He may not leap buildings in a single bound, but he has traveled 6,000 miles around the country penniless on his bike, relied on a free haircut won in a duathlon for his wedding day, and built his own mountain house in a series of all-nighters in 26-below-zero temperatures after reading a few books on home construction . . . Professional duathlete, ultra runner, winner of the New York City Empire State Building Stair Climb and the USARA Adventure Racing Nationals . . . Oh ya, and the timing and race direction company he owns with his wife is also one of the busiest in the state, timing and organizing scores of regional races throughout the year, including multisport, running and snowshoeing.
Meet Darrin Eisman, owner of Racing Underground. If you’ve raced in Colorado, it’s pretty likely you’ve seen him or even talked to him. But it’s pretty unlikely you’ve heard about his exploits; he tends to be soft-spoken, pretty humble, and a bit on the quiet side. But don’t let that fool you. Once you learn a little of his background, you’ll understand how he is able to keep so many balls in the air, seemingly effortlessly, with a disarming smile and zen-like calm. After all, how hard can directing a race be, when not so long ago you faced death on a steep mountain descent, with your tubular rolling right off your disk wheel on a tight switchback, launching you amidst sparks over the handlebars?
A high school standout, Darrin had multiple state wins in cross country and track. Though the college scholarship offers rolled in, a poor coaching experience in high school turned him off of a coached running program, so he took the road less traveled, coached himself, and studied geology at the University of Connecticut (running with the cross country team whenever it worked into his schedule).
After a year he had the idea, “I think I want to ride my bike across the country. . .” Lacking any kind of funding, he survived the 6000-mile trip with only $200 in his pocket. “I didn’t stay anywhere that cost money,” he recalls. “When you’re alone, you don’t spend a lot.” In the country he slept in his tent, and in urban areas he asked homeowners if he could sleep in their yards. Yup, just rang the doorbell with his sleeping bag under his arm. He says most of those generous strangers invited him in for dinner, and he never had any trouble.
A few years later Darrin and a high school friend rented a mountain house in California, just north of Yosemite. He rode his bike everywhere, and discovered his first duathlon near San Francisco, part of the Coors Light duathlon series. He says spending the summer months riding in the mountains with his friend, in addition to continuing to run, prepared him well to race (he was biking around 300 miles a week, and running 70+ miles per week). He “beat a pile of pros” and placed top ten, and was hooked after that.
Once he had expended some of his wanderlust, he headed back to school, and met his wife, Jill, on the first day of the fall term. Perusing triathlon magazines, Darrin discovered regional duathlons nearby with prize money. So he and Jill began spending the weekends driving 3-4 hours up and down the eastern coast, racing for prize money. “I’d win $100 or $200, and that would support us for a while. It was fun,” he says.
After graduation Darrin and Jill headed west in a home-made plywood camper, intending to go all the way to California. They picked “prize money races,” and Darrin won consistently, paying for gas and food. They spent about three months on their journey, camping on the side of the road, before they found themselves in Colorado, camping in Boulder Canyon and racing in the area. One day, Jill said, “I like it here. Let’s stay.” And they did.
Landing a surveying job for Denver light rail, Darrin worked full time and continued to race on the weekends. After a couple years, they bought property in the mountains, at about 8500 feet.
Darrin won duathlon nationals as an amateur in 1993, and switched to pro in 1994. The first year he raced pro, he placed in the prize money in every race. He did well at the shorter distances, but learned the longer events weren’t for him. “I desperately wanted to do well at the Powerman race in Switzerland,” he says. “I made several attempts over the years, and put all of my efforts into it, but for some reason the distance didn’t work for me (10k run, 150k bike, 30k run). The training went well, but once I crossed over a line in terms of racing effort, I couldn’t maintain it. I couldn’t take in enough calories to keep from bonking – it was all nutrition related. It’s still like that.” But, he says he has no regrets.
He varied his efforts, completing the Leadville Trail 100 ultra marathon, and adding snowshoe racing in the winters. He tried the Denver stair climb race one year, and won it. So he went to New York City for the Empire State Building Run-Up, and won that too. He loved trail running and triathlons, so he joined his friends on a team for an eight-day Ecochallenge race in Morocco. He says the state of Colorado is great for promoting diversity in athletes: “Here, people don’t put themselves in little boxes. You’re not just a runner, you can do so many other things.”
Darrin & Jill’s company, Racing Underground, was launched in 1995. At the time Darrin and Jill had a local running and multisport magazine (which was later sold to Rocky Mountain Sports magazine).
They decided to put on a running race, which Darrin organized, and they hired a timing company. “That’s how we started,” he recalls. “After the race, I was thinking about the timing aspect, and it hit me that I love working with numbers, I love races, and I think I could be really good at it.”
The first Barkin’ Dog Duathlon took place in 1998. At that time Darrin was president of the USAT Rocky Mountain Region, but there were no duathlons in Colorado, so he and Jill organized Barkin’ Dog, “and things just kept expanding from there,” he says. Today, Racing Underground puts on about 20 of its own events, and provides timing and event support for an additional 50+ races each year. “We put in a LOT of hours, but It’s not really work when we love it,” he says.
After shuffling around their schedule over the past few years, “We finally have the balance we need and not be working around the clock. Everything about racing, we love. Jill and I don’t think of it so much as a business, it’s just what we do because we love it. And I think people sense that, and it’s what makes our events special.”
These days, Darrin says he doesn’t get to run as much as he’d like. “Every few years I’ll decide to hop into a marathon, so I’ll train for a few months and get it done, but the last time I raced was two or three years ago,” he says. “I’m due for another one soon.” Most of his time outside of work is spent with his nine-year-old daughter, whom he takes trail running, cross country skiing, mountain biking, or one of the many other outdoor pursuits Colorado has to offer. He also coaches the Landsharks running program at her school. He’s not done racing, though, and still has goals. “I’d like to win my age group at Boston at some point,” he proclaims. “That’s always been a big goal. Maybe next year. I love to get out and run.”
For more information on Racing Underground, visit the web site.
Here’s what’s new for 2014 from Racing Underground:
New Spring Duathlon Schedule
Barkin’ Dog Du now USAT Regional Championship
Big Sky Du new location at Dick’s Sporting Goods Complex
All races now sanctioned by USAT
Free SkiPix Race Photos
Desert’s Edge Tri Festival new earlier date in September
Desert’s Edge off-road tri now official XTERRA
Crescent Moon Tri – Olympic distance added & new earlier summer date
New Front Range Series: Evergreen, My Way or the Tri Way, Littlefoot
New Club Prize Money
New Timing Software