The last time Boulder hosted the U.S. cross country championships in 2007, Jenny Simpson was competing for the University of Colorado but had left town two days before for an indoor track meet in Seattle.
"I remember being so sick to my stomach that there was going to be a race in Boulder, and I wasn't going to be in Boulder," she said by phone Wednesday.
This time, she made sure her current coach, Mark Wetmore, who was also then her college coach, knew she wasn't going to feel that way again.
Last time, this race drew an estimated 10,000 fans to the see Olympians Deena Kastor and Alan Culpepper win the open races.
So on Saturday, when the race makes its return to the Flatirons Golf Course, she'll be racing in front of the Boulder crowd, where she trains, for the first time since college. And the race will be back in 2015, too.
"There's so many amazing athletes who train in Colorado, but we never get a chance to watch them run," co-race director Sean Nesbitt said. "Here's a national championship setting to see them."
Simpson will compete in the open women's 8-kilometer race, and the open men will race 12K. The course consists of a 2K grass loop, making it ideal for spectators.
"Everyone thinks (the altitude) is an unfair advantage for the people who train here," said Mark Plaatjes, the founder of the Boulder Running Company, the race's title sponsor, and the 1993 marathon world champion. "There is a slight advantage for them, but it's really not that big of a difference unless you go past 10K."
Simpson figures to be the favorite on the women's side.
"This is the time of year where in my regular training I'm out doing things more conducive to cross country work anyway," Simpson said. "I feel like I'm back on an upswing, and I don't want to interrupt that momentum."
Confirmed entries for the men include former CU Buffs and Smoky Hill High School alum Brent Vaughn, who won this event in 2011 in San Diego; Chris Derrick, a former Stanford star and the defending national champion; Bobby Mack, the 2012 champion; Luke Puskedra of the Nike Oregon Project; and Boulder Track Club's Sean Quigley. Total prize money at stake: $35,000.
"There are eight guys that could potentially win, so it's going to be exciting," co-race director John Supsic said of the men's open race. "I'm pleasantly surprised at how strong the men's field is."
Overall, though, this year's field isn't as strong as it will be in 2015, and it will include fewer high-profile local elites compared to 2007. Among the reasons: There's no world cross country championships this year, and there aren't world outdoors or Summer Olympics, either.
Nesbitt and Supsic entered a bid for Boulder to host in early 2013, and it was awarded the race over Charlottesville, Va. It came down to the success of 2007 and the race altitude for 2015 worlds in Guiyang, China — a city at 3,600 feet. Racing next year again in Boulder should help athletes adapt to performing at high elevation.
"We have a wonderful community, and we have the businesses that want to back it up, and we can put on a good event," Plaatjes said.
The weather figures to be ideal: breezy with a high temperature near 60 under sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service. Volunteers have been clearing the course of snow for the last three weeks to keep it from getting too muddy.
"I definitely want to get out and run as hard as I can," Simpson said. "But my expectation is to mostly try to enjoy my friends being at the race without being distracted by it."
Daniel Petty: 303-954-1081, email@example.com or twitter.com/danielpetty
U.S. cross country championships
Where: Flatirons Golf Course, 5706 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Course: Flat, 2K loop on long grass
Registration: You must be a 2014 USATF member, enter before 5 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Millennium Harvest Hotel and pay $85. Online registration is now closed. Open athletes must be 16 or older on race day. Junior athletes must be at least 14 or older and may not turn 20 in 2014. Masters athletes must be 40 or older.
Masters women's 6K — 8 a.m.; masters men's 8K — 8:50 a.m.; junior women's 6K — 10 a.m.; junior men's 6K — 10 a.m.; open women's 8K — 11:30 a.m.; open men's 12K — 12:15 p.m.; community run — 1:15 p.m.
Spectator admission: Free
Parking: Spectators must park at the Ball Aerospace parking lot at 1600 Commerce St. Shuttles will take people to the race course every 15 minutes.
Watch live: usatf.tv