Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Can a Race be a Transformative Spiritual Event? 

When she first lined up at the Bolder Boulder 10k in 1999, Amanda McCracken had no idea the race would punctuate the next twenty-plus years of her life

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

I wasn’t tripping on ayahuasca or chanting in a sound bath of singing bowls when I had the epiphany. I wasn’t meditating on the top of a mountain or in a temple in Tibet. The sound of “Ohm” was my feet pounding the pavement in unison with 40,000 others at the Bolder Boulder 10K.

In less than an hour, I knew in my gut I had found my place. Little did I know how transformative that one event, running through the streets of Boulder, Colorado, back on May 31, 1999, would be in my life.

Three years later, I moved to Boulder and made it my new home, a place I still live today.  I’ve run the race 15 more times in ensuing years—some for fun, some for competition. I’ve spent springtime training runners for the event, personally coaching more than 100 individuals in total. As a coach, I met my future husband and got my first gig as a sports journalist. I bought a condo 400 yards from the start of the race. The Bolder Boulder  would come to define me and become a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life: playfully, passionately, and creatively.

Running to My Future

It all started the summer before my senior year in college when I was on a cross country road trip with one of my best friends. On a whim, we decided to visit Boulder, a town I’d read about for its running legends, when I saw the race advertised in a local Denver paper.

The entire race experience captivated me: scores of runners running fast, runners dressed as superheroes, the belly dancers on Folsom Street, the slip-n-slide on Cedar Avenue, Elvis singing on Pearl Street on the way to the 5-mile point and hordes of spectators lining the course at every juncture. The event was like riding an amusement park ride, participating in a parade, and strolling through an art museum all at the same time. My experience as a participant and spectator blurred into one. The very pitter-patter of my own feet on the pavement became part of the collective symphony.

There were three crescendo moments when I felt my body viscerally respond. My heart leapt into my throat when hearing the haunting notes of the bagpipers as I turned up the final hill. My skin tingled upon entering the University of Colorado stadium as thousands of people cheered as I made my way to the finish line. And finally, my ribs vibrated when the Colorado Air National Guard jets flew over the stadium after the race, part of the elaborate Memorial Day celebration. All of this happened against the majestic natural backdrop of the iconic Flatirons, said by some to be a site of an energy vortex like those in Sedona, Arizona.

Runners at the Bolder Boulder
The Bolder Boulder 10k has become one of the most cherished annual events in the town that takes its running seriously. (Photo: Getty Images)

Awe: It’s Real

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing awe. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”

Neurocognitive research shows there’s an association between people experiencing awe and a decrease in mind wandering. In Human Brain Mapping Journal, University of Amsterdam psychologist Michiel van Elk reported a decrease of activity in the Default Mode Network of the brain (a place known for self-reflective thought) when people are watching awe-eliciting videos. This decrease in activity results in less filtering and more openness. In other words, if you want to experience a profound life-changing experience, you have to get out of your own way.

In many ways, my 1999 Bolder Boulder experience matches standard descriptions of an epiphany. Melinda Storie, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, researches environmental epiphanies, what she describes as“experiences that shift an individual’s relationship with nature in a meaningful way.” Many epiphanies, she says, are emotionally overwhelming, unexpected, and involve physical exertion or challenge. They often happen during travel (or transition), outside of a daily routine, in natural areas, and while someone is solo.

RELATED: Run Your Fastest 10k Ever With This Training Plan

Amanda McCracken's Bib
The author’s original bib number from her first Bolder Boulder 10k race. Photo courtesy Amanda McCracken

Life Punctuated By the Race

Life has evolved considerably since that first experience running the Bolder Boulder, but I still feel the warmth and energy it brings me. I fell in love with an event, a community, and a time in my life that I have made a permanent part of who I am. While the idea for the race was conceived the year I was born in 1978, it would become an annual reference point in my life from which I measured other events. I marked my memories of different Bolder Boulder races by the men I was dating at the time. The day my dog died was three days before the Bolder Boulder and the day I got a new job was two days after the Bolder Boulder. I sacredly protect the race weekend from other encroaching events. Six months from Thanksgiving, the Bolder Boulder is a community reunion—an opportunity to celebrate and reconnect with friends I haven’t seen all year. And for that, I am thankful.

RELATED: The Bolder Boulder Returns On Memorial Day To A Community That Needs It

Paying It Forward

Over the past 24 years, I have raced it to a sub-40 minute 10K at altitude PR, jogged it for fun (stopping for bacon, Doritos, and Jello shots), and paced athletes I coach to their goal time. I have also guided several blind runners through the race with Team Achilles, and that’s helped me further sharpen my attention  and share my passion for the race. I narrate every detail to the runners I guide: the rise in the hill, the turns, the potholes. I describe the runner dressed as a banana and the little boy reaching out for a high-five. And my partner alerts me to sounds and smells that I’d otherwise miss being inundated with visual stimuli: the guitar riff from a Journey song and the aroma of lilacs along the route.

A runner, dressed as a banana, runs the Bolder Boulder 10k
(Photo: Getty Images)

When I enter the stadium this year guiding my friend Luanne, I’ll have a special cheering section I’ve never had before: my husband and our two-year-old daughter. In a year or two, we’ll walk it together, and, in a few years more, maybe run together. I hope she too will feel the magic of an event that introduced me to her father 15 years ago.

In the mid-19th century, local Southern Arapaho Chief Niwot warned that anyone who visited the valley that is now Boulder would stay or return. While this “curse” reflected his fear that the sacred area would become too populated and permanently changed, it turned out to be a blessing for me. I succumbed to the call I felt to return to the magic and it continues to bring me joyAnd every Memorial Day, in gratitude I ritualistically revisit that profound event in my life.

RELATED: 14 Photos of the Iconic Bolder Boulder 10k 

These Runners Were Not Prepared to Love Non-Alcoholic Beer

L. Renee Blount and Outside TV host Pat Parnell posted up at a popular trailhead, handed out free Athletic Brewing craft non-alcoholic beer, and then recorded runners’ live reactions. Want to find out what all the hype’s about? Click here to discover a world without compromise.


Related content from the Outside Network