Eric Gutknecht, CEO of Continental Sausage, makers of CharcutNuvo products, was working as a management consultant in Dallas in 1998 when he fell into his intense passion. "I was bored because there isn't anything to do in Texas," he explains. So Gutknecht taught himself to swim on a whim, and entered a sprint triathlon.
The entrepreneur came out of his first 500-meter swim with folks who'd started two waves behind him. His girlfriend at the time -- now his wife and the company's CFO, Jessica Gutknecht -- was worried he'd drowned. "I was dead last in my age group, but caught up a little on the bike ride," Gutknecht says. He was hardly deterred by his performance; in fact, he says, "I was hooked."
Gutknecht graduated from minis to full triathlons, and has completed over 100, including four Ironman competitions, which are widely considered one of the most grueling one-day sporting events in the world, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon, in that order. Ironman training is time-consuming, and Eric awakes every morning at 3 a.m. to ensure his workouts won't compromise valuable time with his family.
Gutknecht's Ironman induction was in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 2008. "The water there was freezing cold, and I tore my calf muscle," he recalls. Injury aside, that competition gave Gutknecht the confidence he needed to reach for the Ironman World Championship, held yearly in Hawaii.
In 2012, he made it to Kona, after qualifying with two triathlons in six weeks. "The thing about Kona is that everything about the race is hard," Gutknecht says, explaining, "It's the best of the best: Everyone's fast, and the swimming is totally violent. The bike is the hardest bike on the circuit and the run is through lava fields."
Racing Kona -- or any triathlon, for that matter -- isn't so different from running a thriving food business. Since taking over the family biz in 2003, the Gutknechts have grown Continental Sausage by 500 percent.
The challenges of negotiating triathlon transitions and enduring a long race certainly made Gutknecht more apt for that success. "You look at processes, and every little second counts," he says, offering, "If you're packaging sausage, it really matters how many steps you make."
A busy work schedule -- including a massive company rebrand -- hasn't quelled Gutknecht's competitive spirit. He recently raced the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, and is currently trying to qualify for the USA National Team.
Five-person teams run for fun and compete for funds going to charity
Tara Seyffert’s bridesmaids will be dressed in light pink when she marries Tyler Arko in Littleton on May 24, but she hopes to find green tutus for them to wear when they kick off the wedding week by running with her on one of 1,300 teams in the Colfax Marathon Relay.
Arko and his groomsmen will be running as a rival relay team, too. They’re going with green tuxedo shirts, because May is Mental Health Awareness Month and green is the ribbon color that commemorates it. Mental health awareness is an important cause for Seyffert, Arko and his best friend, Mitch Kusick.
“It’s something Tyler and I are passionate about, because it’s affected some lives that touch us,” Seyffert said. “Tyler works as a teacher and he has students, so it’s very important for him, and I work in human resources. I have employees that face mental illness, and I want to break the stigma.”
Kusick said the groomsmen expect to beat the bridesmaids by 60 to 90 minutes in the 26.2-mile race, but Seyffert isn’t so sure about that.
“Both Tyler and Mitch are very strong athletes,” Seyffert said. “I have short little hamster legs, so I’m under no illusions that we’re going to beat them by any means, but I do think we can give them a run for their money on how close that gap is going to be.”
The Marathon Relay is one of five races associated with the Colfax Marathon, which is set for May 19, starting and finishing in City Park. The marathon tends to attract 1,800 to 2,000 runners, but about 6,500 will be running on five-person relay teams. Meanwhile, the half marathon usually accounts for about 6,000, with another 1,200 opting for a 10-mile race. A 5K the day before those races is expected to attract 4,600.
The Marathon Relay has a purpose beyond friendly competition. Race organizers earmark $100,000 for charities designated by top-finishing relay teams. In addition, teams often do their own charity fundraising by asking people to sponsor them. The Arko-Seyffert wedding party teams, for example, will be running for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“No one else in the country is doing anything like this,” said Andrea Dowdy, Colfax Marathon chief executive. “If you want to look at it this way, we have $100,000 in our prize pool, but our race has never been about the elite athletes. I applaud these races across the country that support professional runners, but we’re at altitude and we’re about the community. Our prize pool, in essence, all goes to charity.”
The cost to register a team is $319 and will increase to $335 on May 14. The relay has three divisions: corporate, government (representing municipalities, police and fire, schools, etc.) and an open division. Race organizers pay between $2,500 and $750 to charities designated by teams finishing in the top three or four, and there are subdivisions. In the corporate competition, for example, there are 12 industry categories such as accounting, health care, manufacturing and legal. The top three teams in each of those categories earn money for their charity.
Clever names are part of the relay buzz, too. Among this year’s entries are Worst Pace Scenario, Do These Shoes Make My Butt Look Fast, Between a Walk and a Hard Place, Your Pace or Mine, The Lung and the Restless, Sisters with Blisters and Legs Miserables.
Eric Gutknecht, the chief executive of Denver-based Continental Sausage and an Ironman triathlete, has sponsored multiple Colfax relay teams over the past five years, raising in excess of $100,000 for Denver Kids Inc., which helps at-risk kids graduate from high school and pursue secondary education. Names for his relay teams have included The Best of Wurst, Wurst Blisters Ever, Wieners Never Quit and Hasta La Sausage.
“The reason why we picked the Colfax Marathon as our signature event is because the folks at Colfax also do so much for our community,” Gutknecht said via email from Spain, where he will compete on Saturday at an International Triathlon Union Half Ironman “aquabike” world championships event. “They are all about making an impact. Colfax dishes out at least $100k per year to relay champions with the money going to their non-profit of choice. They also provide a simple platform for raising money and awareness for non-profits through their charity partner program.”
The Denver Fire Department, Aurora Fire Rescue and West Metro Fire Rescue have a side competition: the winning team claims the coveted Bronze Nozzle. It is a traveling trophy, currently held by DFD.
“It’s a prideful thing,” said Jaxon Shelburne, a DFD lieutenant. “We want to post the best score for Denver Fire to get the best time. It’s bragging rights. Aurora has won it a few times, Lakewood (West Metro) has won it, and this was the first time that Denver won it. Each year, we were getting closer and closer. We finally took the prize.”
They did more than that. DFD finished second last year among all men’s “government” teams, earning $2,000 for its charity beneficiary, the Denver Fire Department Foundation. Its time of 2 hours, 52 minutes, 44 seconds was only 58 seconds behind the winner, a team representing the city of Thornton, which earned $2,500 for a non-profit called Bridges to Prosperity.
“We were less than a minute away from winning first in the government division last year,” Shelburne said, “and we intend to take first place this year.”
The competition between Seyffert’s bridesmaids and Arko’s groomsmen doesn’t figure to be quite as serious.
“We’re just out there to have fun, and above all else understand that everyone is running at their own pace,” Arko said. “Some of our friends are not runners, and they’re doing this for us to be a part of this, and to be a part of the mental health awareness, breaking that stigma. I would say the boys definitely have the advantage.”