Events morphing to innovative, in-person races at multiple locations over multiple days
By: Brian Metzler
The Bolder Boulder 10K has long been one of America’s iconic road races with a sense of inclusivity for elite runners, weekend warriors, joggers and walkers.
For years, more than 50,000 people flocked to Boulder to run the Memorial Day race known for its stadium finish at the University of Colorado. This year, because of the lingering concerns about Covid-19, it hopes to offer the same kind of running buzz as an in-person race at six remote locations in Front Range communities north and south of Denver from May 29-31.
Last year, the Bolder Boulder postponed its annual Memorial Day 10K and later hoped to combine it with its Fortitude 10K in Fort Collins on Labor Day Weekend, only to postpone that race, too. It did manage to gain a few thousand participants for its virtual races and converted its Colder Boulder 5K into a fun 12 Days of Colder Boulder virtual event in December. But as Bolder Boulder race director Cliff Bosley says, this business is all about the sense of community of showing up at an event and running together.
After organizing another small virtual event with a Valentine’s Day theme in February, Bosley and his team started pursuing the idea of hosting this year’s Bolder Boulder as an in-person event at numerous venues. With a tip of the cap to the organizers of the Richmond Marathon and Monument Avenue 10K in Virginia, the innovative “Bolder on the Run” concept was born.
“We were one foot in and one foot out and didn’t know if we were going to be able to run in-person in May or not,” Bosley said. “So ‘Bolder on the Run’ was an idea that suddenly made sense. If people couldn’t come to Boulder, we could bring the Bolder Boulder to them. It’s interesting to think a lot differently, but we’re glad to be here still and still involved in encouraging runners.”
Bosley is quick to credit the concept and efforts of Megan Silva Schultz and Meghan Keogh of the Virginia-based Sports Backers, a non-profit sports commission that organizes numerous running and cycling events. The Sports Backers held the Covid-postponed Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K last September at four locations over three days. The event wasn’t timed, but it drew 3,500 runners and validated its hybrid in-person racing concept.
That led to the VCU Richmond Marathon, Half Marathon and 8K being held as Covid-modified in-person races on marked, measured and timed courses over 16 days between Nov. 7-22. About 2,750 runners participated — well short of the 19,000 or so those races normally attract — but Keogh says providing an opportunity for runners to train for an event was part of the motive for the hybrid races.
“Last summer, we were trying to figure out ways to do things, as opposed to just going virtual,” says Keogh, director of events for Sports Backers. “Our most important thing is the safety of our community and our people and our participants. But we wanted to find ways for people to get out. We know how important physical activity is for people’s mental health, even more so than their physical health, during these trying times.”
Everyone in the running industry is hoping that running returns to normal by the fall, but so far it’s still mostly at a standstill. The Gate River Run successfully held its 15K and 5K events with about 7,000 runners on March 20 in Jacksonville, Fla., but that’s been the only sizable running race in the U.S. since the LA Marathon drew 20,000-plus in March 2021.
With other big spring races like the Lilac Bloomsday 12K and Bay to Breakers going virtual and the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, Carlsbad 5000, and the LA Marathon pushed later on the calendar, the Bolder Boulder 10K has the potential to be the next big race that takes place as an in-person event — even though it will likely happen with far fewer than the 50,000-plus it has averaged for the past 15 years and it doesn’t yet have a title sponsor.
Each of the Bolder Boulder venues will offer marked, measured and timed courses that will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. When runners register at bolderboulder.com, they have to choose their preferred location and a two-hour time slot for their run. The race entry fee is $49 and includes a cotton T-shirt and bandana but both can be donated to support one of the Bolder Boulder’s overseas military base runs.
Bosley doesn’t yet have any indication of how many runners will sign up for the Bolder on the Run, but he said having six venues over three days and seven two-hour time blocks will give plenty of flexibility. The race has put participant caps on their event that is equal to 50 percent of the Covid precautionary guidelines for each venue, he said.
“I’m excited about it. It’s kind of a transition year, like a walk before you get to run kind of year,” Bosley says. “For us, it’s really all about just wanting to get back to the fun and community of in-person running. That’s what this business is all about.”
In a similar format, the Kentucky Derby Festival will hold its marathon on April 24 and its half marathon on April 22-25 as in-person races in Louisville, Kent., for about 6,500 total runners on timed courses with self-serve water stations via 25-runner starting groups between 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. each day. Meanwhile, the 2021 Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K, which is typically held in late March, will be held as an in-person race on two chip-timed courses in Richmond over four days between June 3-6. Adult registration fees will range from $30 to $50 on a sliding scale based on the date of registration.
“We’re very hopeful that once we can get back out there we’ll see an increase in participation,” Keogh said. “But I think it’s also given us an opportunity to rethink how we do things. We were kind of forced to change things and now we’ve implemented some new ways of doing things that might stay even if we do go back to in-person racing experiences.”