Her New Balance running shoes were laced up tight. She came dressed in black tights and top, adding a white cap and cool sunglasses to a stylish mix.
Long and lean, Audrey MacDonald looked fast at the Bolder Boulder 10K starting line, the annual rendezvous of 50,000 runners. She belonged there, gliding in the footsteps of the world's greatest runners, content but competitive among the tribe of mortals who followed behind.
MacDonald eased into the first mile, surprising those around her with an efficient stride. She didn't realize it at the time, but she was galloping into Bolder Boulder history. Then she took a walk break. Because when you're 86, running is hard.
"I run and I walk, and I don't push it," says MacDonald. "I see all of these people and they are taking little steps and they're sweating, and I'm just relaxing more."
MacDonald, a great-grandmother from Calhan, is a tough ol' gal. She has lived alone for nearly 25 years in a trailer house on a grassy hilltop. She brags about her view of Pikes Peak, which springs from the plains 40 miles west. A family of feral cats hangs out on the front porch; she admits to spoiling them with warm food. As tornado warnings scrolled across her TV screen last week, she dashed outside and dodged marble-sized hailstones to look at the sky.
"I don't see anything," she said. "I think it's going to miss us."
MacDonald was born in 1929 and grew up on a dairy farm near Newtown, Connecticut. She attended a four-room grade school in the Sandy Hook school system, now known for the tragic shooting in 2012. "That was so sad," MacDonald says. "I don't know what is wrong with the people these days."
She began running three years ago when her daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Tim Barry, introduced her to Jack Quinn's Running Club and its weekly 5K, a social affair that often attracts 1,000 people or more on Tuesday nights. She has become a fixture on the downtown course, stopping to talk to anyone who will listen.
"It gets me out among people," MacDonald says of the Quinn's run. "I'm getting up to that age — all my friends are gone. Even though the runners are younger, it's neat to get out one night and talk to people."
MacDonald tries to run four times a week, even in the winter. "The cold doesn't bother me," she says. "I just put on another shirt and go." She'll often run along a trail near the old Rock Island railroad tracks, aiming for 3 to 4 miles, but sometimes going much farther.
Running doesn't make her feel younger. She has always been healthy and strong. "I don't get sick," she says. "I was never in a hospital until I had my children."
There was plenty of work to do on the family dairy, which provided a healthful lifestyle.
"I milked cows and drove the horses and drove the tractor. And I ran a lot when I was a kid, but we ran barefoot then," she says. "We didn't have running shoes."
There are a few older runners in Colorado Springs, but it's rare to see anyone past 80 signing up to participate in a race. MacDonald has stepped to the starting line about 15 times, and she keeps all of her racing bibs (the numbers assigned to racers) pinned to her curtains at home.
"They hide the dirt," she says.
She has encouraged others to join her, but hasn't had much luck. "I say to the girls that I've known so long, 'Come on out and run with me.' And they say they get enough exercise just getting up and down out of the chair. But they're not getting the exercise they need."
In Boulder, MacDonald finished the famous race to the cheers of thousands at Folsom Field. She'd used her brilliant run-walk strategy to complete the 6.1-mile course in 1 hour, 28 minutes, 48 seconds, winning her age group and smashing the record for 86-year-old female runners.
"I think it was fun and I didn't even try," she says. "I didn't think I was going to win, and then when they said I had the record ... I couldn't believe it."