Regular blog readers know that I presented at, and attended, the Triathlon America Conference in San Diego last week.
One of the keynote speakers was Bahram Akradi, CEO of Life Time Fitness. I’ve seen him speak on a couple of occasions now and his passion for fitness is obvious.
What I found most interesting about his presentation was a stated strategy for endurance athletes. Life Time is incorporating endurance events and endurance channels (running, cycling, triathlon) into the health club or gym experience. I don’t know that any other health club that is taking this approach to keeping members active.
Most clubs have offerings for personalized weight training and various fitness classes, but I don’t know of any other fitness organization like Life Time that has a strategy for endurance athletes.
By being involved in the event business (triathlons, mountain bike races, etc.), Life Time has a way to put well-run events, goals, into the future to give athletes a training goal. Within the club, members can focus on these goals as an individual or as a group. Of course you don’t have to be a Life Time member to participate in any of the events.
Cracking the typical gym-rat mold for health clubs could give Life Time the edge to endure an ever-changing, tough market.
The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) is well on its way to becoming the Ironman of mountain bike racing. There are plenty of people unhappy about the direction the race has taken, others are happy and others have no idea there are any issues.
Let me explain.
The LT100 began in 1994 as a quirky mountain bike race. The major goal of the event was similar to that of the Leadville 100 Run, beginning in 1983, and that was to bring visitors to Leadville. The economy in town was facing hard times and race directors Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin wanted to do something to help. They dreamed of athletes being drawn to Leadville for some of the most challenging events in the world.
Each year, their event grew in popularity. Most of the growth was due to word of mouth. Mountain bike riders that completed the event told their friends about it and recruited more mountain bike riders for the next year. Though the course is not considered technical by mountain biking standards, good bike handling skills are necessary as is good fitness. Many riders struggle to reach the four time check points.
Missing a check point means getting pulled from the race. Missing the 12-hour cut-off time means no coveted belt buckle.
Certainly the event was growing nicely on its own. The first year I entered the event there was a lottery system and not all entrants got into the event. There were 750 entrants, 600 toed the start line. After Lance Armstrong did the event in 2008, the event saw a lot more media attention.
The race not only received more media attention, but it also received more attention from sponsors. The list of sponsors interested in being associated with this event grew. The event attracted the attention of Life Time Fitness owner Bahram Akradi and Life Time Fitness became the title sponsor of the event.
Those familiar with triathlon know that Life Time Fitness was the title sponsor of the first event to pay good prize money to triathletes with the “Equalizer” event. It paid $250,000 to the first male or female across the finish line. Life Time literally changed the pay scale for professional triathletes.
The media attention for the Leadville 100 (LT100) mountain bike race expanded exponentially in 2009 with the release of the film by Citizen Pictures, Race Across the Sky and more Lance Armstrong effect. Suddenly people everywhere around the world wanted entry into this extreme challenge. In the 2010 event there were 1,553 entrants via the lottery system – more than double that of just six years ago. How many racers tried to enter, but were denied entry is uknown but rumored numbers are big.
The LT100 is now faced with what many business owners want - and that is growing pains. Your product is so successful that people are clamoring to get it.
Most people want growth but cannot foresee the problems that growth brings. Successful businesses, and make no mistake this is a business, find ways to solve the problems so the customer (sponsors and racers) remains satisfied with the product.
What are some of the issues that this growing business faces? Below are a few that I gathered after talking with several racers post-event. In no particular order:
Now with all these issues and more that I didn’t mention, it seems that I’m complaining. Not exactly.
You see, I was able to get a personal best time in 2009 because I seeded myself in a good location, was able to descend at a pace that matched my skills and I found great (skilled, fit and experienced) riders to work with on many of the flat sections so I wasn’t solo time trialing in the wind (like this year).
Are there solutions to all the problems?
Of course, but not all riders will be happy with the changes.
This race has the power to inspire a wave of mountain bike enthusiasts like Ironman helped inspire the growth of the sport of triathlon. It can do it with dignity, responsibility for rider safety, and a fair enforcement of rules and standards for all riders. This can grow the sport for everyone at all levels from the individual rider to the businesses behind sport.
Will those things happen?
Time will tell.