Alan Culpepper performed before big crowds while harboring lofty expectations on plenty of occasions throughout his decorated running career. But he has never tackled a challenge quite like what the former Colorado Buffaloes star faced Monday.
Serving as the play-by-play broadcaster for the telecast of the 41st annual Bolder Boulder, Culpepper slipped on his headphones as the first wave of runners began lining up at the starting line, shared a moment of encouragement with broadcast partner and fellow local running legend Frank Shorter, and spoke into the microphone to share his first bits of wisdom.
Culpepper and his audience were met with dead air. A microphone that was turned off led to the sort of false start Culpepper probably never experienced as a competitive runner. But soon, like any seasoned runner, Culpepper fell into a rhythm alongside Shorter in a broadcast that, due to the time duration and vantage point, often is as uniquely challenging as the Bolder Boulder itself.
“This has just been something I’ve dabbled in,” Culpepper said. “It’s never been anything I’ve truly pursued, which I kind of regret. Because I really enjoy it. I was at a point where I couldn’t travel more and be gone more weekends, because I was already doing that. Even when I stopped competing I was traveling a was already traveling a ton for the races I was putting on. That was a big part of it, just the family dynamic. Now that they’re getting older it might be more feasible for me to do that stuff.”
It wasn’t the first time the outgoing Culpepper has stepped behind a broadcast microphone. A few months after he won the 2004 Olympic marathon trials (he placed 12th later that year at the Athens games), Culpepper was asked to help the broadcast team at the Boston Marathon. During that era, he also was a guest on several occasions during broadcasts of the New York City Marathon.
Culpepper has done big things in Boulder — he won an outdoor national title for the Buffs in 1996 in the 5,000 meters — but providing commentary for an event that begins shortly after dawn and culminates hours later with twin professional races presented a different sort of challenge. Culpepper joined the broadcasting team this year after longtime play-by-play man Tim Cronin opted to step aside after calling his 30th Bolder Boulder last year. Culpepper said he’d be happy to do it again if asked.
“I have just such an affinity for (the Bolder Boulder),” Culpepper said. “I was thrilled when they asked me to do it. I felt like Frank and I had a good rapport and were able to play off each other. There’s so much coming at you, especially with two races going off at the exact same time. And then the team competitions. It’s really four different elements. I feel like we were able to key off each other’s expertise and bring in the different elements.
“With the availability to get data as it happens, it’s helpful. We’re able to see the splits pop up in real time. But it’s really about telling the story as best you can from what you’re seeing. The morning was a good dry run to get into the flow of it, and then the elite it’s more about how fast they’re going and the team element. You really have to narrow your focus.”