On Saturday, the U.S. Cross Country Championships return to Boulder, Colo., for the first time in seven years. We chased down a very busy Sean Nesbitt, co-event director, who pieced together what goes into organizing, hosting, and publicizing the affair.
Boulder is to distance running as the Yankees are to baseball or Las Vegas is to debauchery: Go ahead and knock it, but try to find a better way to do things right, and just try to imagine things without it.
Ask Sean Nesbitt, one of the energetic masterminds behind this Saturday’s U.S. Cross Country Championships at the Flatirons Golf Course east of the city. As far as the venue, Nesbitt, who carried his experience from the 2007 event into the 2014 challenges of today, offers no pretenses.
“I won’t say that staging this event is easy, but the beauty of hosting it in Boulder is the know-how that surrounds us,” he says. “From the University of Colorado track officials to the Boulder Road Runners to the Bolder Boulder 10K to Competitor to other organizations, we have a wealth of knowledge in our backyard about what makes a great event.”
Indeed, Boulder perennially boasts “professional volunteers” for endurance event management. Witness, for example, the cities that are involved with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “On top of that,” says the Denver-based 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, “we see and read about the amazing athletes who train in Colorado all the time, but we rarely get to watch them race locally because most of them head overseas or to lower altitudes to compete.”
Nesbitt minces no words when it comes to the venue. “Being able to host this event in front of the country’s best running fans is real honor,” he says. “I know what people in Eugene might say about that comment. I’m an Oregon native and I’ve been to countless meets at Hayward Field, including the Olympic Trials, and know how great the mystique of Hayward Field is. I know that the fans there are very knowledgeable and supportive of the athletes. To me that place is more hallowed than Fenway or Lambeau Field. But the Colorado fans are the event. They will the athletes to succeed. Because of that energy from the fans, I think you’re seeing athletes wanting to come race in Boulder even though it’s a non-World Championship year.”
Nesbitt is sensitive to the fact that it’s been seven years since Boulder last hosted this event, which really set the bar for how to host a Championship. The 2007 races drew more than 500 runners in six U.S. championship races in the masters, juniors and open divisions and a crowd that was estimated as large as 10,000 spectators. “We’re looking forward to meeting that challenge not just this year, but in 2015 as well,” he says. “We’ll learn a lot from hosting it this year and we’ll make 2015 even better. We want both athletes and fans alike to be highlighting this event on their calendars because it’s going to be a lot of fun. And I call it an event because it’s not just a race. It’s about the experience for the volunteers, the young and old fans, the athletes, the sponsors, and the city.”
Nesbitt and his longtime colleague, John Supsic, have been proactive in reaching to the community and beyond to make things interesting. They have made appearances at the Boulder Running Company in the past six weeks for that group’s Wednesday night group runs to get locals big and small to sign up, and even targeted a few University of Colorado basketball games. Critically, there has been just that sort of effort to reach fans have long clamored for — new runners or non-runners. “We’ve been [hitting] people just starting running and youth groups and high school programs,” says Nesbitt. “we’ve done advertisements on radio stations and in every online publication that has an ‘events’ calendar on it.” Also, local merchants have dug into the well to help guarantee a $35,000 prize purse, with more expected in the 2015 world championships qualifying year.
As of this past Tuesday, the course was clear of snow, thanks entirely to a 60-inch wide snowblower that officials commissioned months ago, aware of the capricious weather in the Foothills. Forecasts call for temps in the 45- to 50-degree range, meaning real cross country. In contrast to 2007, the course is on the more spectator-friendly back nine of the golf course, which rolls a little more than its 2007 counterpart but also eliminates an ugly ditch along the way.
Despite this not being a world championship year (the 2015 race will serve as a qualifying race for the U.S. team that will race in Guiyang, China, which has an elevation of 4,180 feet), many of the nation’s top runners are expected to compete, including a number of Boulder-based professionals such as two-time world championships 1,500m medalist Jenny Simpson.
“I remember missing the races here in 2007 as a CU student.” Simpson said. “I couldn’t bring myself to do that again! Competing in front of my community is a joy I can’t wait to experience.”
Stay tuned to Competitor.com for more coverage this week about the men’s and women’s races in Boulder.