Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Mountain Goat Extraordinaire – An Interview with Bernie Boettcher

If you trail run or snowshoe anywhere near Colorado, odds are you’ve seen Bernie Boettcher…well maybe the back of his head, anyway. Bernie is one of those incredible 42-year-old athletes that just gets faster with age, winning overalls and setting course records in both trail running and snowshoeing while racing over 50 times a year. His accolades could fill a blog of his own (2003-04 Masters National Snowshoe Champion, 2003 USATF Mountain Running Champion, 2004 CO USATF Masters Trail Marathon Champion, 3 time Imogene Pass Run winner, 4 time masters winner of the Pike’s Peak Marathon and Ascent, Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Age Group champion, etc.), but to Bernie, it’s simple about getting outside, having some fun, and showing you’ve still got your “A” game.

(Photo courtesy of La Sportiva/GoLite)

Bernie was gracious enough to let me interview him for all you trail bloggers out there. I caught up with him after his recent 2nd place finish at the Golden Gate Canyon Trail Run (12 miler)…one of already 31 races this year (137 races since January, 2003):

SD: Sounds like you’re having a busy season so far! How do you maintain such a full race schedule for both snowshoeing and trail running?

BB: First off, I'd like to thank my sponsors, Beaver Creek Resort, 180s, La Sportiva/GoLite and Atlas for their continued support. They all strive to be the best with their products and services and it helps me to do the same. Without their help, I couldn't do what I do.

We're lucky here in Colorado, there's typically at least one race every weekend of the year, except Christmas. Neighboring states have plenty of races too. It's my passion to race, but I treat it like it's a job, a job I love. Some days are harder than others, but I haven't gotten bored yet. I think if you really love to do something, you just make it work.

SD: How do you think about recovery with such a packed schedule? Do you take time off in between sports at all, or fit in cross-training?

BB: I typically recover the day before and after a race. I recover by riding my bike. So, yes, I crosstrain every week but still get a long run in every Tuesday or Wednesday.

SD: I saw that you also participated in the Red Bull Divide & Conquer (4-person relay of mountain biking, paragliding, kayaking, and trail running) this year. What was that like? Did you enjoy the format?

BB: Awesome race. It felt like a REAL trail race for once, not some gravel road imitation that some people have been calling "trails". I never met any of my teammates 'til the day before the race. But we all hit it off pretty well and were happy to get 3rd. Our paraglider, Noel Wade, struggled a bit getting up the hill to launch, but our kayaker, Ben Stookesberry, had a solid run. Our biker, Charles Jenkins, had an awesome ride going, but got a flat and lost a few minutes. It was a real nail-biter to the finish.

SD: You had the best overall trail running split of the day too with 1:39:39 (7.5 mile, 6000 vertical feet up rocky Kendall Mountain), natch.

BB: I really liked the course. It was action packed with numberous stream crossing, rope climbs, hairy descents, snow and ice fields, loose scree...I was in my element. There were some great runners in the race. Ultra legends Dave Mackey and Karl Meltzer, CU All-American Jon Severy, Everest summiteer, Jesse Rickert. I felt quite lucky to come out on top. It was a hoot.

(Photo courtesy of Atlas Snowshoes)

SD: Have you always been a runner? When did you start? When did you first start running trails?

BB: I can remember running a lot when I was a little kid. We lived in a rural area, so I'd always have to run or walk or ride to get to go do things with friends. I found shortcuts through the woods, and waalah!, a trail runner was born.

I was kicked off of my high school team for mooning when I was 17, and I gave up racing for 20 years, but I rode my bike a lot. I started running again at 36 and racing again when I was 37. I focused on doing trail runs to explore Colorado backcountry. Roads are boring by comparison, but I do run them to get to trails.

SD: Do you do ultras too, or prefer the marathon and below distances?

BB: I haven't done an ultra yet, but I will. I prefer the marathon (and less) distances because it's easier to recover, and do more races.

SD: What is it about the outdoors that inspires you?

BB: Getting to know the unknown. I love exploring new places on the run, seeing where the wildlife lives, getting to those magical, untrampled places where beauty overwhelms you.

SD: I understand that you are an artist as well. What medium do you work with? How does your outdoor exuberance inspire your art, and vice-versa?

BB: I've worked in a multitude of medias. My art is as eclectic as my running style. Everything from graphics, to oils, to watercolors, to bronze, to wood, to photography, to poetry, to column writing, and more... I think I told you I love to explore, and it encompasses all I do.

SD: That’s cool. Hey, do you mind if I ask you a few training questions?

BB: Go for it.

SD: You’ve done a lot of “mountain running”, which I understand is short distances up very steep trails. What tips would you give on training for such extreme hills?

BB: To me, "mountain running" is only half-finished when you get to the top. I really don't like running uphill that much, but I love to run down. I'll torture myself getting up some hills just so I get to have the pleasure of running down some wild descent. Mountain running is about running in the mountains and everything that goes with that. It can be as long or as short as you want, on trails or off, up or down...anything goes.
If you want to run uphills well, though, just run uphill a lot. You'll get used to it. Some of the best uphillers out there get their training on a treadmill, set a 15% grade. I've never been on one myself. I just find some dang hill and grind up it. Then I savor the down.

SD: You live at altitude in Silt, CO, correct? Does living at altitude help in preparing for high altitude racing?

BB: I live at 6,100 ft. el. It's not a bad altitude to live at, but I tend to suffer in races over 10,000 ft. el. It's not high enough to prepare you to race at that level. I did the Leadville Trail Marathon this past weekend where we raced between 10,300 and 13,185 ft.el. from start to finish. It was brutal.

SD: What do you prefer to eat/drink when training and racing?

BB: Green Tea and Orange Burst GU are about all I carry on a run.

SD: What are some of your favorite races and trails, both in and outside of Colorado?

BB: My favorite trails are the trails I've never run...but, the Moab, Utah area has some fantastic places to run, as does the entire state of Alaska. Colorado is incredible. It's too hard to pick just one...they're everywhere. My favorite races in Colorado are the Imogene Pass Run, Pike’s Peak races, and the Beaver Creek Snowshoe Series.

SD: Best trail running experience?

BB: I think the best moment I've had running was racing across a glacier on the Swiss/Italian border in dense fog, then popping out of the fog at the summit of the pass and seeing the Matterhorn in all it's glory as hoards of photographers all shouted, "Americano! Americano!" as I came into their view. It was my first international race.

SD: This has been great! Thanks so much for taking the time. Where can we see you running next?

BB: I did a triple this past weekend, the Leadville Trail Marathon, the Teva Vail Hill Climb and the Boogie's Diner Buddy 5 Mile in Aspen, so I'm still a bit tired and deciding what to do next. But probably the Summer Roundup 12K in Colorado Springs, then the Barr Trail Mountain Race, the Teva Vail Half Marathon, and the Beaver Creek Vertical Ascent, a six hour challenge to see who can do the most uphill in that time. That should cover July.


  1. 30 races already?!? That's insanity.

  2. So, is trial running the x-training for snoewshoeing, or vice versa? Does he ever take any time off??? Charlie1

  3. Charlie1 -

    Looks like he will be taking time off, unfortunately. Here's the latest update from Bernie:

    "Hey Scott,

    Tried to submit a comment on the blog and couldn't get signed up. It wouldn't accept my password.

    Anyway, I separated my clavicle last night on a X-training ride/crash. The bone sticks up from under my skin about an inch as I type this. It's too painful to run right now and I may be out for a while. I guess I'll finally be taking some time off.
    They haven't yet determined from the x-rays if I'll need surgery or not. I'm going home right now to dust off the stationary bike and weigh the possibilities of getting in some miles, but it's not looking good.

    I'll be in touch.


    YIKES!!!! Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Bernie.


  4. Got an update from Bernie on 8/5, and he's back on track, recently breaking a course record at the Rifle 5k. He's a madman!!!

    [from Bernie]

    "July Update:

    7/2 Leadville Trail Marathon 26.2M, 3:55:11 Leadville, CO
    2nd Overall / 1st Masters

    7/3 Teva Vail HillClimb 7.8M, 57:29 Vail, CO
    11th / 3rd

    7/4 Boogie's Diner Buddy 5 Mile 5M, 29:00 Aspen, CO
    2nd / 1st

    7/7 *Major Injury - Second Degree Separation of Collar Bone. Tore Acromial Clavicular Ligament completely off in Mountain Bike Crash.

    7/16 15th Annual Komen Aspen Race for the Cure 5K, 17:57 Aspen, CO
    3rd / 1st

    7/17 6th Annual Barr Trail Mountain Race 12M, 1:42:22 Manitou Springs, CO
    7th / 2nd

    7/20 Summit Trail Running Series #4 12K, 46:55 Breckenridge, CO
    2nd / 1st

    7/23 Grin and Bear It Trail Run 9.3M, 1:09:24 Crested Butte, CO
    3rd / 1st

    7/24 Teva Vail HalfMarathon 13.1M, 1:39:26 Vail, CO
    6th / 1st

    7/30 Beaver Creek Vertical Ascent 24M, 6+hours? Beaver Creek, CO
    5th / 3rd

    8/6 Cheatin' Woodchuck Chase 5M, *Course Record - 26:53 Rifle, CO
    1st / 1st

    The Rifle race marked my 38th race this year, and my 143rd race since January of 2003."

  5. Bernie still managed to get 3rd overall (and 1st masters) for the 2005 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series. Nice work, Bernie!



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