Bryan Dayton on Going the Distance at Restaurants and the Leadville Trail 100

Bryan Dayton says his running career has made him a better restaurateur and a better father.
Bryan Dayton says his running career has made him a better restaurateur and a better father.
Courtesy of Bryan Dayton
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Over the past eight years, Bryan Dayton has built some of the highest-profile restaurants in the state, starting with Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, continuing with Acorn and Brider in Denver and, this past spring, Corrida on the Pearl Street Mall, a venture with chef Amos Watts. But before Dayton took the plunge into restaurant ownership, he was also a professional trail runner who ran high-altitude marathons and 50K races on his days off. On Saturday, August 18, Dayton will compete in the Leadville Trail 100, a 24-hour 100-mile ultramarathon that will take him over dirt roads, trails and mountain passes, between elevations of 9,200 and 12,600 feet — a feat he largely trained for while opening Corrida.

In advance of the race, we sat down with Dayton to talk about his side hustle, how he’s trained for this race, and how running helps him be a better restaurateur and father.

Westword: Bryan, have you ever run 100 miles before?

Bryan Dayton: I’ve never run 100 miles. The longest I’ve ever run is fifty miles. I did the Pikes Peak Ultra run as training. I worked the night before at Corrida and drove down there at 2:30 a.m. I finished seventh — not bad for an old guy.

Good lord. Are you going to work the day before the Leadville 100?

Definitely not. Part of the training, though, is you want to feel the sleep deprivation — I wanted to feel exhausted.

So how do you train for this?

You just do a lot of fucking running. It’s like a Mountain Dew commercial.

If I recall correctly, you’ve been an extreme trail runner for at least a decade.

I was a sponsored trail runner back when I was working at Frasca. I did that for almost a decade. I won two 50K USATF [USA Track & Field] trail championships in 2006 and 2007. My focus back then was running half-marathons to 50K. The last competitive race I ran was right before we opened Oak. It feels good to feel back in shape — though I’m not as in shape as I was. Eight years is a long time.

And you decided to get back into it by making this leap to 100 miles?

Living in Colorado, Leadville was always in the back of my mind, but I never got around to it. I said I would at forty, but then forty came and went. Now I’m 45. What’s kind of fun about this year is that it’s twenty years almost to the weekend that I did my first mountain marathon, the Pikes Peak marathon. I did that for the first time in 1998. It’s a good way to commemorate twenty years of mountain running.

My other inspiration is Dave Mackey, who is a super-amazing athlete and a dear friend; he helped get me my first sponsorship with Nike. Dave went through a pretty traumatic accident three years ago in May: He was on Bear Peak, and a rock went loose and landed on his lower leg and smashed it. He had a bunch of surgeries but was never able to get it completely fixed. He had a lot of people give him advice saying, “If we amputate below the knee, you’ll be able to run again.” He made that decision two years ago. He had this crazy party — kind of a “sign the leg away.” I remember leaving the party and saying goodbye, and he was more concerned about me than him. He said, “Bryan, this way we’ll be able to run together again.” I hadn’t run that heavy for a while — just enough to keep in shape. So I thought, “Hey, I’m gonna start getting to get into this again. I’m going to do the 100. I’m going to push the limits in a way that I haven’t.” Dave is doing Leadman — he’s mountain-biking this weekend. He’s a beast.

Explain trail running to me. What are the parameters of the sport?

So the trails most people go hike on a leisurely Saturday, we’re out running. It’s a lot of singletrack trails in nature, going up and down. It’s everything from rolling runs to super-steep high alpine. I like it because you can get somewhere in less amount of time — you see beautiful things. I can do a Fourteener in a third less time than most people can.

Micah True on the move.EXPAND
Micah True on the move.
Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco.

How did you get into this?

When I was bartending at Juanita’s, I met this guy, Ted Lucca, a fellow bartender. He was a trail-runner, and I started trail-running with him in Boulder in 1995 or 1996. In 1997, I ran my first trail race, the Imogene Pass run — it’s a run from Ouray to Telluride, seventeen miles, up and over. It was kind of an off-the-couch-and-got-into-it thing. In 1998, I was ready to do my first marathon, and I did Steamboat in June. Then I signed up for Pikes Peak in August. I had no real training; I think I ran in boxer shorts and old Umbro soccer shorts, which is totally ridiculous.

In 1997 or 1998, I also met Micah True for the first time. Micah is a main character in Born to Run: He’s Caballo Blanco, the white horse, who used to run with the Tarahumara Indians down in Copper Canyon. He used to go down, run with them and work with them, then come back to Boulder and move furniture. He came into happy hour at Juanita’s, and he’d drink Left Hand porters on tap. We talked, he kept telling me about these runs, about wanting to bring the Indians up to run Leadville. I thought, who is this crazy guy? When I signed up for Pikes, he gave me some advice and I helped him move some furniture. And he’s this crazy mythical figure for modern-day running.

You’ve really had two parallel careers — one as a successful bartender and restaurateur, the other as a professional athlete. How do you balance that?

I started bartending because my body always needed to be moving. Plus, I could run and work out during the day. That was really positive for me. On the other side of that coin, there can be a very dark side to our industry.
People these days are talking more about trying to take care of themselves — that’s something I’ve been practicing for twenty years. Running requires me to be mentally strong and physically strong. Don’t get me wrong — I haven’t been a saint. But running has always been the one thing that’s brought me back to being mindful in such a demanding business. It’s something that really helps with clarity and stress, and it makes me a better human, restaurateur, boss and father.

Bryan Dayton and Amos Watts opened Corrida in March.
Bryan Dayton and Amos Watts opened Corrida in March.

The service industry is incredibly physical. Has running helped you meet the demands of it?

The thing that’s helped most is having that discipline. In order to train for a race, you have to really be focused on what you’re doing with your mind and body all the time. That’s very parallel to what you do with athleticism. And the physical strength of running helps for longevity in this business. The business is physical and mental. When you’re working the floor for a long time, you have thirty things going on, you’re trying to solve problems, and you get pulled in a lot of directions. At the same time, you’re going deep in your mind and body on trail runs — that’s a really strong parallel to all those things.

You trained for this race while you were opening Corrida. How, exactly, did you manage that?

While we were opening, Amos and I were at Corrida for ninety days straight. It takes a village. None of my restaurants are all about me, [or] me doing the work — it’s the front-of-house managers, back-of-house managers, partners and the teams from front and back, from the hostess to the dish steward, that pull off what we do. Also, Corrida is a nighttime restaurant; that’s helped. The hardest component, honestly, is balancing being a good father; I can’t sacrifice this short amount of time with my kids. I’ve been able to integrate some of my workouts with them, doing a long run the day before and then a hike the next day to spend family time with them. A couple of weeks ago, I did a 34-miler, then attempted Mount Massive the next day with the kids. Later, I did a 26-miler, then did Mount Massive with them again.

You’re in the restaurant business, so I have to ask: How do you eat to get ready for this?

One good thing about running this much is you kind of eat what you want. I try to keep my diet pretty balanced. Serendipitously, I tried to have more of a protein diet. That worked out well for research and development for Corrida. Before races and long runs, I up the carbs with rice and beans. This summer it’s been so hot, so I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream, too. I’m mindful, but not OCD about it. A lot of calories get burned.

Have a celebration meal planned?

I’m more worried about the wine than the meal. But probably steak, to be honest with you.

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