Biking or running, Summit County’s Dennis Kaiser is going the distance
August 19, 2013
Last weekend, Dennis Kaiser achieved what he now cites as one of his top five personal athletic accomplishments — he completed the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race just seven minutes over 10 hours. While finishing the punishing 100-mile race is quite the accomplishment for your average mountain biker, last week's finish isn't the entirety of Kaiser's achievement. It was, in fact, the 10th Leadville Trail 100 Kaiser has completed, bringing him to more than 1,000 miles total of competitive mountain biking at altitude and earning him a commemorative silver belt buckle.
"Finishing 10 Leadvilles is a huge accomplishment," Kaiser said with pride.
What's more, Kaiser has achieved this not in the peak of his 20s or 30s, but at 66. Tall and runner skinny, with bright blue eyes, Kaiser hardly looks his age. His straight-backed demeanor recalls 27 years as a career Army officer, while an easy smile reveals a healthy dose of good humor. Discussion of anything bike-related quickly brings out his passion for the sport.
“Finishing 10 Leadvilles is a huge accomplishment,” Kaiser said with pride.
Grueling physical races aren't new to Kaiser, who has a history with triathlons, including the king of them all, the Ironman in Hawaii.
Kaiser started as "a pure runner," and then added biking to the mix in order to avoid injury.
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"That just naturally takes you into triathlons," he said.
Kaiser began competing in triathlons all over the country, including Ironman qualifying races. In 1995 and 2000, he qualified to compete in the Ironman, the world championship competition held in Hawaii every year.
An Ironman, for those not in the know, is an ultra triathlon. While there are varying types of triathlons (spring, long and short course, Olympic, etc.), the average triathlon consists of a swim of 0.93 miles, a bike ride of 24.8 miles and a 10K (6.2 mile) run. An Ironman starts with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then a full (26.2 mile) marathon. Those competing in Hawaii must deal with all of this through high heat and humidity, as well as salt water and ocean waves.
Kaiser counts his two Hawaii Ironmans as his biggest athletic accomplishments.
"It's like the Holy Grail. It's like the Tour de France," he said, laughing.
When asked to describe what those races were like, his eyes become distant in memory and words fail him. In the end, the best he can do is describe his method of dealing with the physical pain and exhaustion in such a race.
"You just tune it out. To do (Iroman), you have to have a very high tolerance for pain. You have to be able to just tune it out, zone it out, take it just one step at a time," he said. "You've got to swallow the beast in pieces, so to speak."
Moving on to mountain biking
Originally from Alabama, Kaiser and his wife, Sally, have lived in Summit County since 1996. While he was already an avid road biker, it was here that Kaiser learned how to mountain bike, and became hooked. His teachers were two friends, Terry and Colleen, both women, with whom he still rides.
"They taught me how, and I have the scars to prove it," he joked.
He started participating in local race series, but soon came to realize that he craved longer and longer distances. He tried out the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge, but it wasn't long enough. Pretty soon he was taking on the Breckenridge 100, the Laramie 100 and, eventually, the Leadville 100 as well.
"I'm not particularly fast, but I'm too stupid to know when to quit," he said with a laugh. "So the longer the race, the better I did."
While he isn't as fast as other people, Kaiser has the endurance to outlast them on longer races. For him, the challenge is all about the distance.
"For me, doing well in the longer races is the real achievement," he said. "To be on the podium, that's my goal every time. I don't do these just to finish, my goal is to be on the podium. The longer the race, the more the challenge, the more the achievement and satisfaction when you finish them."
Kaiser accomplished his ten Leadville Trail 100s in just eleven years, having to miss one year due to an injury. His proudest moment was when he won his 60+ age group and set a new record (the record no longer stands, but Kaiser laughs good-naturedly about it).
Having reached ten doesn't mean that Kaiser's about to stop, however.
"I have to have a goal ahead of me," he said. "I'll do it again next year. I'm going to do it until I can't."
Staying fit and positive
Competing in all of these races isn't something that Kaiser has done alone, and he'll be the first to say it. His main supporter, of course, has been his wife, Sally.
"Every race I've eve done, she's been my support crew," he said. "For every race, she's been the cheering section. She gets a lot of credit."
Kaiser also commends his bike mechanic Kris Carlstead, doctors Erik Dorf and Annie Bowen, and physical therapists Teri Day and Erin Kneedler-Jones.
"If those people hadn't done their jobs and helped me stay in the game, there's no way a 66-year-old guy would do this," he said.
Kaiser wears his age as a badge of pride with every physical accomplishment.
"I love it when I see older people doing as much as they can do — being athletic and enjoying this county. Don't say just because you're old you can't do something, because we can," he said.
He credits his fitness level to maintaining an active lifestyle, something that's easy to do in Summit County.
"This Summit County, it's just such a great community of people that love to exercise and challenge themselves, and it's such a cool place to do it," he said. "With that positive attitude and keeping active, it's got to affect your longevity. So I encourage everybody to stay as active as they can as long as they can."
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