Why Gravel Racing? | Experience Life


[MUSIC PLAYING] Hey, everybody. Welcome to this mini episode of Life Time Talks. I’m Jamie Martin. 

And I’m David Freeman. 

And as we speak, we’re actually excited to have workforce members from our athletic occasions group right here with us to speak about gravel racing and the rise on this off-road sport. David, I’m going handy it over to you to welcome our friends. 

Yeah, we obtained Michelle Duffy. She’s the director of our advertising and marketing model and content material technique at Life Time athletic occasions and has led huge advertising and marketing efforts off-road races at Life Time for a number of years. And we’ve obtained someone else that’s particular. Jamie, who else we obtained? 

Yeah, Kristi Mohn is right here with us as nicely. She has constructed and formed the unbound gravel race since its inception and joined the Life Time workforce in 2018, when Life Time acquired that occasion. Kristi has additionally been actually integral in launching the DEI initiative and efforts throughout the athletic occasions group. Each for unbound and different athletic occasions that Life Time runs. She can also be the co-founder of the Women Gone Gravel podcast. Thanks each for becoming a member of us as we speak. 

Properly, hey. 


Hiya, we love having a fellow podcaster on with us. That’s superior, Kristi. 

No stress, proper? 

No stress in any respect. In no way. All proper, we’re going to leap proper into this subject as a result of, you already know, we’ve got heard and been studying, and clearly, we all know as a result of we’re half Of Life Time that gravel racing is on the rise. So we need to, at the beginning, simply set the stage for everyone. What’s gravel racing? And the way is it totally different from different types of biking? 

Properly, I believe gravel racing is fairly merely outlined as driving your bike on off-road combined terrain surfaces. So principally, while you use the time period Gravel, however it actually implies off the street, off the asphalt, off the pavement. It’s been round for a really very long time. However the kind that we appear to see as we speak, actually most likely began taking form in 2005-2006. And I’d say unbound gravel was one of many main occasions in that area of serving to to develop the off-road gravel scene. I believe we’re seeing such an increase in recognition for a number of causes, a few that are the center of the nation is simply filled with gravel roads, they’re simply so accessible, they usually’re in every single place. And it’s fairly straightforward to get out in your bike and discover these. 

Secondly, I do really feel just like the street isn’t as protected because it was once. Drivers are sometimes distracted and never essentially being attentive to what’s in entrance of them. And so being on off-road surfaces tends to lend your self to just a little bit extra of a security setting from the attitude of your fellow man on the market in a a lot larger car than your bike is. 

After which third, I believe it’s only a fairly– like I stated, it’s fairly accessible. You possibly can take any bike on it, there’s the gear wants, though you’ll be able to spend a ton of cash on in gravel biking, you can even simply– I at all times prefer to say, “Any bike is a gravel bike”, so you’ll be able to simply, type of, get on the market and discover and it’s a good way to discover terrain round you. 

I really like that introduction. Thanks for grounding us with that. I simply need to take you again right down to reminiscence lane. Do you bear in mind the age you had been at while you first discovered tips on how to journey your first bike? 


Oh, yeah, I used to be most likely six. And I bear in mind particularly asking for a Schwinn bike with the banana seats and the large ol’ handlebars that got here up like this. I obtained that for Christmas once I was in second grade, and I do not forget that bike very particularly. And I additionally bear in mind the sensation that I actually had, like driving that bike and feeling like I might go wherever. Like, in fact, that wasn’t precisely true. However in my thoughts’s, I as a child, I used to be like, I can go additional than across the block. And I believed that was actual, I can journey myself to softball apply. It simply was a second of particular freedom, and I very a lot do not forget that. 

That’s superior. I imply, going again to what’s gravel racing, after which going again to your childhood and the way you, type of, got here into driving bikes. You stated 2005 it began to select up, it began to– all people needed to turn out to be a part of this. So over the previous, what, 18 years, we’re now in 23. What do you assume trigger such a draw to this sport? 

The group that surrounds it’s simply completely phenomenal. You recognize, you’ll be able to deliver your mates, you’ll be able to deliver your children, you’ll be able to deliver your partner, all people can come and play for essentially the most half. And I believe, I’m actually pleased with the work that we’ve achieved at Life Time in making the area much more inclusive and ensuring folks really feel welcome to return and be a part of us at a begin line and expertise the end line and whether or not you’re driving or simply spectating. There’s an area for you in gravel writing. 

Michelle, I need to toss it over to you for a second. You’ve been with Life Time for about 5 years, you helped to launch our inaugural Grand Pr-ix race collection. When Life Time began getting concerned in additional of those off-road races, why do you assume that was? What had been you and the workforce noticing, that was like, we’ve obtained to get extra on this area? How was that? How did that evolve? 

Yeah, I believe, we had been– After I got here into this function for since 2011, we’ve had the Leadville race collection occasions they usually actually grounded us in our success and understanding the success based mostly on group, and occasion just like the Leadville path 100 mountain bike race in Colorado doesn’t exist with out the backbones of that group. And whereas that’s historically a mountain bike race, I believe that tradition interprets into what we’re seeing within the profitable gravel occasions across the nation. And so they could have lovely gravel roads and terrain that you just’d by no means in any other case see if you weren’t in your bike. 

However they do present accessibility they usually do include actually robust communities, whether or not that’s the local people through which the occasion takes place, or the group that gathers via the bike and understanding that, I believe, Life Time has achieved a very nice job, our workforce. Particularly on taking the time to take part, taking the time to open our arms to that sport. I didn’t journey bikes, once I took this job. I rode a motorbike, I had a motorbike, however I didn’t lean into biking, till we began to construct our portfolio, deeper into the area and it required, taking the time to really perceive what the game’s grounded in, to ensure that us to seek out success. 

How will we purchase these occasions and simply leaned into rising this as massive because it might be, and, type of, steering away and forgetting what actually uplifts these occasions, I don’t assume that we’d discover as a lot success. I don’t assume, that we might have been capable of launch new occasions and promote them out, with out prior possession, with no group that’s had that occasion for 10 years previous to Life Time coming in. And I believe, that’s one thing that not simply Life Time, however the gravel group as an entire actually leans into, the place is it positioned? How can I assist? The group volunteers, native companies, all of that type of helps to construct the expertise past the bike. 

I like what you stated there. I imply, you need to lean in at sure cut-off dates, should you’re connecting and serving folks on this area. So that you began driving extra ceaselessly and getting concerned. So my subsequent query goes to be for each of you. I’ll begin with you, Michelle. What’s the longest distance you’ve lined on a motorbike? 

Kristi has me beat on this one. I’ve achieved like 120 miles. 

In a single setting? 

Yeah. However you haven’t requested Kristi but. 


OK, OK. Kristi, you’re up. What you bought for us? 

Properly, I’ve achieved, I’ve really competed and accomplished our 200-mile occasion. So I’ve achieved the total 206 miles, after which additionally did it wasn’t in someday, however I did the Ho Chi Minh Path over in Laos over the course of eight days, and that was fairly. That’s fairly intense. 

Yeah, you assume, proper? 


So, I imply– 


I used to be in method over my head. 

I do know inside what you each stated this phrase inclusive. And that is one other massive factor that we’re large on right here at Life Time, ensuring all people feels welcomed, supported to totally take part. So, what’s the youngest age that you just’ve really seen take part at these occasions? And in addition, essentially the most veteran age, senior age, like so, what on each ends of the spectrum? What have you ever seen? 

Dang it, that’s a superb one. I’m going to guess our youngest has been most likely round seven or eight, and that’s most likely within the 25 mile distance. I believe our oldest has been up within the 80s, 84, or 85, someplace in there. Is that proper, Michelle? 

Yeah, we’ve had folks of their late 80s take part at a few of our occasions after which some occasions even have youth like children races. So we’ve seen Little Tykes on bikes, and that’s at all times actually enjoyable. However one thing that actually stood out to me final yr was standing initially line of certainly one of our occasions right here in Emporia, Kansas, and watching this most likely seven or eight-year-old, like take off to go do the 25-mile occasion, and it was simply so tremendous, tremendous cool. These, Kristi, you stated earlier, the bike was a car that gave you some sense of freedom, and simply think about being seven years outdated and attending to roll out of a city on a motorbike, like your dad and mom would by no means allow you to simply go, run, or clearly, you’ll be able to’t drive a automobile. So how else would you have the ability to journey that distance in a protected setting that your dad and mom know and belief? So I believed that was actually cool. 

Properly, a few issues that you just’re alluding to right here as nicely is like, it doesn’t must be a 200-mile race. It may be a 25-mile race, and this actually has confirmed to be a sport the place it’s like, extra persons are getting concerned from all totally different walks of life. It’s not that they’re beginning younger, they’re ranging from– possibly they’re of their center age and simply beginning. So there’s actually begin small, however begin any time. There’s actually no limits on when you’ll be able to take part. So are you able to communicate to just a little bit about that facet of it? 

For positive. I imply, I believe one of many issues I don’t like listening to is, “I’m simply doing the 25”, or “I’m simply doing the 50.” All of these distances are legitimate, they usually all include their very own challenges. And I believe that it’s one of many coolest issues that we’ve got, is you could be lined up with a very robust professional rider, and simply be, type of, coming into this and beginning to discover it and nonetheless have the ability to do it and take part. And it’s simply– it’s one of many issues that I believe is the most effective half concerning the gravel biking, simply basically, is that we attempt to accommodate totally different skills. And that may additionally imply totally different time commitments. Like, do you may have time to coach for a 200 mile? That takes a variety of dedication and a variety of time. So should you don’t, then we’ve got different choices for you. That also– you’ll be able to nonetheless take part and be a part of it. 

Yeah, I need to return to the group piece. And the inclusive piece. That was large. I do know we simply talked about age proper now. Once you’re beginning to see totally different folks present up on the beginning line, and I do know you’ve head up a variety of the DEI initiatives. Are you able to share with us what you may have begin to see over the previous few years, because it involves evolving on this area and seeing all totally different shapes, sizes like every type of creed coming into this area. Are you able to share with us just a little little bit of what you’ve been seeing? 

Positive. I imply, I believe it actually got here right down to a realization for me a number of years in the past, the place what I understood was that individuals though the area was inclusive, we wanted to ask folks, we wanted to ensure that they knew that they had been welcome. And in doing so, we’ve got obtained extra, positively extra diligent about our strategy to that. And as we’ve grown and discovered increasingly, I believe one of many issues that Life Time has achieved very well is use actually robust companions that we are able to belief to assist us herald all of these totally different points, whether or not it’s physique form, whether or not it’s pores and skin coloration, or no matter it’s, we’ve discovered actually stable companions to assist us assist them like they’ve entry to our platforms we’re capable of give them, whether or not it’s an entry to a race or no matter it could be, whether or not it’s internet hosting coaching rides for them. It’s actually about discovering these companions locally and serving to them do the work to ensure that they perceive that the teams of those who they journey with day by day are welcome at our occasions. 

And that’s actually helped us develop the inclusivity in an extremely robust method that may survive this motion and this ardour that we’re seeing within the trade round DEI. We’re rising the subsequent group and it seems to be totally different than the one which’s at the moment been at a conventional bike begin line. And I believe that’s actually thrilling. 

If I’m remembering appropriately and proper me if I’m mistaken, from a fact-checking standpoint. However I had learn a New York Instances article that talked about when athletes discovered that, as an example, there was a nonbinary class for the primary time in UNBOUND. And if I’m remembering that was simply a few years in the past, however it made a giant distinction within the race. 

Are you able to communicate to that piece of it? 

Yeah, we really rolled out a nonbinary class in 2020. However then with our buddy COVID, we didn’t get to host our first yr of occasions with nonbinary classes. So that actually got here to fruition in 2021 throughout the Life Time portfolio in UNBOUND Gravel was the primary occasion that occurred that yr, that we had a nonbinary podium. And by making simply that one class obtainable, accessible, and it created change throughout the trade. 

Not solely did it open the doorways for people which might be nonbinary, however it additionally held different occasions accountable to must do the work themselves as nicely to pay attention, and to observe go well with. And whether or not these occasions had been prepared or not, they needed to keep in an area. So it push the problem for them. And I believe that’s nice. I believe holding others accountable is a part of the work that we’re doing as nicely. We’re offering platforms. We’re offering accessibility. And we’re encouraging others to observe go well with as an trade chief. 

This previous yr, we went from a one particular person on the rostrum in 2021, Krisit, to having a full podium within the 2022 200 and 100 occasions. So we noticed large development there. And we noticed skilled athletes which might be nonbinary come to occasions like Large Sugar and Wealthy McBride specifically, skilled triathlete that had by no means been capable of compete in triathlons as nonbinary, was capable of come to Large Sugar Gravel and stand on their first nonbinary podium, and turn out to be a champion there. And that was a giant win for Wealthy, for us, and for the trade as a result of I believe after that we noticed the web page flip. 

There’s a statistic that I believe is admittedly essential to know. You talked about how accessible gravel racing is. I believe it was a New York Instances article as nicely. And I do know we’re doing a narrative in EL developing on gravel racing as nicely. However one thing like 2.2 million miles of unpaved roads within the US. That’s in accordance with the US Division of Transportation. And that’s so attention-grabbing as a result of it actually does make it extra accessible for extra folks. And I believe that’s an essential factor for folks to notice. 

However with that in thoughts, there has additionally been this development on the skilled facet of the game as nicely. And I do know that, Michelle, you had been actually integral in rising our Grand Prix race collection. So I’d love for folks to know just a little bit about what that’s, and what it’s doing for this sport. 

Yeah. In 2022, we hosted the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix, which is comprised of a collection of already established Life Time biking occasions. And it was a couple of years in the past that we, one, began to acknowledge a change in tide. Whereas gravel driving has been round for so long as a bicycle has been a car, gravel racing actually started within the early 2000s. Nevertheless it wasn’t till round 2015/16 that we began to see skilled cyclists come to those occasions and expertise them for themselves. 

Since that point, in 2015 until as we speak, we’re seeing a rising tide in skilled cyclists which might be making a livelihood off of driving their bike off street. That’s very totally different than it was simply in 2018 or 2019 the place it was nonetheless newsworthy if an elite bike owner was coming to a gravel occasion. And now we’ve got lots of of elite stage cyclists which might be coming to those occasions with sponsors bringing 300 manufacturers to our expos. 

And we actually took a step again, and we’ve got this wonderful portfolio of occasions. However then trying on the followers that these athletes could have, the followers that these occasions entrance of pack could have, that’s nonetheless missing. And if you concentrate on the US biking tradition, it’s been tarnished for the reason that Lance Armstrong period. 

And the way will we regenerate that? How will we work out tips on how to raise a few of these athletes to the purpose the place should you have a look at particular person sports activities like observe and subject and Ashton Eaton, gymnastics and Simone Biles, golf and Tiger Woods, tennis and Serena Williams, they’ve a hero that stands on a pedestal and that individuals need to emulate. They observe the game. They observe the particular person. They fall in love with them. 

So how can we, utilizing the property that we’ve got, each create a life altering expertise for an on a regular basis rider that’s merely making an attempt to get to the end line of their first 25 mile occasion on a $200 bicycle and likewise feed the game by creating followers of the elites which might be doing this as a profession transfer, each for the elite athlete, ourselves, after which our sponsors which might be developing, exhibiting up, and offering experiences for our athletes? 

So we launched the Grand Prix. And it’s an software based mostly initiative the place skilled athletes from around the globe apply to be part of it. They arrive. They race six of our occasions. This yr we’re really transitioning to seven occasions. And so they’re competing for a $0.25 million greenback prize purse. 

I find it irresistible. And I do know there’s a documentary that’s out round this, a docuseries I ought to say. And so we’ll have the ability to level to that too from this episode’s touchdown web page after we get to that. 

Completely. And the opposite key factor across the Life Time Grand Prix is that there’s 100% fairness. We took the identical quantity of ladies as we did males. Our prize purse is 50/50 cut up male to feminine. And our media protection is 50/50 cut up male to feminine, each on at our occasions. However then as we discuss this docuseries, we’re taking a non-traditional strategy right here the place we’re making an attempt to point out you beneath the lens who these athletes are as folks and the episodes. 

It’s a six episode collection and paperwork not simply how the race unfolded however who’s the human that’s Haley Smith, the now champion of the Life Time Grand Prix? And it goes from male to feminine to male to feminine deliberately in order that we are able to actually dig in to who these persons are. 

I can’t wait to see the total factor. I’ve seen the trailer and I used to be like, that is going to be nice. The very last thing I need to simply toss over earlier than I hand it off to you, David, is again to you, Krisit, one factor that I’m listening to from all these athletes, we’ve got really athlete Sarah Sturm goes to be on the duvet of Expertise Life developing, actually excited. I’ve heard Haley Smith’s story a bit. And there appears to be this little bit a typical thread in a few of their tales about how gravel racing has introduced again some pleasure to their expertise of biking. And I believe let’s simply, earlier than we enroll, earlier than David asks you guys a couple of fast hearth questions, inform us just a little bit about that, the enjoyment that you just’re discovering in your athletes, whether or not they’re newbie or execs. 

I believe within the day and age that we’re in, there’s a lot divisiveness. And the fantastic factor, the little little bit of magic we’ve got in gravel is that even there could also be some points that we prefer to battle about which might be enjoyable and humorous however in the end, all of us are right here for a similar aim. And we’re all right here to cheer one another on. And so I believe while you’re in a group the place there’s simply that a lot assist, you simply can’t assist however smile while you’re on the market in your bike. 

And for an athlete like Sarah or Haley, they get to do that for a dwelling. And we’ve made it attainable. That’s simply actually cool, and it’s tremendous enjoyable. And there’s positively stress in there. There’s positively stress, however it’s positively totally different than different types of biking. And I’m hoping we are able to preserve it that method. And I’m hoping that 2 plus million gravel roads around the globe don’t begin getting paved. 

All proper. David, over to you. 

I don’t need to name it a scorching seat query. This a query that actually help you go just a little bit deeper in your mindset. I’m at all times large on mine as a result of I really feel like, clearly, any and every thing that we do it begins there. And understanding that you just each have rode 100 plus miles, and I shared this story on one other podcast that we had. I believe it was with [INAUDIBLE]. I can’t bear in mind. 

However I did a century journey earlier than, and I shared how once I obtained round mile 80 that mentally I used to be on this place of like I really feel like each mile marker is developing slower and slower. So what I would like you all each to share is your private expertise of essentially the most difficult journey that you just might need had and what you ended up doing in these moments to get via it. 

So I journey the tandem loads with my husband. It’s type of a factor we do, the tandem on gravel. And we’ll take part in occasions on it. And this previous summer time, we rode gravel worlds, the unofficial gravel world which takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska. And usually, we’re completely in sync, and we simply grind away after we’re on a tandem bike. 

The place he’s within the entrance and he’s liable for just about every thing. And my duty is to simply eat and pedal. It’s important to exert simply as a lot vitality. It’s important to pedal on the similar cadence as a result of these bikes are getting into tandem. However we made a late choice to 10 gravel worlds and I had not been driving in any respect this summer time, so I went via a bonk within the excessive warmth of Nebraska again nation one might name it. And I put my tunes on and actually go searching me. 

And I believe that’s the important thing for me once I’m having a difficult journey is obstructing every thing else out. I discovered that to be my solace even on my finest rides is trying round me as a result of why else would I be out in these valleys and hills of rural America if it wasn’t for my bike? And discovering the peace and gratitude in that, realizing that it’s accessible to me. Whereas I used to be in Lincoln that point that’s actually how I discovered my soul. 

I made the choice to maneuver to Emporia, Kansas via work and thru assembly the folks, my coworkers, my now husband, as a result of being in on the gravel in these rural communities has offered a lot solace for me even when the journey is tough. So discovering that point, placing within the earbuds, and looking out round is admittedly what will get me via. And I really like to simply dig deep, so there’s that too. 

Adore it. Thanks for sharing that. Krisit, what you bought? 

I obtained just a little little bit of time to consider it whereas Michelle was answering. However once I was on that journey in Laos, I broke my wrist on the start of the second day. And actually being within the again roads of Nebraska feels such as you’re in the midst of nowhere till you’re actually in the midst of nowhere in Laos and there’s nowhere to go. And I had no option to proceed driving. That was the one possibility. However in that second what I additionally realized was that I had chosen to be there. 

And I actually took the identical type of gratitude standpoint of like, I’m fortunate. My life is permitting me to do that. My physique permits me to be able to doing this. I’m so lucky to be right here and I must deal with that versus the truth that it’s a wrestle and each mile looks as if it’s going by an inch at a time. So I believe similar to Duffy, discovering a spot to simply be appreciative of every thing you may have while you’re struggling is a fairly particular place and you may take that and apply it to the rest. 

Thanks all for sharing that. I prefer it due to our listener is having the ability to perceive in these moments of wrestle or no matter it’s that they might be going via these phrases that y’all simply shared can now resonate with them or most likely get them via the subsequent time they could have some hassle happening mentally of their life. So I recognize y’all sharing that. 

You wager. 

And we’re going to wrap up this episode on that observe as a result of I believe it’s a very excessive place for us to finish. And we need to simply verify in with each of you. Are there locations folks can observe you, keep linked you on social or simply the Life Time athletic web site? The place do you need to level folks? 

Yeah, we’d love should you guys adopted together with the Life Time Grand Prix social channels. The deal with is simply that. Rising followers of a sport doesn’t essentially imply you want to be on a motorbike; it simply means you want to have the ability to see your self in people who you’re following. And so I believe we’re going to have the ability to share some tales that individuals can actually resonate to via that channel. And we’d like to have listeners observe alongside for that journey this yr and our second inaugural yr. 

Superior. And we are going to hyperlink to the docuseries, the totally different Instagram handles, and all that in our present notes. So thanks each for taking trip of your schedules. I do know race season is developing. Persons are going to be on the roads, and in all kinds of race kinds developing right here shortly. So thanks for all of the work you’re doing to make it extra accessible for extra of us. 



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