
“Boulder is definitely a great place to run,” says Patrick Rizzo, a 29-year-old Chicago transplant who placed 13th in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. “It’s got everything you’d ever need or want, and it’s sunny and mild year-round.”
Boulder isn’t the only so-called running mecca in the country. Eugene, Ore., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Bend, Ore., are also great places to live and run, but Boulder has always carried extra cache and marquee value because of the high-profile athletes who call it home.
Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter started it, moving to town in 1970 to train before becoming a household name with his gold medal at the 1972 Games. Since then, the city has been part-time or full-time home to hundreds of world-class runners, including Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes, Arturo Barrios, Lorraine Moller, Rob de Castella, Uta Pippig, Colleen De Reuck, Kara Goucher, Benita Willis and Constantita Dita, among others. Lately, 1500m world champion Jenny Simpson, Olympic steeplechaser Emma Coburn and ultrarunning stars Dave Mackey, Scott Jurek, Tony Krupicka, Timmy Olson, Krissy Moehl, Sage Canaday and Darcy Africa are among the top runners who call Boulder home.
But even more than Boulder’s elite-level residents, it’s the fitness-savvy mentality of the average citizen that gives the city of 100,000 its uber-athletic demeanor. There is an inordinately high number of age-group marathoners, ultrarunners, masters track runners and Ironman finishers, meaning there’s always someone to join you — and push the pace — on a long run, track workout or trail adventure.
Combined with the city’s proactive policies for open space preservation — not to mention its vast network of dirt trails and the iconic Flatiron mountains — Boulder is a place that inspires you to spend as much time being active outdoors as possible.
“I think what makes Boulder special is that everybody has a passion for running,” says Shorter, who is credited as being one of the progenitors of the original running boom in the U.S. “In the 1970s, Boulder earned a reputation as a great place to run, but really it was only a handful of fast guys. Now everybody is running.”
Where To Run
Boulder has more than 200 miles of off-road running routes within close proximity to the center of town, ranging from flat concrete bike paths, smooth, rolling dirt paths and very rocky mountain trails. Among the most popular places to run are Boulder Creek Path (5.5 miles), Boulder Valley Ranch (10 miles), Walker Ranch Loop (8 miles) and Mesa Trail (7 miles), but numerous connections between open space trails allow for variable length runs with just about any type of terrain and elevation gain desired.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness Area about 25 miles west of town is a popular summer training ground with numerous long, high-altitude routes up and over the Continental Divide. The best resources for trails can be found at bouldercolorado.gov, boulderrunning.com and bouldertrails.org.
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Where To Race
Held every Memorial Day, The Bolder Boulder 10K (Late May; bolderboulder.com) is one of the world’s largest races with more than 50,000 entrants in recent years, but the winding neighborhood course (and energetic spectators lining the streets the entire way) helps it retain the small-town feel it had when it was founded in 1979. Other local races include the Dash ’n’ Dine 5K Series (Tuesday nights in the spring; withoutlimits.co), Run Happy Half Marathon (early May, raceroster.com/events/2015/4604/run-happy-half-marathon-10k) Pearl Street Mile (mid-July; boulderdowntown.com) and the newly rejuvenated Boulder Backroads Marathon and Half Marathon (late September, heartandsolehalf.com)
Where To Shop
Boulder is blessed with many great running stores, including Boulder Running Company (2775 Pearl St.; boulderrunningcompany.com), Fleet Feet Boulder (2624 Broadway; fleetfeetboulder.com), Newton Running Lab (1300 Walnut St.; newtonrunning.com),
In-Step (629 S. Broadway; instepbldr.com) and Sports Authority Elite (1750 29th St.; sportsauthority.com). There are also several outdoor shops that sell trail running gear, including REI (1789 28th St.; rei.com) and Outdoor Divas (2317 30th St.; outdoordivas.com).
Where To Eat And Drink
Boulder has become a real foodie town in recent years, with numerous top-rated restaurants scattered around the popular Pearl Street pedestrian mall. At the top of the list is OAK at Fourteenth (1400 Pearl St.), which happens to be co-owned by two-time U.S. 50K trail running champ Bryan Dayton. OAK is known for its new American cuisine (for example, the coffee-cured tender belly pork tenderloin) and innovative cocktails. Frasca Food and Wine (1738 Pearl St.), Jax Fish House (928 Pearl St.) and The Kitchen (1039 Pearl St.) are other top picks, but if you just want to gorge on a juicy burger post-run be sure to visit Larkburger (2525 Arapahoe Ave.) or Rueben’s Burger Bistro (1800 Broadway).
Boulder is typically sunny and mild most of the year, with the exception of a three-week spell in late July to mid-August where temps can spike above the mid-90s. Otherwise, highs are usually in the mid-70s to mid-80s from May through September with evening lows in the low 50s. There’s very little humidity and only occasional and very brief afternoon thunderstorms in Boulder, but the weather can change quickly and drastically in the higher mountains west of town.
The Boulder Road Runners (boulderroadrunners.org) host a series of six community track meets every summer on the first and third Tuesday evenings in June, July and August.
This piece first appeared in the May 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.