Going the Distance

Welcome to Colorado, home to open roads, killer trails, and the endurance athletes who dominate them. Ready to join the ranks?

May 2007

Man, Coloradans are in good shape. Maybe it’s not immediately apparent, but somewhere between the chain restaurants and traffic-choked Front Range interstates, we somehow stay active enough to make Colorado the leanest of all 50 states. And we’re not just pickup-basketball-game fit or two-hours-a-day-at-the-gym fit. Colorado feeds a certain kind of beast, the extremely refined practitioner of endurance sports, like running and biking and ski-touring and anything else that requires hours of free time and a closetful of technical fabrics—sports you can’t help but embrace in a mountain playground with 300 sunny days a year. Add to that the rapid influx of out-of-staters here for the active lifestyle and you’ve got a breeding ground for all manner of endurance weenies. There’s the wiry 55-year-old cyclist who just dropped you on Lookout Mountain. The sinewy, 90-pound, 48-year-old woman bounding rabbitlike up some godforsakenly steep trail in Boulder. The packs of software reps and surgeons and business consultants who jam every Denver bike path and canyon-road shoulder when the mercury rises above 20. Surely you’ve seen them; maybe you’re one of them. 

A look at some Colorado endurance-sports statistics: According to the advocacy group Bicycle Colorado, 1.5 million active cyclists turn the pedals in the Centennial State. And seeing that the Bolder Boulder draws 50,000 people each May—that makes it the nation’s fourth-largest running event—it’s easy to extrapolate that Coloradans essentially run like they’re being chased. All the time.

Part of this trend is socio-economic, of course. Seventy-six percent of serious cyclists are white and well-educated, and 68 percent of them make more than $40,000 a year, meaning they can drop a few bucks here and there on carbon-fiber frames, custom shoes, and heart-rate monitors that cost as much as a month’s worth of groceries. And those well-educated, gainfully employed types are willing to schedule their work around their exercise. At a time when cycling has been falling off elsewhere in the country, the West has seen substantial growth in participation since 1998.