Running Through My Mind: Colorado’s Impressive Athletic Scene

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You may have noticed I didn’t write a column last week, and that’s because I was exploring the beautiful state of Colorado! Although I was on vacation and away from my desk, the endurance world was not out of sight or mind.

My boyfriend Dan and I drove the exciting 16 hours across Iowa and Nebraska with really no plan; we had hotels in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, and knew we wanted to hike, but really didn’t do much prior research. I did know, however, that a lot of athletes lived out there, but wasn’t really sure why. Well, I found out.

Our first full day, we went to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre to see the venue and parks around it. We drove up the long and winding road, parked in the main lot, and headed towards the staircase where the stage was. Once we walked up a few steps, I shot a look over to Dan and he had the same, exhausted expression on his face that I had on mine. Why was walking up a staircase so hard?

Now we weren’t totally oblivious; we knew Denver was called the “mile high” city, and had heard people tell us about how the air is thinner there due to the elevation. But what we weren’t expecting was to be completely winded after walking up a staircase – all to find out the amphitheater was closed that day to set up for the night’s concert. So, back down we went.


We continued to walk around the area, found another staircase that was a bit more of a hike, and went around hoping to find another view of the stage. As we explored, we saw many bikers and runners passing us by as if they weren’t going up a mountain on an 85-degree day. And this was the scene for the rest of the week; everywhere we looked, people were running, biking or harnessed to a mountain and causally climbing up it, while I was completely drained from walking a marked hiking trail.

“Everyone’s legs here are so muscular,” Dan said to me one day when we were shopping in Downtown Boulder. I then took notice of that as well; I guess Colorado is not only a popular place for athletes, but nearly everyone in Colorado IS an athlete. Heck, there were people climbing to the top of rocks at Garden of the Gods (pictured above), and bikers going up Pikes Peak when we drove up it – which is a 19-mile ride with an elevation of 14,115 feet! There must be something in the water.

I’ll admit I didn’t run the entire week I was there, which I regret for the obvious fact that I’m struggling to get my mileage up again, but also because I would have liked to experience the difficulty. Just from our hiking days, though, I understand why so many go out there to train and stay in shape; the dry air required me to consume more water in a short time period, and the lack of air at higher altitudes was hard to keep a consistent pace, even while walking. In general, the conditions create a more difficult training environment, and when I go back, I will definitely go running and see if it affects the way I feel when I run again in Chicago.

When I was writing Olympic-related articles, I had wondered why so many athletes were residing in Colorado, despite their hometowns being elsewhere; aside from the fact that the U.S. Olympic Training Center is in Boulder, I also think it’s because of those extreme conditions. To me, Colorado felt like it’s own country, and people who can compete there should have their own Olympic team.

Quick tip: If you are interested in participating in the athletic scene in Colorado, or just want to see the beautiful mountains (which I highly recommend, pictures do not do it justice), but have never been there before, be careful. Dan had a consistent headache the first day and a half we were there, and I got a random bloody nose from the dry air, and that’s really not that bad; some people get nauseous, shortness of breath or feel lethargic due to the change in altitude, and my friend we visited said she had some of those symptoms when she first moved out there. Many websites recommend staying in Denver first (we just happened to schedule our trip that way), to assimilate to the elevation that tends to be higher in other areas of the state. And don’t push yourself too hard! Take it easy and be sure to stay hydrated.

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