Two former University of Colorado distance runners have different motivations entering Saturday's USA Cross Country Championships at Flatirons Golf Course, but they have the same goal.
It would be the realization of a dream for Jenny Simpson and Brent Vaughn to capture the title on what they consider home turf in a town where both came to be educated and they now reside.
Organizers are expecting a crowd to rival the massive turnout for this event in 2007 when an estimated 10,000 cheered on the runners. The Pac-12 Conference Cross Country championships last fall also attracted large crowds of running enthusiasts. No surprise in a community so many elite athletes call home.
The senior women's 8K featuring Simpson, Alisha Williams and Amy Val Alstine will begin at 11:30 a.m.. Defending champion Shalane Flanagan is not registered this year. The senior men's 12K will follow at 12:15 p.m., with defending champion Chris Derrick trying to repeat against Vaughn and Sean Quigley, a Boston native who also lives and trains in Boulder. Quigley was the runner-up at the U.S. Club Cross Country nationals.
Plenty of other elite level runners will participate making it entirely possible none of the six athletes who participated in the pre-race press conference at Boulder Running Company on Friday will be among the winners.
"It's huge, this is what I've been pointing towards for a long time," said Vaughn, who won the race in 2011 in San Diego. "It's in Boulder and we get it again next year. So it's huge for me. It's awesome. I'll have a hard time sleeping tonight."
Vaughn promised to race hard and didn't shy away from trying to get in Derrick's head a little by talking up the difference between racing at altitude and training at altitude, which many of the competitors have been doing.
Vaughn is no longer trying to pay the bills through running exclusively. He came to Friday's press conference from his day job working for a general contracting construction company, Green Star Construction. He said for a time, he lost the love for running when it became too much about making a living. He said he is enjoying the sport again now that he has an alternate income source and doesn't have to worry about where he finishes and how it impacts him and his family. He said he's running solely "for the enjoyment of running and beating people."
"I don't know about the fitness, but the fire is always there," Vaughn said.
Meanwhile, Simpson will run only her second cross country race in the past five years Saturday. She finished third at the Cinque Mulini 'Five Mills' race in San Vittore Olona, Italy in late-January.
It was Simpson's first cross country race since a devastating conclusion to her college cross country career in 2009 when she fainted during the national championship race she was favored to win. She was in the lead group setting a blistering pace at the 3K mark when she tumbled to the ground.
Of course, Simpson has accomplished plenty in running, participating in two Olympics and winning the World Championship in the 1,500 in 2011. But she likes the idea of adding a national title in cross country to her rèsumè.
"It's pretty awesome to be racing against a world champion," Williams said of Simpson while sitting beside her at Friday's press conference. "I'm not going to lie, I'm a little star struck."
The participants visited the course Friday. Simpson said the course is in good shape and she came away believing a fast race could be coming. She said she expects to do well.
"It's hard for me that one of the things I love the most is something that I never quite accomplished in college," Simpson said. "I kind of think of cross country as a first love. It's what got me into the sport of running and what kept me in it. Winning a title would be a really great thing just for my sense of continuity in my career."