Berta Cruz has been waiting three years to run her 20th consecutive Cherry Creek Sneak, a streak that began in 2000 when she ran the annual 5-mile spring race to honor her fiancé after he died the previous April.
She had big plans for the 2020 Sneak. She was going to celebrate the occasion of her 20th by running it with dozens of friends from her local gym in Highlands Ranch until the race was canceled because of the COVID-19 quarantine, which began a month earlier. The race didn’t happen in 2021, either, also because of the pandemic.
It will be back this year on April 24, and Cruz will run it, but with a heavy heart. Race director Pat Downing announced this week that this year’s race will be the last because of low registration this year, following decreasing numbers in years prior to the pandemic.
“Very, very, very sad that this is my last Cherry Creek Sneak,” said Cruz, 48, who has run the Sneak while pregnant and while pushing a doublewide baby jogger. “I always told myself if I can’t run it when I’m 70, I’m going to walk it. That’s on the wayside now.”
Colorado’s other major spring road races are returning to normal for the first time since the pandemic. The Colfax Marathon — actually a collection of races including a marathon, half marathon, 10-miler, 5K and marathon relay — will take place May 14-15, its usual spot on the calendar. Based on sign-ups so far, race organizers expect in excess of 15,000 to register by race weekend.
The Bolder Boulder 10K on Memorial Day has seen week-over-week increases in registration over the past month, according to race director Cliff Bosley, who is expecting 35,000 or more to register by race day. That race had 41,197 finishers in 2019, which kept it in its customary position as America’s fourth-largest road race.
With COVID restrictions being scaled back and life returning to a semblance of normalcy, many road races around the country this year have seen participation numbers falling short of 2019, the last pre-pandemic spring. Monday’s Boston Marathon will have its usual field of 30,000, but last month’s Los Angeles Marathon drew about 14,000, down from 24,000 in 2019.
“For the events around the country that are coming back online, generally speaking, registration is around 25% below where they were in 2019,” said Creigh Kelley, race director for the Colfax Marathon. “The races that were suspended for two years, they’re not coming back at full capacity. They lost some of their audience. Now, will they get it back eventually in 2023? Probably.”
If the Colfax Marathon races attract 15,000 next month, that would represent a 25% drop over 2019. But, race officials point out, they postponed the 2021 event from May to October instead of canceling it altogether, so now they’re putting on the same event twice in seven months. They anticipate the total number for both races will be 29,000 to 30,000.
“The fact that we’re going to be at 30,000 runners over this seven-month period, we’re thrilled,” said race chief executive Andrea Dowdy. “We didn’t get to breathe as much this year, because we only had seven months in between, but we love being in the spring. Everybody is back and they’re so energized. Everybody is psyched to be back.”
This year’s Colfax races will look like previous years with one exception. Last fall, protocols were adjusted at aid stations in deference to the pandemic and it worked well, Dowdy said, so those changes likely will be permanent.
“In the old days, somebody would hand you your cup,” Dowdy said. “With COVID, the tables were spread farther apart, the cups were pre-filled, and you reached for your own cup. That way the volunteer didn’t have to be face-to-face with the runner. We’re going to stay that way. The runners liked it, and it made it easier for the volunteers.”
The Bolder Boulder, which dates back to the original running boom in 1979 and became America’s largest annual Memorial Day event, will look like it has for decades. This year’s theme will be, “The Tradition Continues,” Bosley said.
“What that means is something different for everybody,” Bosley said. “But if you like the Memorial Day tribute, we’re going to have one in honor of a World War II veteran. We’re going to have a professional race.”
And, as usual, the race will finish in Folsom Field, the football stadium on the campus of the University of Colorado.
This year’s race also will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Shorter’s gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when he became the first American to win that event in 64 years. Shorter, a longtime Boulder resident who co-founded the Bolder Boulder with Steve Bosley, will be the official race starter this year. His Olympic marathon success — he also won a silver medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics — is widely credited with igniting the running boom of the 1970s.
” As you anticipate spring, you anticipate the Bolder Boulder,” Bosley said. “It’s thousands of people running. It’s the heart-and-soul elements: the stadium finish, the huge wave start. It sets up summer. It is that Memorial Day experience. It’s been put on pause for three years. Well, it’s just been un-paused.”
Unfortunately for fans of the Cherry Creek Sneak, though, this will be the year that their annual April tradition ends.
“It’s going to be very emotional, a lot of mixed emotions,” Cruz said. “I’ll figure out another race that happens in April.”
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