$0.02: Imperial evolution
summit daily news
What has gotten into the Imperial Challenge? Breckenridge’s annual spring sufferfest, which bridges the gap between winter and summer by testing hundreds of athletes on bikes and skis, has evolved faster than the Gremlins over the past two years.
A few minutes before last Saturday’s 15th annual Challenge, I chatted with Mark Taylor, the only person to have completed all 15. Taylor was reminiscing about the dinosaur times, back when he and the late Chris Ethridge competed year in and year out for the victory. “I remember when the first person broke two hours,” Taylor said. “We all thought that was unbelievable.”
Fast-forward a few years. Mike Kloser of Vail won Saturday’s race in ” you ready for this? ” 1 hour, 22 minutes, 5 seconds. Breck’s Monique Merrill topped the women’s field in 1:32:52. She finished faster than everyone but the top three men.
Perhaps the times wouldn’t feel so startling if they’d gradually gone low over the course of a decade. However, Merrill’s winning time was nearly 14 minutes lower than the record as she held it two years ago ” a 13 percent improvement. Sari Anderson, last year’s women’s winner and Saturday’s runner-up, broke Merrill’s mark last April by six minutes. Merrill then topped that record by 7:22 on Saturday.
On the men’s side, Kloser’s winning time was nearly six minutes faster than the record as he held it two years ago, a 7 percent improvement.
Maybe if you didn’t train one year and put yourself through hell the next, shaving that sort of time would make sense. But the athletes who win this race are always in top shape, making the rapidly evaporating times that much more puzzling.
What’s more, a whopping 43 individuals ” 38 men and five women ” broke two hours last weekend.
Taylor’s guesses on the roots of improvement were mostly related to equipment. Racers went from using only mountain bikes, to testing cross bikes, to, now, pedaling road bikes with their tiny tires up the dirt surface on Peak 7. Randonee ski setups have become popular, as well, allowing racers a lightweight option on the uphill with a still-stable device coming down.
Other than that, only amazement remains from years past.
“It’s just night and day,” said Marc Carlisle, who runs the race for Great Adventure Sports. “I just can’t get over how people can accomplish that in an hour and 22 minutes.” …
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