Denver City Guide
To make the most of this Denver city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Denver. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the venue’s name to generate directions. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Paris.
Orientation & Logistics
The front range area of Colorado sits a mile above sea level, and offers anything and everything you could ask for as an endurance athlete. The region attracts elite athletes and Olympians from all over the world to train, in sports not limited to endurance. Even from Denver, the elevated terrain marking the continental divide rules, with buildings and the downtown grid designed to frame the view of the mountains to the west.
Despite Colorado’s array of dispersed towns, traveling around the Denver area without a car is easily done, largely thanks to an expanded light rail system connecting Denver International Airport to Denver’s Downtown area and further south, to the Denver Tech Center. Outside of the light rail system, there are two other alternative public systems to use when getting around town: the free 16th Street Mall Ride that runs through the heart of downtown, and the rental bike service, Denver B-Cycle.
Annual daytime temperatures in Denver have a wide range, though are rarely are above 29°C / 85°F in the summers, with winter lows hovering around 3°C / 38°F. Despite the frigid winters, the climate in Denver is dry and is generally considered high desert with roughly 300 days of sunshine a year. Even though the summers may lack humidity, it will frequently rain in the afternoon so keep an eye on this if you’re doing long-range runs or bike rides. On the Winter Solstice, the sun rises around 7:18am, setting over nine hours later at 4:39pm. On the Summer Solstice, the sun rises at 5:32am, setting 14 hours later at 8:31pm.
Though Colorado’s topography naturally inspires thought of trail running on continuous routes, time in Denver requires some compromise, the benefit being that you can adjust to altitude without the toil of treacherous climbs. That said, trails are within the vicinity for when time allows. Parks are abundant, with running tracks being in adequate supply, recovered by some measured loops that suggest that endurance should be the focus over speed during your stay at altitude.
Denver’s most central location for running track for interval workouts is at George Washington High School, which is a standard 400 meter track. Most only allow public access after school hours (from 4pm). If you are in the Capitol Hill area, Cheesman Park is worth noting for continuous running and some measured routes. Cheesman has an inner and outer loop, which both have gradual rolling hills which include flat parts. The inner loop is about 1.3 miles and the outer loop is just shy of 1.5 miles. The outer loop is mostly a dirt trail, running through trees and the surrounding grass, while the inner loop is mostly paved, which is where many couples come to take an evening stroll. Longer, continuous loop can be made using Denver’s 50-mile paved bike loop, which is almost entirely set aside from the street. Connect with it using South Platte Trail and Cherry Creek Trail.
A 30-minute drive south of the city, past the renowned mining town of Morrison is the trailhead to Lair O’ The Bear. Trails range from easy 4.6 mile wooded trail, to a 13-mile out-and-back trail that goes all the way to the top of the ridge, and connects with the Bear Creek Trail from where you can enjoy the iconic Colorado trail view. Regardless of which trail you choose, keep an eye on your footwork to the many crawling creatures, but be assured that bears aren’t as frequent as the name suggests.
Also in the Morrison area, a bucket list “run”, is to stop by the Red Rocks Amphitheater and run the stairs. The name is just as it suggests, monolithic red rocks, which are reminiscent of images of the planet Mars. The venue hosts 69 rows of seats, which has 138 steps from the bottom, near the stage, to the top near the entrance. If you run it in the normal switch back fashion, you will have run about three miles of horizontal distance, taking about 90 minutes for the average runner due to the elevation gain and loss.
The southern areas of Denver have probably the best hill running in the region. Bluffs Regional Park is a secret closely guarded by locals, and where you can find rolling hills, milder than the mountain trails of other ranges. Total elevation gains range from 60m / 200ft to 180m / 600ft for the 3.5-mile trail, with connector trails allowing for you to go as long as 10 miles. A steeper route is Hog Back Ridge Trail, which gains 816ft over a 2.8 mile loop, altitude which shows off panoramic views of the city.
For those looking for social group to join during their time in Denver, the city’s chapter of the November Project is a free-to-join group lead by runners in the community. The group ranges from very competitive to people to the more relaxed crowd looking to run as a way to stay fit. They offer two workouts a week at two different times, on Wednesday mornings at 5:30am and 6:15am, alternating between Civic Center Park and Capitol Building front steps, and on Friday mornings, also setting out at 5:30am and 6:15am, but at varying locations (check their Facebook page for departure points). The workouts are running-based but incorporate bodyweight workouts, and are often buddy workouts.
Denver’s topography means that rides start and end on relatively flat terrain, with hills growing and bumpier terrain surfacing to the west. Metropolitan Denver is a very bike-friendly area where you can either head out by yourself and trust your own directions, or look to join a local chain gang and get in a more successful workout.
A signature ride to tackle first is the Lookout Mountain ride from Denver. first setting out on Speer North to 32nd West.
During the summer months, Rocky Mountain Cycling Club offers planned rides on Saturdays and Sundays, ranging from 30-100 miles, with weekday rides being organised during the winter. Because of the size of the group, you can usually find people who can keep the group together from departure points along the front range area that connects Fort Collins to the north, with Colorado Springs 150 miles to the south.
The EVO Denver Store is a bike rental store which offers carbon road bikes. The location is central to the city, just south of downtown on Broadway and 9th, and the rental process is easily and can be done in advance online. .
In Denver, there are choices to get a great indoor cycling workout, is Shift Cycle + Fitness, located in the neighbourhoods of Stapleton and Lohi. A second option is Cyclebar, who have locations in the Denver Tech Center, and The Highland Area, north of downtown.
The University of Denver’s Ritchie Center has one of the most beautiful Aquatic Centers in the sport, found in the heart of the Cherry Creek Neighbourhood. Even the reluctant swimmer can be tempted by the Olympic-sized tiled mosaic that lines the 50m pool. The pool changes its dimensions during the day, with the help of a horizontal boom guiding lane swimmers to use the 25 yard width or the 50m length.
In Downtown, a unique opportunity is the salt water pool on the top of the Colorado Athletic Club, ideal for those who prefer to keep away from chlorinated tubs. The Colorado Athletic Club is much easier to get to for those on a short trip, due to their central location and connection to public transportation.
During the Summer months, there are a few outdoor pools in the Denver Metro area that are open to the public. Congress Park has a local, 25-yard swimming pool that has set lane times during and lane availability during the day for swimmers of all abilities.
Denver Masters Swimming is a well established swim group for adults and is one of the largest workout groups in Colorado, almost 500 strong. The group has both social events as well as swim workouts and visitors are free to join a workout. The group practices out of the University of Denver Ritchie Center and offers swim clinics as well as coaching with coaches boasting USMS Level four coaching certification. Practices last 75 minutes long for noon workouts and 90 minutes for evening and weekend workouts. Coached sessions are from 5-6:15am, Monday through Fridays with coaches, with Saturdays session beginning at 9:30am.
For an open water swim, Chatfield Reservoir is one of the few open water swims which are close to the light rail and public transportation. The open water swimming area is located in the South Western area of Denver, called Littleton. Additionally, Cherry Creek Reservoir is the South Western open water swim option in the Denver metro area.
The University of Denver offers drop-in gym membership gym options during normal hours, and has a light rail stop across the street, connecting to all parts of Denver. Equipment inventory ranges from the normal dumbbells, medicine balls, pull up bars and treadmills. Because the gym is run by a large private university, even if you are to go during a peak hour, it’s unlikely to prolong your workout nor require you to go to a lower quality gym.
Sleeping & Eating
For a quick bite, The Protein Bar is similar to Chipotle or Jamba Juice, but with protein-rich plant based focus. Blue Sushi Sake Grill is a popular place for a semi-formal dinner or lunch with a creative menu, which people who want to keep their diet consistent can eat without scrutinizing every possible option. For a world restaurant bucket list check mark, ChoLon is a modern Asian restaurant with Vietnamese and Chinese influences.
Of course, every corner has a Starbucks, but two small coffee shops which will have a huge impact on your trip, are Little Owl Coffee downtown, and Aviano Coffee (Instagram) in Cherry Creek. Little Owl Coffee is a group of passionate baristas that are focused on small scale roasts, and quality in everything they do. Aviano has everything you can ask for in organic teas and coffees, from whole bean or bulk products and is a great classic coffee shop known for its atmosphere.
Denver has the usual crowd of large hotel chains, with smaller, independent offerings balancing out the crowd. On the West of Capitol Hill in the city’s arts district is The ART Hotel. This location in the south of the downtown links with the world of affordable hotel, while introducing guests to a range of accommodation options.
Alternatively, The Ramble Hotel is a defensible option for those looking for a location near to Union Station. The hotel is in the creative River North Art District (RiNo), with 50-bedrooms and a distracting bar operated by Death & Co., New York bartenders making their first venue outside the Big Apple. If you’ve managed to evade the cocktail list, enjoy indulgences at Super Mega Bien, the hotel’s onsite restaurant.
For economical yet comfortable stays, look to Sonder who have several apartments in the Highland district – rooms start at $125 per night and include a range of options from small Studio suites to larger properties with multiple rooms.
George Washington High School: no number
Little Owl Coffee: no number
Protein Bar & Kitchen: multiple venues (see map)