Thursday, August 11, 2011

Race Across the Sky

Attended a Vail symposium this evening and watched the 2010 Race Across the Sky movie, documenting last year’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.  The film itself was pretty great, as far as race documentaries go.  If I were competing in the bike event this coming Saturday I would have been on pins and needles in my seat.  And since I am not, I must say, it definitely got me even more pumped than I already am for the actual running event in 10 days.  The scenery footage.  The excitement.  6th Street.  Powerline.  Ken and his trusty shotgun at the start and finish.  Good stuff.  In addition, if I were a mountain biker I would definitely attempt the Leadville mountain bike race.  The race looks super intense- especially up front.  Those guys hammer.
Following the film was a panel discussion hosted by Vail’s very own Xterra National Champion wunkerkind, Josiah Middaugh, peppering Rebecca Rusch, Chris Carmichael, Dave Wiens and Life Time Fitness CEO/founder (and race athlete) Bahram Akradi  with questions .   Eventually Josiah turned to the audience for questions and picked me as the last person to ask a question before ending the panel.  I directed my question at Bahram and attempted to ask in a very general, though sincere, manner how does he (Life Time) expect to manage the Leadville races series going forward, as the expected popularity momentum builds.  My question was very micro- calling out my focus in name, the mountain bike and 100 mile run events- but his response was very macro.  Now, he is the CEO of a very large corporation so I wasn’t too surprised by that.  I was surprised by his authenticity, however, and his deep passion for healthy living, in all respects, and for working hard to help others achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles.  Life Time is a gym business primarily, or at least that is how it began as I understand it.  Bahram believes that fitness and activity doesn’t necessarily belong in a gym, and that people with goals, for example an upcoming race, are very motivated and more apt to keep on track in terms of maintaining and growing in their fitness, than say those who go to a gym simply because they have a membership or do not know of any better way to stay fit.  Sure, there is money to be made in buying the Leadville race series and other “epic” race events as he called them.  He said the primary goal of Life Time is to maintain the nostalgia of the Leadville events, and all other races they have bought, and attempt to give athletes- all athletes- the best possible experience they can.  If that means making some improvements he said that is what they will do.  Or making no changes whatsoever if none are needed.  Bahram is such a health conscious guy he is removing all food and drink, beginning next year, from future Leadville races that have artificial coloring, additives, etc.  He said all foods provided during future events will be organic.  Period.  That was one example he gave of making improvements.
I can’t say that I don’t think race entry fees won’t rise.  I think they will.  And not just at Leadville.  No matter, something also tells me that the popularity of the Leadville Trail Run 100 will continue to grow.  It started before Life Time bought the race.  It started before Born to Run was published.  And it will continue.  Who knows, maybe it will become so popular that very soon the race will require a lottery to sort out entrant demand.  Maybe eventually it will adopt qualifying entry races, like Western States and the Leadville Mountain Bike race.  Western States continues to dominate as the competition-race-of-choice in the US 100 mile circuit but if any race could overreach WS in this area, any race at all, it has to be Leadville.  It won’t happen at Hardrock and we all know why.  Leadville is the only logical next possibility, if that possibility even exists- which I think it does.  What would it take?  Only one of two things, really.  (1) This one is easy.  $.  Life Time could pony up a purse.  But that probably won’t happen so it would probably take (2) a critical mass of inner-circle-elite-type-and-minded athletes (I mean that in a friendly way) huddling up and all agreeing to enter and run the same 100 mile race.  That race being Leadville, of course.  It fits the bill in many respects.  It can support the crowds.  Etc.  I am not suggesting that this should happen.  Or that I want it to.  Or even that I think it will necessarily.  I more or less see it as a possibility.  Why?  Up until a few years ago the Leadville Mountain Bike race was a popular event and everyone loved it.  Then something special happened.  Lance Armstrong showed up and broke the course record in epic fashion.  Not only that a movie documentary was made on that particular race and it was a big hit among mountain bikers and cyclists everywhere.  Now the Leadville Mountain bike race is on every cyclist’s to-do list.  It has to be one of the biggest, most popular mountain bike events in the world.  Am I right about that?  Say something similar happens with the run: a crush of special runners show up (not that special runners don’t show up every year) and produce a truly epic event.  The race is caught on film, distributed as a documentary and becomes a hit.  Boom.  The Leadville Run’s popularity mushrooms even more, possibly eclipsing Western States in terms of demand and competition.  Stranger things have happened, no?  As I said, I think it could happen.  Not that I hope it does.
Here is a YouTube link for the film trailer.  If you are into endurance sports, particularly cycling and mountain biking, you can’t help but want to see it yourself.


  1. ah...I didn't realize you were running Leadville this year. I hope you have a great run.

    Interesting about the new management. But, I can't imagine a 100 miler when runners can't find M&Ms, oreos, chips etc etc on the race table. I suspect there will be a lot of unhappy runners if the aid station tables are so limited and include foods with which they have no race experience. Not saying organic isn't good but I do think it may be a bit overrated...especially in extreme sports when calories, and lots of them, are needed.

  2. Rebekah- ha, good point. Take away those goodies and some may cause a ruckus!

  3. Neal, a couple of us saw Race Across the Sky last November. Great motivational flick. Makes one want to ride a mountain bike (kinda). Seriously though, how hard can 100 miles be on a bike, eh? I mean, after running on those trails, don't you think you could finish the bike race with minimal training (finish, not place)? If you go to anaerobic jumping boulders going up the mountain, just get off the bike and walk, right? I know riding those mountains must be very hard, but not as hard as running 100 miles of it. Just my opinion. Still, great movie.

  4. Doug, I could ride the mtb 100 race tomorrow off the couch and buckle (< 12 hours), no problem, assuming I actually even owned a decent mountain bike, though I would be no where near the front and I would hurt at the end. To buckle in the run = < 25 hours. I guess the RDs figure the run is a lot harder. I would agree.

  5. Neal-

    Why do you think you could buckle tomorrow off the couch "no problem" in the mtb race?

    I've seen strong distance runners falter, much to their own surprise, on both road and mountain bike courses that took more than 2-3 hours to cover. Strong running doesn't necessarily translate to strong cycling, especially over long distances. I mean no disrespect. Your comment just caught my attention.

    Good luck in Leadville this weekend.

    Jim in Fort Collins

  6. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the comment. Great question. No disrespect taken. I think that I could have buckled on Saturday no problem because I have a biking background, had been at altitude for three weeks by this past Sat., have participated in endurance sports long enough (including riding)- I think- to realistically gauge what I am and what I am not capable of, am pretty sure I've never been in better shape than at this very moment and, most importantly, I respect the 100 mile distance, and the time and effort it takes to push through such a distance, running or riding, flat or mountains, and just how hard it can be. That is pretty much why.

  7. Leadville is the only logical next possibility, if that possibility even exists- which I think it does. What would it take? Only one of two things, really. (1) This one is easy. $. Life Time could pony up a purse. fantastic discounted prices