Mountaineers usually take four weeks to summit 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, including travel time.
Flying to Alaska, acclimating, climbing to high camp, waiting for a weather window, summiting, descending and flying in a tiny plane back to Anchorage – it all takes plenty of time.
But Chris Blees, CEO of BiggsKofford P.C., isn’t your average mountaineer – he did it, door-to-door, in 11 days, twice.
“I have a company to run – I can’t take off for a month,” said Blees, just one of the many active people who help Colorado Springs continue to earn accolades as one of the fittest cities in America.
Men’s Fitness magazine ranked the Springs third during 2007, first during 2008 and second for 2009 on its list of fittest cities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the Springs 22nd among 184 cities on its 2007 list of healthiest cities.
In addition to the professional and Olympic athletes who live and train here, what keeps the city fit and topping the charts?
Ordinary people who work full-time jobs, but still manage to train daily and compete frequently.
Blees works 50 to 70 hours per week, has a wife and two children, and maintains self-imposed “stringent guidelines” for work/life balance.
“I feel better about myself when I have more on my plate. I don’t want to look back and feel like I wasted an opportunity,” he said. “Professionally, personally with family and physically, I want to challenge myself and push my limits. It’s like owning a sports car and not driving it fast. What’s the point if you’re putzing along at 20 mph?”
Blees said the seeds of his competitive drive were planted during his time at Western State College in Gunnison.
“Crazy in-shape, talented people are the norm there,” he said. “A 50-mile bike ride on a Saturday was not a major event.”
Neither was “ticking off three 14ers in the morning” followed by a night hike.
So, Blees developed the expectation that extreme athleticism was normal, and it became his lifestyle.
Which might explain why he’s climbed all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains higher than 14,000 feet) – most of them multiple times – not to mention Mount Rainer in Washington, Mount Shasta in California and Mount Hood in Oregon.
Closer to home, Blees has run the Pikes Peak Ascent seven or eight times and the Pikes Peak Marathon four times during the last 10 years.
His training ranges from eight to 20 hours per week, depending on the season and upcoming competitions.
What’s next? The Leadville Trail 100 before he’s 40.
Of course, he’s not the only executive in town who’s uber-athletic.
Dave Steigerwald, managing director of Sparks Willson Borges Brandt & Johnson P.C., works 55 to 60 hours per week, is married and has three children.
He trains for triathlons “mainly for fun” and because it’s a “stress release.”
“It’s a shared interest,” he said. “My wife enjoys it and we train together. And I have lots of friends who do it. It’s a good competitive outlet and a chance to travel.”
Steigerwald, who trains about 10 to 15 hours per week, has twice qualified for and competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
The race, touted as the “toughest one-day event in the world,” is a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
About 1,700 people compete in the championship, including 200 professional triathletes.
During 2006, Steigerwald finished 350th. Two years later, he finished 200th.
Another local businesswoman/athlete is Heather Enos, school psychologist at Fountain-Fort Carson School District.
She works 40 to 58 hours per week and competes annually in several duathlons – a run, bike, run event, which varies in length from a 5K run, a 30K bike ride and a 5K run to a 5K run, 56-mile bike ride and a 13-mile run.
Enos usually competes in one or two half-marathons during the fall. Last year, she ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco and the Ascent – as training for duathlons. This year, she will run a half-marathon in San Antonio.
Enos played collegiate lacrosse, and is a member of a recreational/competitive lacrosse league in Denver.
She competes and trains “partly for the endorphin piece,” Enos said. “But it’s also a stress reliever and adds a level of structure and discipline in my life.”
Alisha Williams, a certified public accountant at BiggsKofford, has been a member of The Boulder Running Co./Adidas club team for more than two years.
“Most of us live in Manitou and we train together,” Williams said.
She works 40 to 60 hours per week, and works out about 15 hours per week. She runs almost every day – sometimes twice a day.
“It’s fun. I like my (running) group, so it’s a social outing,” Williams said. “But I also like to compete and work on my personal record.”
Williams attended Western State College on a track scholarship and competes in about 15 to 20 races annually. She ran the Mount Sac Relays in Walnut, Calif., on April 18, and will compete in the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invite in San Francisco on May 2.
A “nontraining” week’s regimen is usually 60 to 80 miles of running, and three to five hours of stretching, yoga, sprints, plyometrics and weight training.
“Training weeks” include eight-mile “tempo” runs, which start at an 8-minute mile pace and end with several miles at a 5:30- to 5:40-minute pace.
Williams qualified for the Olympic Trials during 2001 and 2004, and her goal is to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials, focusing on the 5K and 10K events.
Another local athlete has completed the footrace to end all races, the Leadville Trail 100: 100 miles of trails, in the middle of the Colorado Rockies, ranging in altitude from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet.
The race might be easy if it were spread across three or four days, but it’s 100 nonstop miles, and race officials turn back runners who don’t make cut-off times.
The first 50 miles must be completed within 14 hours, and all 100 miles within 30 hours.
Cory Leppert, executive vice president at Central Bank & Trust, ran the Leadville in 26.5 hours during August 2007.
Married, with two sons, he works about 40 to 50 hours per week and trains about 12 to 15 hours per week.
“I’ve put some things on my life list,” Leppert said. “Competition is not necessarily about being the fastest – it’s about the accomplishment.”
Many of his clients also run and cycle, and “keeping up” with his wife requires hard work.
Jennifer Leppert placed eighth in the women’s division during the 2006 Pikes Peak Marathon.
Leppert said business and athletics are comparable.
“They require long-term goals, and a ton of preparation – both on and off the course,” he said.
For instance, training for the Leadville required a strategy and a lot of reading about the course. “Only 33 percent of people who try the Leadville 100 for the first time finish,” Leppert said. “Sometimes, you have to change your strategy to make that long-term goal.”
Training included running the Ascent eight times and the Pikes Peak Marathon – four times as a double (both events back to back), since 2000. During 2007, he ran the Collegiate Peak’s Trail Run 50-mile, the 40-mile training run on the course in Leadville and several 30- and 50-mile races.
“Endurance running doesn’t require track work or going fast,” Leppert said. “You just need to be able to go forever.”
But he’s not content to rest after having completed the most grueling foot race in Colorado.
Leppert is training for the 2009 Panama City Ironman race. He’d never been on a road bike before buying one a few months ago and is learning how to swim among crowds of people in open water.
And he’ll keep training at 5:15 a.m. – when his children are asleep and the office isn’t open.
Perhaps that’s the key to his and the others’ success. While the rest of Colorado Springs is blissfully snoozing, they’re out climbing, biking, summiting and running – anything to keep our city on the fittest lists.
Blees said that mental toughness and an ability to suffer help him during training and competition. In fact, he’s in his element when he’s pursuing any of his three passions: family, work and training.
“Anything I do, I pursue with extreme intensity,” Blees said. “I’ll never be the guy on the treadmill with a book. If something’s worth doing – it’s worth doing well.”
But how does he manage to “squeeze” all that into a day?
“I don’t sleep much,” Blees said.