Endurance racing: Runners, bikers want bigger summer challenges
As a pro racer, Salt Lake City resident Burke Swindlehurst thought he knew what bikers wanted in a race when he conceived the format for his "Crusher in the Tushar" event, a 70-mile race on a mix of road and dirt trails in Beaver County that boasted more than 10,000 feet of climbing.
His hunch was proved right when, in the event's first year, he had 179 racers willing to test their mettle on the rugged course.
This year, in just the second running of the event, registration sold out in only three weeks for the July 14 event, with 350 racers representing 16 states and three countries participating.
The quick sellout surpassed even Swindlehurst's estimations.
"I thought it was a great idea, but I'm a bit of an eccentric, so it was a shot in the dark to a certain extent," he said of his race. "I'm definitely thrilled with how well-received it has been."
Swindlehurst isn't alone in finding success in endurance racing. As summer kicks off this weekend, more and more people plan to spend their summer days not lazing by a pool or strolling down some mountain path, but racing through those areas as they push their limitations and the speed of others.
Baseball might still be the national pastime, but adventure seekers are finding their own fields, trails and streams of dreams in events such as Swindlehurst's Crusher in the Tushar, the Ragnar Relay foot race known as the Wasatch Back, mountain biking's Park City Point to Point Race, Provo's Squaw Peak trail run and many others.
The Point to Point race sold out in less than an hour, and the Wasatch Back, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, boasts more than 13,000 participants.
So why all the excitement over the prospect of pain?
Weekend warriors are attracted to the long events for several reasons.
Bike racer Brad Mullen, a regular participant in the Point to Point race, said the longer challenges are more attractive to him because he likes pushing himself to the edge.
"When I finish, I'm on top of the world and nothing else matters," he said. "The pain goes away and the bad memories are flushed out to make room for the next challenge. It's a drug worth taking."
While 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons and bike races that last less than two hours remain popular and keep the summer calendar jammed with plenty of events from which to choose, daylong and even multi-day events are turning into summer highlights for many.
The XTERRA events such as the ones held in Ogden and Moab, the Tough Mudder series and 12-hour and 24-hour biking events are becoming the "must-dos" of the racing season.
The reasons for it are many, say those involved.
For one thing, many of the events feature team categories, which builds camaraderie amid suffering.
For another, long efforts give participants a chance to make up time if they have an unplanned incident. There is nothing more frustrating than being on a start line and your bike chain coming off with a bad gear switch, or losing a short-distance triathlon because of a bad transition and your race being over before it starts.
With events lasting several hours, racers get a chance to recover from such jams.
Endurance events also require a different kind of fitness than short races, Swindlehurst said.
"They lend themselves more to the demographic of the mature athlete who might not have the same speed or power as when they were younger, but they have years of cumulative endurance built up," he said. "The longer events give them an opportunity to shine."
Also, as Ty Hansen, a racer for Revolution Mountain Sports who has been involved in promoting events, points out, we humans just seem to like prolonged suffering.
"Athletes are looking to accomplish a personal goal of overcoming physical, emotional, and mental fatigue in addition to competing against their fellow racer," he said. "As a promoter and racer it's amazing to see the enjoyment that comes from spending all day on your bike racing 50 or 100 miles."
That kind of suffering is exactly why Mullen keeps going back for more, even if in the heat of searing pain he swears never again.
"I'm just a stupid jock that likes pain and suffering and who has a short memory," he said. "So I keep sticking my hand in the snake's hole and I keep getting bit."
Summer's top endurance races
June 2 • Squaw Peak 50-mile trail run 50-mile course in the Wasatch Mountains with more than 14,000 feet of elevation gain.
June 9 • Moab Triathlon Festival/XTERRA Two-day event that features several races including a sprint/Olympic event course.
June 15 • Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back 192-mile team race held in the Wasatch Mountains.
June 17 • Desert R.A.T.S 148-mile race from Grand Junction, Colo., to Moab.
July 13 • Wasatch Front Ultra Relay Foot race that follows the Wasatch Front 100-mile endurance trail.
Aug. 18 • TriUtah Jordanelle Triathlon One of the state's most popular triathlon relay events, covering more than 132 miles.
June 16 • High Uintahs 10,000 Road Race 80-mile point-to-point race from Kamas to Evanston, Wyo.
June 23 • Dixie 200 Self-supported mountain bike race between Bryce Canyon and Brian Head.
July 14 • The Crusher in the Tushars Race over dirt and pavement in Beaver County.
July 27-28 • Saints to Sinners Bike Relay Over 500 miles covered in race from Salt Lake to Las Vegas.
Aug. 18 • Mt. Ogden 100k MTB race Races of 25K, 50K and 100K offered.
Sept. 1 • Park City Point to Point 78 miles of single track racing that boasts 14,000 feet of climbing in Park City.
Sept. 8 • LOTOJA Class One of the state's most popular races from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Sources: http://www.utahrunning.com and cyclingutah.com