Drake Relays first-year director Blake Boldon is living his dream

Osceola native brought in field of 70 Olympians for 2017, has even more ambitious goals

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Blake Boldon still looks like he could hit the sub-four minute mile he once was able to run.

He’s 37 now, long removed from his professional career as a runner. Clean-shaven with sunglasses resting on his slightly receding hairline, he’s dressed casually on this day. Jeans and a fleece Drake Relays jacket over a blue polo with the same words stitched on them.

He’s doing a media tour throughout Eastern Iowa for the Drake Relays, which begin a four-day run Wednesday in Des Moines, but his attire feels like a nod to his past days spent on the track, a life filled with sweats and light jackets. It’s fitting, however, and gives credence to something people who know him often say about the first-year Drake Relays director — he’s full of energy.

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Boldon is in his self-described “dream job” which, combined with his easy-going but directed personality, is quite the combination. There’s quiet ambition in his eyes and when asked about what his long-term plans for the Drake Relays are, he fires off what he calls a “big hairy audacious goal,” a term borrowed from a book by James Collins titled Built to Last.

“I want the Drake Relays to have an impact on every single Iowan’s life,” Boldon said. “Now that’s so big, so hairy, so audacious that I don’t even know what that looks like right now.”

From a lot of people, that would just come across as pure bluster. But the look on his face and the tone of his voice are of a man who believes exactly what is coming out of his mouth.

He’s a realist, of course, and immediately concedes to the idea the goal is to really just increase the number of people who have feelings toward the Relays. He voices a few suggestions ranging from a statewide fitness program to expanding middle school events. He calls them “touch points” and wants even those who can’t come to the event to still feel like they’re a part of it.

In his eyes, the Drake Relays can be akin to the Iowa State Fair in terms of native Iowans’ feelings toward them. It is, again, ambitious, but Boldon always has been that way.

 

He grew up just 43 miles south of Drake Stadium in Osceola, attending Clarke Community High School. It was there his love of sports — especially running — was built.

Boldon will crack a smile when he’s asked about his high school days, humorously recounting how he realized distance running was the one sport he could find serious success at.

“Track and field is a sport where it’s got a place for everybody,” Boldon said. “If you’re big and strong you throw, if you run fast, you’re a sprinter, if you jump, you jump and if you can’t do any of those, they put you in distance.”

And so, he did, falling in love with the idea the work he was putting in was having positive returns. A good runner in high school, Boldon was nevertheless unable to qualify for Drake during his years there.

After looking around at his options of where to run, he eventually ended up at Missouri State, where his career began to take off. He was a five-time Missouri Valley Conference champion, with one of his biggest career highlights coming during 2003 when he won the 1,500 meter run at the Drake Relays as a senior in college.

From that point, Boldon began to dabble in coaching. He still was attempting to maintain his professional status and became one of the best distance runners in the U.S.

He had four top-10 finishes at the United States Track and Field Championships, with his best finish coming in 2007 when he finished fourth in the indoor 3,000 meters.

But it was clear there was something to his coaching career. His first stop was as a volunteer assistant with Missouri State during the 2003-04 season, before taking the same position at Florida State a year after.

Coming back to Iowa in 2005, he spent three years at Iowa State. An opportunity at the University of Alabama at Birmingham beckoned, where he bought a house he still owns. After a year there, he decided to take a job at Penn. The Ivy League school was his last coaching stop, however, and he moved to the administrative side of the sport.

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon was one of the smaller marathons in the U.S. when Boldon took it over. By the time he left for his current position at Drake, it was the 20th largest marathon in country.

Boldon admits he thought working for the Monumental Marathon was a job he could have seen through to retirement. He loves the town of Indianapolis and said he would have only left for two jobs — the Drake Relays or the Chicago Marathon.

He said he wasn’t sure he slept the night he found out the job at Drake was going to open up, instead spending the night revamping his resume and cover letter. He went after the job, at “full throttle” as he describes, and had perhaps a dozen references call in support of him, including Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who he has known for years and went to church with.

I want the Drake Relays to have an impact on every single Iowan’s life

- Blake Boldon

Drake Relays director

 

The wealth and variety of his experience is one of the things that made him such an attractive candidate for the director of the Drake Relays. Mike Jay, the longtime Drake Relays and USA track PA announcer, was especially impressed with the field Boldon was able to put together.

Boldon wasn’t introduced until October of 2016 and was still able to assemble a field of more than 70 Olympians, with a particularly strong group of distance runners.

“What he’s done since the beginning of October is nothing short of incredible,” Jay said. “We’ve got some of the best fields in the relays, ever.”

It’s hard to say the decision to hire him isn’t already paying off. He was known as a good recruiter during his previous coaching stops and filling out the Relays roster the way he did is surely a sign it’s a skill that has translated.

A lot of things have translated for Boldon, honestly. At each of his stops, he’s been able to find success and there’s no reason the 12th Drake Relays director won’t find plenty more on the blue oval.

“To be back here in charge of the Relays is something I never could have imagined,” Boldon said. “It’s really a dream come true.”

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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