At first, Nico Toutenhoofd started riding his bike early in the morning just to squeeze a ride in before work. Then the racer started doing earlier training rides with another cyclist at 5 a.m. Then he wanted to be able to cook breakfast for his daughter, too.
“I just started pushing it back earlier and earlier,” he said.
Now he gets up at 4 a.m. to ride. He’s been doing that for two years. And he’s not the only one in Boulder out riding a bike or going for a run in the wee hours.
“There’s some guy who’s way crazier than I am — it seems like he’s finishing this mega run,” he said. “We say ‘hi’ to each other, but I’ve never stopped to talk with him.”
(Toutenhoofd’s training plan seems to be paying off: He won the Mount Washington Hill Climb over the weekend.)
Whether they’re beating the heat, avoiding traffic, or just trying to be home to see their kids, a small and varied contingent of dusk-to-dawn runners, hikers and cyclists find plenty of good reasons to get outside around Boulder when it’s dark.
Though running at night is a great way to avoid the heat at this time of the year, runner Charles Danforth said he first started running in the Boulder Trail Runner’s nighttime group run in the winter, to stay in shape for mountaineering.
“If you’re not willing to run at night, you’re not going to be running in the winter,” Danforth said.
The group’s weekly night runs are great for people who work late, he said, but it can also be convenient for families.
“After the kids go to bed, that might be the best time to run,” he said.
Toutenhoofd said he also thinks that early in the morning is the safest time for riding a bike.
“There’s really nobody on the roads,” he said. “I often ride up Boulder Canyon, and that’s a road most cyclists avoid because of traffic.”
Oftentimes the only vehicle he sees during that ride is the RTD bus, he said. Even if he sees other vehicles, all is calm at that hour.
“9 a.m. commuters who are late to work, they’re frustrated,” Toutenhoofd said. “I’ve never experienced road rage at 4 a.m.”
For Paul Magnanti, it’s all about the year-round nighttime beauty. Magnanti organizes hikes and ski trips on the full moon every month.
“I always encourage people to hike without headlamps,” he said. “It’s amazing, especially in Colorado, since it’s so wide open, how much you can see by the light of the full moon.”
Magnanti said he’s seen many deer during his night hikes and ski trips; Toutenhoofd sees bears on a regular basis; Danforth has spotted coyotes and owls, but he added that one good reason to run with a group at night is that you don’t have to worry about mountain lions.
At night, Magnanti said, familiar trails become exotic.
“It turns the everyday into something rather cool, I think,” he said. “And it’s during the week, so it’s a lot more fun than watching crappy TV reruns.”
Danforth echoed his thoughts.
“We did a run at one point up Mount Audubon at night, which was really wild,” he said. “We could see lightning storms down in the valley, and the city lights are spread before us. It’s a neat, neat experience.”