Every town has its proving ground: a hill or lonely flat where athletes measure their fitness levels against themselves and others.
In Boulder, Colorado, Flagstaff Road stands out because the pavement and companion trail attract cyclists and runners alike. The road winds its way up roughly 1,100 feet for 3.6 miles, while the 1.6-mile trail runs along the road and cuts across it five times.
Flagstaff Road Routes
The two routes’ difference in distance creates similar finishing times among runners and cyclists, inviting many man-versus-machine challenges.
The proximity of the trail to the road, and the five crossings, mean the cyclist and runner can often check in on one another and, depending on timing, literally cross paths.
The official origin story for the Flagstaff Road bike-versus-run race isn’t well-publicized. But it became a thing when scientists working at a nearby laboratory began to challenge one another during their Tuesday and Thursday morning workouts. Yes, even physicists in Boulder like to compete in multiple pursuits.
The appeal of the proving ground runs across both disciplines. Athletes can even test themselves against the field to determine whether they’re a better cyclist or runner.
But that’s forgetting the inherent fun of such a challenge — of remembering how your body felt the last time you made the serpentine turn toward the top, when and where your ability to breathe seemed to disappear.
Fastest Known Times
Measuring up against locals and those who train in Boulder is a humbling affair. The fastest times on Strava come from Olympian and two-time national champion Levi Leipheimer (11:11 cycling) and Sage Canaday (15:07 running), whose resume includes a huge haul of first-place trophies from various ultrarunning races.
Those times are profoundly out of reach for our GearJunkie editors. So their own man-versus-machine race lowered the stakes to a few beers, pride, and staying dry as wet snowflakes dripped down on them.
Editor-In-Chief Sean McCoy set off on foot up the trails as Senior Editor Adam Ruggiero attacked the road on his single-speed.
It’s safe to say the FKTs were not recorded in the middle of winter, and these two finished within seconds of one another. (You’ll have to watch the video to see who won.) Either way, you can tackle this race any time of year; it just comes with the varying challenges of the season.
Local segment challenges let us collect plenty of measurements in our hardest efforts against ourselves and others. But even then, things like weather, altitude, and trail conditions add variables to such data. And that’s why there will always be time for a pure side-by-side contest like the Flagstaff Road run-versus-bike race.