This article first appeared in the Colorado Daily.
BOULDER, COLO. – “The U.S. is back on track,” said Peter De La Cerda, member of the U.S. men’s Bolder Boulder team. “Don’t ever say it’s dead.”
Never dead, but now awakened from a slumber, the performances by both the U.S. men and women’s elite teams at this year’s Bolder Boulder provided a big shot in the arm to distance running in this country. Buoyed by Deena Drossin’s win in the women’s race, both squads ran to third-place finishes in the International Team Challenge. The previous bests were sixth for the women and seventh for the men.
“This is superb for the American team and great for Deena,” said race founder Steve Bosley.
The Kenyans narrowly edged out the Russians for first in the women’s race. The Kenyan men took the men’s race, followed by Peru.
Colorado’s Drossin, who lives and trains in Alamosa most of the year, became the first American woman to win the elite race at the Bolder Boulder since Libbie Hickman’s victory in 1997. Coincidentally, she matched Hickman’s time to the very second, running 33:25 over a new 10K course. Hickman’s victory was on the old course that wound through town, the same one the citizens still use.
In this year’s elite race, an extra hill was added. The runners started in Folsom Stadium, did two laps along Folsom Street, then returned up the hill to the stadium for a lap in front of the crowd before taking three more laps along the street and the final climb to the finish.
Out on Folsom Street, Drossin heard a dull roar come from the stadium when she surged and pulled away from Ejagayou Dibaba of Ethiopia at just over 25 minutes into the race. That turned out to be the decisive break, and Drossin went on to post a 17-second win over Dibaba.
“The crowd is really what brought me through today,” Drossin said. “I felt their energy. I ran the last mile with chills throughout my entire body. It was just unbelievable how supportive everyone was.”
In the cross-country style scoring, Drossin etched a nice No. 1 on the scorecard. Her teammates, Milena Glusac and Sarah Toland, added a 10th place and 23rd place, respectively, to push the team into the third spot.
Glusac lives in San Diego and is back in the sport after an absence since 1996.
Coming from San Diego to Boulder, Glusac said, “I felt the altitude after the first mile.”
Glusac said her legs felt strong, but her lungs felt the effect of the higher elevation. Nevertheless, she saw Drossin at the front and knew the team had a serious shot at doing well. Glusac passed a few runners on the tough final hill and ran to a time of 34:40.
The third women’s runner, Sarah Toland, was a last-minute addition to the roster. Friday morning, Toland completed a tough track workout in Boulder, and then went to the gym to lift weights. When she got home, assistant race director Darren De Reuck called her to ask if she could run on the team. He explained that U.S. team member Sylvia Mosqueda’s appearance was up in the air. Toland thought about the offer but declined, hoping Mosqueda could still make the trip.
On Saturday, Toland went to work at the Boulder Running Company, a busy day on Bolder Boulder weekend. While selling shoes, she found out that Mosqueda had officially withdrawn from the race. When Toland arrived home at 5 that evening, De Reuck called again and Toland agreed to fill the spot for the U.S. women.
In her first Bolder Boulder elite race, Toland ran a 35:52 to aid the team’s third-place effort.
“I’m very excited how our team did as a whole,” Toland said. “I’m glad I was able to run well enough for the team to place third.”
The men’s team was led by a strong performance from Clint Wells, a former CU All-American.
“In the face of a great field, he ran a great race and defended his turf when it got really hard,” said the race’s pro-athlete coordinator Rich Castro.
Wells’ strategy worked as designed. He went out relaxed, hit the first mile right on pace and ran comfortably up the first hill into the stadium. Then the race really started. Wells put his strength to use and ran to a seventh-place finish in a time of 29:51.
Peter De La Cerda, who teaches U.S. history in Alamosa, ran to a 16th-place finish in 30:24. De La Cerda trains with Drossin under the tutelage of coach Joe Vigil. De La Cerda came off a tough month of racing that started with a win at the Cherry Creek Sneak on April 29th, followed by a 12K race and a 25K race. He just found out a week ago that he would be running on the Bolder Boulder team.
“I felt tired from previous racing,” said De La Cerda, “but gave it all I could today.”
Drossin’s finish inspired De La Cerda and he applied his old college team motto to today’s race, “give it all for the team.”
Shawn Found, another former CU All-American, did just that as he ran a gutsy last half-mile to pick off four runners and put the team into third place.
Before the race and in light of the U.S. women’s performance, Found told Wells, “It’s going to be hard to hold back.”
Nevertheless, Found followed his simple strategy – to follow De La Cerda and Wells as far as he could and race smart.
“The last half-mile is more guts than anything,” said Wells of Found’s finish. “Thank Shawn for a gutsy last half-mile.”
Castro was in part responsible for the race’s team format change four years ago, which limited the number of entrants to three per country. It’s a unique format that has gained popularity with the runners. Castro said Monday’s race was exceptional.
“Four years ago, when we started this team competition, this is exactly what we wanted,” Castro said.
Since the team-format inception, the African, Eastern European and South American runners have dominated both the team and individual results. Monday’s race may have served notice that the U.S. runners are gaining ground.
According to Drossin and De La Cerda’s coach, the U.S. teams’ showing was important.
“It’s significant in light of the fact that (other countries) have been beating us for so long,” Vigil said. “But in reality, our Americans are just as tough as anybody in the world if they train right and they think right. We’re just as tough as anybody else.”