The 2020 competitive running season begins with an Irish brogue in two weeks when the Runnin’ of the Green takes over LoDo, kicking off a Colorado race calendar that will include a new marathon in Boulder with a finish on the Pearl Street Mall.
The new “Boulderthon” marathon and half marathon, which replaces the Boulder Backroads Marathon under new management, is set for Oct 11. About half of the new race will be run on the rural roads out by the Boulder Reservoir where the aptly named Backroads races took place, but then it will head south and west to downtown Boulder.
“The goal here is to bring Boulder together around a signature city marathon series,” said race director Phil Dumontet, an entrepreneur and restaurateur from New York who moved to Colorado two years ago and lives in Longmont. “We acquired the Boulder Backroads series, looking to keep what made that race so great but also bring the race downtown — bring it to the heart and soul of Boulder.”
Here is our annual list of best races in Colorado — this year, it’s 20 for 2020:
March 15, LoDo
The bagpipes and Irish dancers will be there as usual, but the 32nd edition of this venerable St. Patrick’s tradition — a 7K which many Denver runners regard as the unofficial kickoff to the running season — has some nice new twists this year. The shamrock-shaped race medal has a removable charm (Perhaps a lucky one?) in the middle that can be detached to hang on a necklace, charm bracelet or keychain. Race shirts will be made out of soft polyblend tech fabric instead of cotton. All racers will get free photos they can download and share. And for those who opt for the 2-mile event instead of the 7K (4.35 miles) main event, the 2-miler is no longer an untimed run/walk — it’s going to be a timed race.
April 5, Littleton to Denver
This will be the 18th year of a race that begins in downtown Littleton and finishes in Lincoln Park at the 127-year-old Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant. The point-to-point course drops more than 100 feet as it follows the Platte. The start and finish are located near light rail stops, and runners get a light rail ticket with their registration. Following the race, the Buckhorn folks put on a cookout in its parking lot with beer from Breckenridge Brewery. The race raises money for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
April 19, Fort Collins
This race is in its 47th year, meaning it predates the popular Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon by five years. This is a tough one, climbing 500 feet over the first two miles. The reward for that grind is five miles of spectacular views along the Horsetooth Reservoir. Overall there will be 900 feet of climbing but 1,100 feet of descent into Fort Collins for a net downhill profile of 200 feet. There will be three bands on the course and another at the post-race party at New Belgium Brewing Co. There’s also an $11,000 prize purse because this is a race that wants to support Front Range elite runners.
April 26, Cherry Creek
Tracing its heritage back to 1982, what used to exist as a 5-mile main event in and around the Cherry Creek shopping district expanded to add 10-mile and 5K distances over the years. There’s also a costume contest, a beer garden and a kids’ half-mile fun run.
May 3, Fort Collins
These races share one of the most scenic courses in Colorado. Nearly 16 miles of the full marathon and three miles of the half take place beneath the rugged cliffs and rocks of Poudre Canyon.
“We bus everybody up there in charter buses. It’s dark, it’s early, it’s cold,” said race director Logan Martin. “Then the sun comes up and you see the river, you see the rocks, you see this unbelievable canyon, you get to run down as the sun is coming up. You’re running next to the Poudre, which is flowing pretty well in early May. It’s one of the prettiest places in the entire state, in my opinion.”
The races, which also include a 10K and 5K in town, finish at Washington Park near downtown Fort Collins with a beer garden and live bands.
May 17, Denver
Take your pick from a marathon, a marathon relay with three competitive categories (open, corporate teams, government agency teams), a half-marathon (with a new, much-improved course), a 10-miler and 5-miler that collectively comprise Denver’s biggest running event with more than 20,000 participants. But to mark the 15th anniversary of the Colfax races, there’s a whole week of events planned this year leading up to race day, including the annual Colorado Running Hall of Fame induction (Monday, May 11), a marathon movie night (Tuesday, May 12), 10-15 “shake out” runs around town (Wednesday, May 13), an “evening out” event along Colfax Avenue (Thursday, May 14), the race expo and packet pickup (Friday and Saturday, May 15-16) at Empower Field at Mile High (Isn’t that a cool idea?) and the 5K in City Park on Saturday, May 16.
May 25, Boulder
America’s third-largest road race returns for its 42nd year on Memorial Day with dozens of world-class runners in separate men’s and women’s pro races, thousands of incredibly fast runners who don’t do it for a living and throngs of folks who just love to jog or walk through Boulder. Last year, the race that Runner’s World magazine called “America’s Best 10K” saw 42,936 finishers. Race organizers are hoping RTD doesn’t go through a proposal to cancel RunRide service from locations all over the greater Denver area, which is how 30% of the runners typically get to the race. RTD is currently holding a series of meetings for the public to express its opinion on this and other proposed service eliminations because of a driver shortage.
June 6, Echo Mountain to Morrison
If you want to run fast in the thin air of Colorado, run downhill. These races oblige like no others with thousands of feet of descent. The marathon descends nearly 4,300 feet from the start at the Echo Mountain ski area (10,510 feet) near Squaw Pass in Clear Creek County to the finish in Morrison. The half-marathon descends nearly 1,700 feet from Evergreen. This year, race organizers are expanding post-race recovery services to include Theraguns (percussive therapy devices), roller sticks and ice bags, which you’ll need to treat your quads after all that downhill pounding. Revel Rockies previously was held on Sundays, but this year, it moves to Saturday.
June 14, Colorado Springs
This is a hard, hilly race amid the towering 300-foot sandstone rock formations in Garden of the Gods Park, a registered National Natural Landmark. In its 44th year, the course follows paved roads (closed to motor vehicles during the race) and wide sidewalks. This is a Colorado classic for sure, just know that while the climbs are steep, the rock formations provide lots of inspiration.
June 28, LoDo
With a scenic LoDo course and a finish at Coors Field that includes a lap around the field (don’t forget to cross home plate), this is a great family run. The post-race party includes free hot dogs, beer and a chance to hang around in the stadium. Details of this year’s race haven’t been announced yet, but race registration typically includes a voucher for two free game tickets and a T-shirt.
July 4, Superior
Pretty much everybody knows you can’t race a mile as fast in Colorado as you can at sea level, but this race is the exception. Kicking off a Fourth of July celebration that includes a parade and a pancake breakfast in Superior, the course drops 220 feet from start to finish. Three guys broke four minutes last year, and five did it in 2015.
Aug. 2, Evergreen
In its 42nd year, this is probably the fastest 10K course in Colorado, dropping 682 feet from the start at 7,759 feet to Evergreen Lake at 7,077 feet via beautiful Upper Bear Creek Road. The 5K starts halfway down the same route and has a drop of 516 feet. The race benefits the Alpine Rescue Team, which provides mountain rescues in Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties with a team of fewer than 100 volunteers. Headquartered in Evergreen, the group responded to 136 search and rescue missions in 2019, including 30 on the fourteeners in its coverage area (Mount Evans, Mount Bierstadt, Grays and Torreys peaks), according to Alpine Rescue Team.
Aug. 7-8, Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs
Relay races with the right group of friends can be the most fun you will ever have while running. This one, which began in 2005, covers 200 miles from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs via a short loop into Wyoming and a jaunt over Rabbit Ears Pass. You can do it as a team of six or 12, and this year, the moon will be at 86% illumination for the overnight legs. That always makes overnight relays even more special.
Aug. 8, Boulder
After two decades as a weeknight event in downtown Boulder, this venerable and quintessential Colorado race moved to Saturday evening last year. The move proved successful, and it will happen on a Saturday again this year with a 3-lap criterium course on the Pearl Street Mall and around the Boulder County Courthouse. It’s actually a series of mile races spanning three hours, broken into age and ability groups. The final three races will be for elite men, elite women and elite masters runners. Last year’s race attracted 2,000 spectators enjoying the fun of a weekend night on the Pearl Street Mall. This race also is part of the downtown Boulder Triple Crown race series, along with the East End 3K on June 11 and the West End 3K on July 9.
Aug. 8; Georgetown to Idaho Springs
Even though the finish is being moved this year from its traditional location at the Golddigger Stadium in Idaho Springs to a location yet to be determined (because the stadium is in the process of being sold), this remains one of Colorado’s must-do running events. This will be the 42nd running of the race that begins at Georgetown Lake, elevation 8,500 feet, and finishes 1,000 feet lower.
Even though the route parallels Interstate 70 on frontage roads, most of the course feels quiet and serene, more like running through a national park than along a major highway. As if to press the point, runners pass fly-fishing anglers as they make their way down to Idaho Springs. Befitting the area’s mining heritage, age-group winners claim awards made to look like the utensils used to pan for gold.
Sept. 7, Fort Collins
Following the template that made the Bolder Boulder — which includes a finish in the University of Colorado’s football stadium — a Memorial Day tradition for Front Range runners the past four decades, the Fortitude 10K unfolds on the streets of FoCo and finishes at Colorado State University’s football field. This will be the fourth year for this Labor Day race, which was an instant classic.
Sept. 11-12, Idaho Springs to Buena Vista
The eighth running of this event, brought to you by the folks behind the successful Wild West Relay, will take runners 165 miles from Idaho Springs to Buena Vista via three mountain passes: Guanella, Georgia and Fremont. The course is designed for teams of five or 10, and the fall colors could be gorgeous. This course follows much of the old Colorado Outward Bound relay. The descendant of that race, which evolved into the Ragnar Colorado road relay, apparently won’t happen this year, according to the Ragnar website.
Sept. 26-27, Lakewood
An excellent venue for first-time ultra and trail runners, these races at Lakewood’s Bear Creek Lake Park include 100K, 50-mile, 50K, half-marathon and 10K options. There is a special prize for those who complete one of the Bear Chase ultras along with ultras at two sister events, the North Fork 50-mile/50K on June 6 in Buffalo Creek and the Chase the Moon 12-hour endurance run on July 31 in Highlands Ranch. The prize: a sweet 64-ounce growler with logos of the three events.
Oct. 4, Denver
Lots of chocolate and lots of runners make this a sweet experience, and apparently the concept of combining the two is a winner because Denver is one of two dozen cities on the Hot Chocolate Run schedule. Another attraction for this event is the 15K (9.3 miles) distance, which is rare in road running these days. Last year, the Denver 15K attracted 3,300 runners, with 5,000 in the 5K. In previous years, only 15K runners received a finisher’s medal, but this year 5K runners will get them, too.
Oct. 11, Morrison
This 5K or 10K race (which includes a family fun run) benefits the American Lung Association, and you’re going to need a strong pair to do this race. It unfolds on the hilly roads of Red Rocks Park and finishes by running up the steps of the amphitheatre to a finish line on the concourse at the top. Yes, it’s really, really hard. But what a beautiful place to run into severe oxygen debt.