Frank Shorter first came to Boulder, Colo., in the summer of 1970, one year after he graduated from Yale and two years before he won the marathon at the Munich Olympics. Boulder's attraction, at first, was altitude. "Bob Giegengack, my track coach at Yale, had been in Mexico City with the 1968 Olympic team," says Shorter. "He noticed that even though our distance runners did not run well at altitude, they came back down to sea level and ran very well. He believed there was a connection."
Giegengack's musings were not lost on Shorter, who began to search for a place to test his coach's theory. He settled on Boulder. "It's above 5,000 feet, and there was an indoor track as well as miles of trails," says Shorter. "The physiologists can say what they want—everyone has to get their grants—altitude does help."
If it doesn't, it has certainly exerted a remarkable placebo effect on the scores of top endurance athletes from around the world who now train in Boulder. The town, with a population nowadays of around 75,000, lies 20 miles northwest of Denver. It nestles cozily at the base of the eastern slope of the Rockies, where warm chinook winds frequently produce midwinter temperatures in the 50's, ideal for year-round training.
When Shorter first moved to Boulder, the runners had the trails pretty much to themselves. But with the founding in 1975 of the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic (later called the Coors Classic), serious cyclists discovered Boulder, and it is now home to Velo News, as well as to Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Andy Hampsten, and Marianne Martin, the winner in 1984 of the first women's Tour de France.
The cyclists, in turn, brought the triathletes, who were pleased to discover that there are nine 25-yard swimming pools in town, including seven indoors. Mark Allen, who won last year's Iron-man in Hawaii, Mike Pigg and Colleen Cannon, who won the U.S. Triathlon Series overall title last year, spend all or part of the year in Boulder. The newly married triathletes Scott Molina and Erin Baker have a place in the hills.
The runners, of course, are still there. Where else could you find such a superb group of distance runners living within a mile of each other as you do in Boulder's Wonderland Hills section? There are Arturo Barrios, of Mexico, the men's world-record holder for 10,000 meters; Ingrid Kristiansen, the Norwegian who holds the women's world records in the 5,000, the 10.000 and the marathon; Priscilla Welch, of England, the world-record holder for the women's masters (40 and over) marathon; Rob de Castella, of Australia, winner of the 1983 world marathon championship and the '86 Boston Marathon. Steve Jones, of Wales, a former world-record holder in the marathon, is buying a house in the neighborhood. Rosa Mota, of Portugal, the 1988 Olympic champion in the marathon, is a frequent visitor.
"You go to any athletes' party," says Diane Israel, a triathlete who moved to Boulder from New York City in 1981. "and it's like the opening ceremony of the Olympics. All these medal winners and all these languages."
But don't get the idea that all the foreign athletes train together. Far from it. Barrios likes to run alone on the flat dirt trails around the Boulder Reservoir, east of town. De Castella prefers the trails that start 50 yards from his door and then go for miles into the mountains. They might bump into each other along the Pearl Street Mall or gather at the Cafe Gondolier—"the Gondo"—for pasta, or at de Castella's house for long runs followed by brunch. "There's a training-camp atmosphere," says John Cabell, who moved to Boulder in 1980. four years after he ran 29:09 for the 10.000 as a Princeton junior. "People don't necessarily train with other people, but it helps to know other people are training."
Interestingly, among the runners. Americans are not represented in large numbers. Shorter thinks that's a mistake. "We've lost that enclave aspect," he says. "The Italians have their clubs, so do the British. This is a logical place to train. The foreign guys are just taking advantage of it."
But as Shorter is quick to point out, it's not altitude alone that makes Boulder so logical a place to train. It's attitude—what Shorter likes to refer to as the "accommodation factor." The town and the University of Colorado, which is based there, go out of their way to make life easy for athletes. "This is a beautiful place," says Cabell. "But there are others just as beautiful. The key is community support. Everyone in town works out. I take no-smoking restaurants and fit people for granted." Though there are already seven indoor pools in town, a hot issue in March was whether or not the city should include a 50-meter pool in the new recreation center being built in East Boulder. It was rejected by the city council, but proponents have not given up yet.