Among many other things, Colorado is famous for being a great place to run. It makes sense, then, that the state is chock-full of incredible races. I haven’t done nearly as many of them as I’d like to (I’ve never even run the famous BolderBoulder…pathetic, I know), but I have run some that stand out as fantastic. Here they are, with their dates for this year, in chronological order (from right now). All the names are linked to the race websites.
I first ran this race in 2009, the year before it became part of the Rock ‘n Roll series and was still the regular old Denver Marathon. Every year since, I’ve run either the full or the half, and I absolutely love both races. Both races start and finish in Denver’s Civic Center Park and take you on a nice little tour of Denver. Both courses take you past Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies), all around City Park (your spectators can catch you at least twice here), and through Cheesman Park. The full splits off at Cheesman and takes you through some more neighborhoods, over to Wash Park (another of Denver’s most popular parks), around some pretty ritzy neighborhoods, and finally back to Civic Center. The course is mostly pretty and very spectator-friendly — and the spectators are out in full force. From the bands to the cheer squads to the ordinary spectators, you’re never without someone to cheer you on.
(This is me finishing the half in 2010…such a flattering photo.)
The course is pretty flat; the only significant hill is in Cheesman Park, around mile 9 or 10. A smaller hill at mile 24ish feels brutal just because your legs are dead, but it’s short and spectator-packed, so it’s really not so bad.
I’ve heard some pretty crummy stuff about RnR races, but this is one of my absolute favorites. It’s always been well-organized, and I’ve never had a bad experience here. (Knocking on wood for October…)
I have done this race only once, in 2012, but definitely hope to run it again. It’s held at Bear Creek Lake State Park, which is a beautiful park near the Denver foothills. I ran the 10k, which was challenging but incredibly fun. The course is hilly…I got tricked by the early downhills and burned myself out early — which is part of why I want to run it again. I know better now.
Anyway, the course takes you past two lakes, which are frigid but beautiful, and along part of the bike path through the park. It’s not a very spectator-friendly course, but I actually kind of liked that. The field is small, so I was running alone a lot of the time, left to take in the beauty and try not to think about how my cheeks were freezing.
One of the best parts about the race was the post-race homemade banana bread. The day before, Racing Underground (who hosts the event) posted on Facebook that they were baking banana bread. So obviously it was pretty fresh, and it tasted SO GOOD. Seriously, that’s a big part of why I want to do this race again. Also, you get to have your picture taken with a yeti.
This race is now part of a three-part winter racing series: a 5k in December, the Yeti Chase in January, and a half in February. I’d love to do the whole series, but I’m not sure if it’s in the budget right now. Sigh.
Run to the Shrine 5k/10k: 2014 date not announced yet
The website still has the 2013 information up, but based on past years, I’m guessing it will be May 17. It benefits Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which is a pretty stellar cause.
This is the most challenging 10k I have ever run. Unless this is your first 10k, you will not PR. Not even close. The race runs up…waaaay up…to the Will Rogers Shrine at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. If you’ve never been there, here’s how the race website describes it: “The Run to the Shrine is a particularly demanding run due to the 8.5% gradient increase from the base of the Zoo (6,800 feet) to the Shrine (8,100 feet).” And that’s the first four miles. Yeah, it’s hard. I’ve never seen slower splits on my Garmin.
But then you get to run two miles DOWN that same hill to the finish line at the zoo. Yay, fast!
(This was before the race, so my quads are still attached.)
The best thing about this race is the camaraderie. In just about every race, people are nice, but the runners here are honestly the nicest people ever. Everyone encourages each other the whole way. And with that sweet downhill bit, you’ve got lots of breath to shout encouragement to those still climbing.
The second best thing about this race is the medal. The first year I ran, the first three males and females in each race got a medal made of elephant poo (freeze-dried and in plastic). Last year, it was rhino. Maybe I’m just gross, but I think that’s the coolest thing ever. I desperately want one. In 2012, I was fourth. Last year, I was fifth. I fully intend to come back in May and be at least third. I want a poo medal, dangit!
Also worth mentioning — the post-race party is at the zoo, and there are keepers out with different animals that you can look at and sometimes touch. You also get a day pass into the zoo free with entry. And it’s a pretty sweet zoo.
This was my first half (2009) and my second full (2011). The half course has been dramatically changed since I ran it (for the better — I hear it’s cool now), so I don’t think it’s fair for me to review it. I’ll talk about the full instead.
Like Rock ‘n Roll, Colfax gives you a pretty nifty tour of Denver — and you see things that you don’t during the fall marathon. It starts at City Park and runs along Colfax Avenue for a while, then drops onto the Cherry Creek bike path. The bike path goes through the heart of Denver, so you get to see some cool stuff — the Center for the Performing Arts with its statues, Elitch Gardens Amusement Park, and lots of downtown. Then, you run through Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos (this is new…when I ran it, we just ran around the stadium. Jealous.) You run around Sloan’s Lake (wave to my brother…he lives over there), through the campus of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, through some nice, ritzy neighborhoods that make you scared to even spit, and then back onto Colfax, where you see some of what Colfax is famous for (sketchiness), but it’s amusing. Finally, you backtrack through the stadium and on the bike path back to City Park and the finish.
(I don’t have any pictures from during the race, so here’s one from after with my brother and his girlfriend. It rained that year; hence my soggy noggin.)
I liked this race a lot. I’d love to do it again, but for the last couple of years, it’s been the same day as graduation. It is again in 2014. Lamesauce.
This is by far the most beautiful race I have ever run. Estes Park is one of Jordan and my favorite places, so that made this race even more fun for me. Estes is a mountain town, so although this is a road race, not a trail race, you’re still running in the mountains.
This is the view for pretty much the whole time. (Photo from the race website. I don’t know that guy.)
The course runs all around town, around Lake Estes, up by the Stanley Hotel…and never stops being stunning. It’s definitely a challenging race — I won the women’s division with a 3:37, my slowest-ever time (it was also super windy that year). It’s a small race (obviously), and spectators are spotty, but I loved every minute. If you’re a 50-stater and need a Colorado race, I’d say do this one, for sure.
That’s just a small sampling of the wonderful races Colorado has to offer. Try them out!
Colorado runners: Any races not on this list that I just have to try?
Non-Colorado runners: What races do I need to do if I come to your state?