Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series from Boulder-based writer Lara Robinson on the effects the September 12 flood had on trails, running, racing and politics associated with open space usage on the Front Range. In this article Lara interviews Race Directors Reid Delman of 24 Hours of Boulder and David Manthey of the Bear Chase Trail Endurance Festival.
The September 12 flood shut down, postponed or altered race events all over the region. Boulder canceled any race occurring on City property for the remainder of 2013; all available resources were routed to infrastructure and emergency cleanup.
Everything from 5k’s to fun runs, marathons to trail races were canceled or postponed. It was hard to find a semblance of normalcy in the devastating flood and racing seemed like the bottom of the list of important events. After much internal discussion and conversations with public officials, two races went on as planned, though both were affected in some ways.
Gemini Adventure’s 24 Hours of Boulder was able to continue due to the race being 100% contained on Boulder Reservoir property, and Race Director Reid Delman added several events to the epic weekend of running. The full line up contained a 24 hour ultra event, 100M, 100k, 6 hr fun run, relays, duo and solo options. He offered a discount to folks registered for the canceled Boulder Marathon as an alternative race. Nine athletes enjoyed the special discount, and participated in the weekend events of ultra running.
The Bear Chase Trail Races feature a weekend of running. Saturday’s scheduled events include the 100k, 50M and 50k races. Sunday is a fun morning of running with the Half Marathon starting at 6:30am and the 10k gun time an hour later. The flooding this year changed logistics and start times on several races, but due to some creative thinking and hard work, all distances remained viable though not as they were originally envisioned.
Race Directors David Manthey of the Bear Chase Trail Races and Reid Delman of 24 Hours of Boulder were gracious enough to discuss the effects flooding had on their races this year, and what might happen in the future. Their perspectives are unique in that 24 Hours of Boulder, while being located in Boulder, was generally unaffected by the flooding and the Bear Chase Race was heavily impacted. Both RD’s are hopeful the races will continue next year as usual, though it remains to be seen how Bear Creek Lake Park will recover from the flood damage and what (if any) re-routes to trails will occur.
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Interview excerpts with Reid Delman, Race Director of 24 Hours of Boulder:
RD: We had a lot of moments where we were concerned that the race wouldn’t occur. The majority of the race is that same as ever. We’re working together with the Cyclocross Championships this year and they had to make some changes to their course. We had to change our Base Camp/turnaround area to accommodate their changes.
TAUR: You offered a discount to people registered for the (canceled) Boulder Marathon. How many people have taken you up on that discount? What events are they signed up for?
RD: We had 9 people take us up on the offer. We don’t really have a distance that fits those racers. They signed up for the 50K, 100K and 100-mile categories.
TAUR: How have the trail closures affected trail running in the Boulder area?
RD: All the trail closures have been very difficult for both the trail runners and rangers trying to enforce these closures. I’m hoping to not only bring back some excitement for Boulder racing but to ease up some of the stress on those trails that are open.
TAUR: 24 Hours of Boulder is a homegrown race with a small but steady following. Can you offer a few final thoughts on the race and its participants?
RD: This year I really enjoyed watching the new 100k category. These racers go for hours but still have energy for a smile at the end.
This race always gives us a boost. We love the 24 hour format, the problem is that we now have to wait until our spring race in Moab.
Interview excerpts with David Manthey, Race Director, Bear Chase Trail Endurance Festival:
DM: For the first few days after the flooding, we weren’t sure. The trails around the lake/creeks traditionally drain exceptionally well, so we were cautiously optimistic. But the rains/flooding didn’t stop and the water levels continued to rise… And then after seeing everything in person there was definitely some big concern that we wouldn’t be able to hold the race. I think (Assistant RD) Ben (Reeve)’s exact quote when we both were out at the park on Monday (12 days out from race weekend) was “damn bro, that’s a LOT of water.” (There was EIGHT times the normal amount of water in the reservoir, with the water surface close to 50 feet higher than normal. 45% of our original race course, including the Start/Finish area, was under water.) So we were certainly worried about what we would be able to do, however my mindset was always “OK, this happened and it’s unexpected and terrible. But there’s nothing we can do to change it or dwell on it. Let’s explore every possibility so we can to still hold the race, and cancel it if that’s absolutely the only option.” And runner feedback/input was overwhelming that we should move forward with trying to keep the race on the same weekend. So we immediately began working on trying to build an alternate race course and also explore other venues/dates. However, we didn’t want to move the race out of Bear Creek Lake Park or away from the original race date since that would impact so many runners and would also mean lost revenue/park fees, which they had already budgeted and will definitely need with all of the cleanup/repairs.
TAUR: At what point did you know that the race was going to happen?
DM: We received final race approval on Wednesday, 10 days out from race weekend.
TAUR: Did you have to alter the course due to flooding?
DM: We worked closely with park staff (who was super supportive and helpful) as we lined up the alternate race course and set up the new logistics for the Start/Finish area, aid stations, etc. It was a ton of work/stress to do all of that inside of two weeks before the race. With 45% of our original course and the Start/Finish area under water, we had no choice. For example, one of our original water crossings was running so fast/high and with so much water that it was about chest high and would have been very dangerous, so we had to eliminate that section. There was another section that I really wanted to use but that was under about 3 feet of standing water where the perimeter of the lake had expanded. The lake water began to recede the week of the race, but that section was still way too muddy to use, so we had to go with another option. (Kind of a backup to the alternate course.) Ben and I were like, “let’s plan for this, but if we can’t use it we’ll do this. Oh, we can’t use that either? No problem, we’ll go with this option…” So we had lots of contingencies and backups in place. The nice thing though is that there were a variety of other trail options we could use that also included about 30% of the original course. There was more concrete than we would have liked (about 15% pavement vs. the original course that is 95% soft surface), but those sections were necessary to connect various trails/areas. And, we were still able to work in a lot of variety, keep the distance between aid station approximately the same, and thankfully keep the course completely free of out/back spurs, (same as the original course). The alternate course was about 2 miles shorter than the original so that meant an extra lap (or two) for the 50M & 100K runners, but outside of that the feedback from the runners on the alternate course was extremely positive.
TAUR: At the last minute, the 100k/50M/50k races were postponed due to rain on Friday. What impact did the rain have on the racecourse?
DM: Yeah, that was yet another unexpected curveball when we got the steady rain on Friday. The entire forecast that week (and even the day before) was for party-cloudy skies and a partial chance of some scattered thunderstorms. But it’s Colorado and anything can happen, especially after the amount of rain we received the previous month – what, something like 15+ inches in just a week? So it was definitely unexpected and by early afternoon Friday we were realizing we might not be able to race on Saturday. The ground was already so saturated from the previous month, so there was some standing water on the trails, especially the northern half of our race course. The park has a firm policy not to allow events that can damage the trails, and we clearly understand and agree with it. So we waited as long as we could, but when it reached the point where the trails were just going to be too muddy/sloppy, we discussed it with the park and the decision was made to postpone the 100K, 50M and 50K to Sunday. We immediately updated our website, Facebook/Twitter, sent out an E-mail to all ultra runners, and our race staff even called them all too to make sure that everyone was aware of the situation. Thankfully Saturday’s weather was beautiful with sunny skies that helped to dry the trails out enough that we could run on Sunday. There were still some very small sections of mud on Sunday, but overall the trails were in excellent shape. So we were still able to have a great race without doing any damage to the trails we were using.
TAUR: Did participation drop due to concerns about the course and/or the postponement of Saturday’s race to Sunday?
DM: Unfortunately, yes. We knew participation was going to be lower because of the initial flooding and alternate course, but when we had to move the ultras to Sunday it impacted us even more because some people had other obligations on Sunday, flights back home, etc. We also lost a lot of volunteers for the same reasons as the runners, and some runners were scheduled to race one day and volunteer the other. So those who were still able to come out had to take care of all five races, instead of just three on Saturday and/or two on Sunday. Everyone who volunteered deserves some major kudos for handling everything as they did with fewer people than we planned for. Our volunteer support for the runners is always so fantastic every year, and is a big part of what makes The Bear Chase so special.
TAUR: Do you expect the course will remain changed for next year, or will it go back to a previous route?
DM: Baring another 100 (1,000?) year flood, we’ll be back to the original race course next year. There are some parts of the original course that may look slightly different as a few sections of the Bear Creek moved/rerouted itself during the flooding, but the water levels have been receding quickly and cleanup/repair work is already underway. I guess the silver lining is that if massive flooding like this occurs again in the future, we’ll have a proven contingency plan and alternate race course ready to go!
TAUR: Did the course change make the race harder or easier for athletes?
DM: I definitely think it made it easier and faster. The alternate course had a little less elevation gain/change and with the additional pavement that made for some quicker times. (So no course records will be kept from this year.) It was also a bit more exposed than the original course but the temps were cool enough so that helped.
TAUR: What kind of feedback did you receive from athletes about the race course, terrain, and postponement?
DM: Overall it’s been incredibly positive and people were just very happy that we were able to hold the race in the same location on the same weekend. There were a few ultra runners who weren’t able to run when we were forced to move the 100K/50M/50K to Sunday, but we’re going to take care of them and comp their entries into the 2014 race.
TAUR: Were there any highlights to the race this year that you can share?
DM: I would say Kaci Lickteig winning the 50M outright over the men was big. She’s an incredible runner and has a huge future ahead of her. It was also great to see some of last year’s winners and podium finishers come back to defend and race well. I also love seeing runners doing their first trail or ultra cross the finish line, or setting a new PR, winning an age group, etc. Especially for the runners I coach in Runner’s Edge of the Rockies. That look of total joy and accomplishment on their face is awesome. We also had a “Bearly Finished” award that went to the final finisher of the 100K. That went to Angel Brock, who was struggling a bit going into her last lap and barely made the hard cutoff, but battled so hard and ran strong to sneak in under the 15 hour mark. I would also say that I our race staff did a tremendous job, rolling with every new change and challenge that Mother Nature threw at us. They all worked their tails off to ensure that the runners could have a good experience and I can’t thank them enough.
TAUR: What will you do differently next year in light of the events of this year?
DM: After each year we always look at ways to improve the race whether it’s big or small… This year will be no different and I’m still learning/growing as an RD. Obviously some improvements/changes will be immediate as we get back to the original course, but I’m already working on some things for next year’s race that will hopefully continue to improve the event. (Ben said he really wants a jumpy castle…For himself though, not just the kids who are cheering for Mom & Dad.)