In 1970, Boulder, Colorado, was the only town above 5,000 feet in the United States that had a permanent indoor track. That alone was reason enough for Frank Shorter to pack his bags. “I could do interval training all year round,” says Shorter, who had just graduated from Yale and was training for the 1972 Olympic marathon. “That’s why I moved there. I didn’t know it had 300 days a year of sunshine and was the best place in the world to live.”
At that time, the running community was just beginning to understand the benefits of training at altitude. And at 5,400 feet above sea level, Boulder seemed optimal. “I was the first athlete to intentionally move here to train," says Shorter, who coached himself and went on to win gold in Munich. “I had a pretty good idea of how to go down to sea level from altitude and race—what the adjustment periods were.”
Since then, the Boulder running scene has boomed. “I would go to the indoor track in 1970, and there would be the University of Colorado track and cross-country team in there, and then about four other people—that was it,” Shorter says. “But, over time, more and more people began to realize it worked.”
When Shorter started several retail businesses in town, he made a practice of hiring recent college graduates who were also runners (among them Stan Mavis and Herb Lindsay). “It was a whole community of people who came out to run,” he says. “We created an environment here that was very inclusive.”
And that inclusivity extends beyond running. After all, what is Boulder without triathletes? Well, Shorter can be thanked for bringing them to town, too. He attended his first Ironman World Championship in 1982. “And guess who told the triathletes about Boulder?" he asks. “Me. Other people found that, for them, Boulder was just right, too. Sort of a Goldilocks thing.”
Local race director Cliff Bosley agrees. "Frank picking Boulder at the time he did popularized altitude running; it really created an influx of runners—and all endurance athletes—who came, and still come, to Boulder."
Shorter maintains that it's not only the athletes, but people of all stripes who thrive in Boulder. “People think the granola-crunchers control what’s going on, but that isn’t the case,” he says. “It’s a city where no one subculture dominates. And by subculture, I mean the university, the business community, and the sports scene.” If you want to excel in your field, Shorter argues, you’ll find support in Boulder.
And he would know. In the late ’70s, Shorter suggested to Steve Bosley, president of the Bank of Boulder (and Cliff's father), that a 10K road race might do well in their town. On May 27, 1979, 2,700 runners, including Shorter, completed the inaugural Bolder Boulder, making it one of the largest first-time races in the state.
"When the race was started, a lot of the early credibility happened as a result of the fact that guys like Ric Rojas and Frank Shorter agreed to run," says race director Bosley. "And so right from the beginning, having world-class athletes was, and continues to be, a part of the Bolder Boulder."
In 1981, the University of Colorado agreed to have the race finish at its Folsom Field Stadium; by 1983, the field had grown large enough to warrant a wave start. In 2011, a record 54,554 runners registered, making it the third-largest 10K in the country.
Shorter thinks many participants use the race as an excuse for a reunion of sorts. “They come because they have relatives here, or they went to school here, or they have friends here; it’s truly something that people plan for the whole year,” he says. “The experience is being here and doing it with people you know, even for the people who come from out of state.”
This year’s Bolder Boulder takes place on Monday, May 26. Shorter will be the official starter, which requires a different type of endurance than running. He'll have to fire the starting gun 94 times—once for each wave. Thankfully, he's been training at altitude.
Need to Know About Boulder:
43 miles from the Denver airport.
Boulder has made several of Outside’s Best Towns lists, most recently in 2012 and 2011.
In the July issue of Outside, we took a wild ride down the freed Colorado River and let Clint Dempsey fire soccer balls at us in an enclosed studio. And we brought our cameras along too. Feast your eyes.
What happens when you let America's best striker in front of a camera with a soccer ball? Some amazing footwork. And a lot of ducking:
The 2014 Colorado River Pulse Flow gave a ragtag group of Outside reporters and environmentalists the chance to paddle where no man has paddled before —or at least in a very long time. Pete McBride takes us along for the ride:
Pro beach volleyball player Todd Rogers lives less than half an hour from the Pacific Coast. But surprisingly, the beach isn’t his favorite thing about living in sunny Solvang, California. “It is focused on families and children,” says the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, who moved to town in August 2002, when his kids were 3 and 1. “People are friendly, and everyone knows everyone else—I could never get that in a big city.”
Located in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, Rogers says Solvang operates at a slow pace. "That is why my wife and I moved here," he says. "Neither of us are into the hustle and bustle of the city. We like to enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir on our porch while enjoying the natural view."
Here’s what else the five-time AVP world champ has to say about life in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Describe Solvang. The Santa Ynez Valley is made up of five small little towns: Solvang, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Los Olivos, and Ballard. Solvang, where I live, is a quaint Danish town with windmills, wineries, and great places to eat. The Santa Ynez river runs through it, and it is bordered by the coastal mountains.
One thing most people don't know about Solvang? It isn't as big of a secret as it used to be, but the wine industry is blowing up here. We are becoming well known for our Pinot Noir and the Santa Rita Hills Appellation. Once the movie Sideways came out, people started buying up all the Pinots from the area.
Favorite place to get outside? The Santa Ynez River. It runs through the entire area, and I am down there almost everyday running, walking my dogs, jumping in with my kids, or generally exploring what the river has to offer.
Best time of year to visit? All year long in my opinion, but I am biased. Weather-wise, either spring or fall are the best times. Usually it is a bit nippy (50 degrees or so) in the mornings, but warms up to around 80 in the afternoons.
Best restaurant? Trattoria Grappolo. This quaint little Italian restaurant has been the go-to restaurant for my wife and me since it was opened about ten years ago by immigrant Italian brothers. Great wine list, great food, and great ambiance for both locals and tourists.
Must-see attraction? The city of Solvang itself is great. Spend a day going into wine tasting bars, eating delicious Danish food, and shopping. Another favorite spot of mine is Sunstone Winery. You'll feel like you're in France or Italy. Ask about the "Villa" while you are there. Simply amazing!
Best place to stay? My house because we have a beach volleyball court! But if you aren't invited there, I've always liked the Hadsten House.
Need to Know:
Solvang is 130 miles from the Los Angeles airport, and 300 miles from the San Francisco airport.
BUDDY UP:Train and race with a partner. When you know someone else is suffering with you, you’ll be less inclined to let them down—and vice versa. It’ll also help ease race-day worries. It’s a good format for success.
GET A TIRE: Go to a tire shop, get a free used tire, drill a hole in it, put a rope through the hole, then drag that thing everywhere. If you can slog out several miles doing that, you’ll be well prepared for the mental strains you’ll experience in a race, because you’ll be working for every step.
HIT THE HILLS: More and more of these races seem to take place on ski slopes, with serious elevation gain. Go find a big hill and run up and down it, perhaps with a weighted pack. Don’t do it every day—you want to give your body time to repair itself. But you definitely want to simulate this race condition in training.
PROTECT YOUR ARMS: I’ve been wearing OCR Gear’s Pro Arm compression sleeves ($30). They work really well when you’re going under barbed-wire-crawl sections. They protect your elbows from getting scratched. Get a dark color, so the mud doesn’t stain and you can reuse them.
TRACK YOUR PROGRESS: A GPS watch is immensely helpful for someone like me who feeds on information. It can tell you how far along you are, so you’re not wondering how much is left and you can give a strong finish. The Garmin Forerunner 310XT ($250) is a good fit for obstacle racing. It’s rugged, it’s waterproof, and it gives you more info than you’ll ever need.