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Boulder’s boldest runners impress in suits, even anti-gravity pants

Boulder’s boldest runners impress in suits, even anti-gravity pants


ROCK At 87, Mark Maloney sped through downtown at 104 feet per minute thanks in part to a pair of anti-gravity pants.

A quadriplegic and Vietnam veteran, Maloney was among thousands of runners who converged on the streets for this year’s Bolder Boulder 10K race, but he was likely the one in a cutting-edge Lite Run exosuit. The spacesuit-inspired device operated by pneumatic controls is normally used for physical rehabilitation and creates a feeling of weightlessness for its user.

“Once he’s in the device, he rides it,” said Lite Run CEO Michael Benkawski, who timed Maloney’s speed as he ran about 1 mile inside the suit.

The octogenarians’ unlikely return to running after a spinal cord injury three years ago was a fitting tribute to Boulder’s 10K marquee, an annual showcase of the quirky and the inspiring. The event continued this year with over 40,000 competitors, a Memorial Day celebration inside Folsom Field and adoring crowds of spectators.

Mark Maloney is a veteran who served 22 years in the military.
Mark Maloney is a veteran who served 22 years in the local and international military. He completed 1 mile of Bolder Boulder this year. (Manuel Novik, The Colorado Sun)
The LiteRun device used by Mark Maloney helps the patient use their own gait.
The LiteRun device used by Maloney to run in the BolderBoulder. The device applies anti-gravity science with air pressure that allows for a mild ripple effect. (Manuel Novik, The Colorado Sun)

Some fans set up chairs and tables to people watch. Others cheered with megaphones and beers, or doused competitors with a water hose. Many others woke up disoriented to the shouting and live music blaring at certain points along the route.

Bolder Boulder attracts runners of all kinds: amateur athletes looking for good athletic performance. People running in suits or pajamas. The families who showed up to compete together. And of course, professional athletes lured by the prize-heavy racing purses.

Between 1979 and 2019, more than a million people took part. The race was held virtually in 2020. A socially distanced version was held in 2021. After returning to normal in 2022, with over 35,000 people, the race attracted an even bigger field this year. The event, which also features performing arts, brings in approximately $10 million to the city each year.

Participants run through the streets of Boulder.
Some runners participated with custom outfits they wore in the heat of BolderBoulder on Monday. (Manuel Novik, The Colorado Sun)

A traditional Memorial Day ceremony at Folsom Field on the University of Colorado campus included flyovers of F-16s, paratroopers, a rifle salute and remembrances of veterans’ war stories.

An outdoor story

The Bolder Boulder was born over four decades ago.

In 1967, Boulder became the first city in the nation to tax the management of public space, resulting in significant investment in the outdoors. The city has 200 miles of public hiking and biking trails and 43,000 acres of open space.

By the 1970s, Boulder’s 5,400-foot elevation began to seriously attract elite athletes. The first was Frank Shorter, who arrived in 1970, seduced by the altitude and the indoor track that Boulder offered for winter training. Shorter won gold and silver medals in the marathon at the next two editions of the Olympic Games in 1972 and 1976. Gradually more and more athletes moved to the city and brought with them a huge industry around outdoor sports.

In 1979, Shorter approached then-Bank of Boulder President Steve Bosley to create a race in the city. The first edition attracted 2,700 participants, making it one of the most popular races of that time. The winner of this first event was Ric Rojas, who beat Shorter by 24 seconds.

Over the years, the race has maintained a laid-back vibe, though recently athletes have become more tied to marquee sports clubs and the University of Colorado.

Some athletes win scholarships, thanks to the presence of university recruiters. Others, like Rojas and Shorter, have stayed connected to running with coaching and sports branding businesses.

“There is a million dollar industry today in Boulder,” said racing director Cliff Bosley, son of Steve Bosley. There are very large companies that have settled here.

Rojas’ daughter, Nell, also won the competition in 2019. With her father’s guidance, Nell became one of the top marathon runners in the United States, having competed in the 2020 Olympics and finishing in the top 10 of the Boston and New York marathons. And she already has her sights set on the Olympic marathon trials in February.

Nell Rojas attended the 43rd edition of BolderBoulder to officiate the start of the race.
Nell Rojas attended the 43rd edition of BolderBoulder to officiate the start of the Memorial Day race. Rojas won the 2019 edition. (Manuel Novik, Le Soleil du Colorado)

While attending the Memorial Day ceremony, Nell greeted friends and acquaintances in the stadium stands. She called the race a family tradition. “We have been part of the running community here. Here there are trails, coaches, support. It’s just the place for runners. The father and daughter were the official starters for the 2023 edition.

Nell Rojas did triathlons professionally for a while, but couldn’t make any money. In 2018, she attempted a marathon and finished seventh. Since then, she has become one of the best in the country. She has also developed a coaching business for professional and amateur athletes. This year’s winner of the women’s amateur category, Molly Grabill, trains with her team.

A race for amateurs and professionals

The registration of thousands of amateurs makes it possible to award prizes to professional athletes. This year, the top prize was $8,000 for men and women in the individual categories and $6,000 for teams. Cliff Bosley says it’s a challenge to attract elite athletes because unlike marathons and other running events, there is no formal circuit for 10k races. Each operates independently. “There are more races than athletes,” Bosley said.

Today, the Bolder Boulder is the seventh busiest race in the country. But not being the biggest race isn’t something that worries Cliff. He’s happy to have been named Runners World magazine’s best 10k racer of all time in America in 2010. “We want to be the best,” he says.

Thousands of people running down an avenue in Boulder.
The race had categories for amateurs, elite runners, walkers and wheelchair competitors. More than 40,000 people registered for the 43rd annual BolderBoulder held on Memorial Day. (Manuel Novik, The Colorado Sun)

Another challenge is that many elite athletes choose to run marathons, often putting the 10k on the back burner. Despite everything, 18 men and 15 women came to compete this year in the elite divisions. The winners were Americans Conner Mantz in 29 minutes, 8 seconds and Emily Durgin in 33 minutes, 24 seconds. Mantz won by 3 seconds, while Durgin led by 24 seconds. The athletes received a standing ovation from thousands of fans as they entered Folsom Field. No athlete has yet broken the record set in 1995 by Josephat Machuka of Kenya at 27 minutes, 52 seconds.

One of the elite runners, Luke Caldwell, 31, arrived at the finish line exhausted after running nearly 30 minutes in the 10km. The Boulder-based British rider came in 14th place, less than a minute from first. This year he has run the London Marathon and is preparing for the Berlin Marathon, both of which are part of the “big six” circuit. Caldwell, a physicist at the University of Colorado, lives and works in Boulder. He has raced professionally in the UK and USA since 2014.

For the team category, Caldwell said the group had a difficult task. Two of the guys on the team don’t live here. I tried to give some advice, but there’s so much you can do in two days,” he said of the altitude that makes competing in Boulder such a challenge.

Luke Caldwell represented Great Britain. The athlete greeted fans at Folsom Field. (Manuel Novik, The Colorado Sun)

Tribute to Memorial Day

During the Memorial Day ceremony at Folsom Field, a trumpeter played the national anthem and four F-16s flew overhead. Members of the Mile-Hi Sky Diving team parachuted into the stadium with flags representing each branch of the military. A rifle salute was given by the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Cris Crisfield, a finish line volunteer and 17-year veteran of the race, thinks there’s something unique about this annual tradition.

“One of the secrets is that we have dedicated volunteers who believe in what this race does for the city,” said Crisfield, a retired minister from Longmont. “As Cliff says, it’s like running a business where you have a chance to make your customers happy. Just one.”




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