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An Interview with Barn Burner Male Champ Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas returned to Barn Burner this year and took the win in 6:30:32, but he says he wasn’t there to clock the miles or earn accolades. Instead, Paul came to be a part of something big.

Last year you came in second at Barn Burner. Did you come back for the win, or something else?

It’s great to come home with the win, but winning the race isn’t the big thrill. I’ve been winning races since I was 10. Barn Burner is different than a lot of events that can be so depressing — everyone’s in their car right after the race, headed home.

But Barn Burner is basically a big love-in — everyone’s cheering and yelling for each other. Everyone is at their feed zones and you have an opportunity to sit and relax and talk to people. It’s a great atmosphere of hanging out and having a great time.

If all you’re looking for is a win, then do whatever. But if you’re looking for a different environment where people come together, where there’s cohesion, then you need to come to one of these races. I wish I could get everybody to try one of these kinds of races at least once. It’s like dying and realizing there’s an afterlife — there’s a whole other life out there. There need to be more races like this.

It sounds like you want to be our unofficial brand ambassador.

Other than turning the cranks on a bike, what I’m good at is marketing and sales. These events are about the vibe. I’ve thought about quitting road racing and focusing on riding these events, and maybe even turning it into a job — a job that wouldn’t feel like one, since it’s not a “job” if you love it.

I like bringing new people into the fold. There’s a whole cast of characters, of unpicked fruit, that need to get involved in these races. People need to break away from the typical road-racing environment — those TT’s and crits and road races aren’t very fun. People need to realize that you don’t have to be a mountain biker to do this type of race. If you can ride a road bike, you can ride this. It’s not hardcore.

You’re not a big mountain biker yourself, right?

I haven’t done a whole lot of regular mountain bike racing. My first year at Leadville was 2011. This sums up my mountain biking resume: two Leadville Trail 100s, two Barn Burners. I’m trying to expand on that because every time I do it, find out I have more fun.

Some of the best things about these races are the people — Dave Wiens, Merilee and Ken. You can tell that they’re real. When you have those kinds of people at the core of your event, when you have a nucleus like that, you’re bound to have a successful, fun environment. I want to be a part of it.

Leadvilling — that’s a new verb —should be a way of life. My goal isn’t to go get 10 buckles, it’s just to keep doing it and bring new people along every time. When you have fresh blood with you, and you get to help them along, it’s exciting.

Are you planning to do more Leadville Race Series events this year, and are you recruiting roadie friends to tag along with you?

I’ve recruited 17 people to go to Cedar City for the Fire Road Dirt Fondo. I promised a friend who couldn’t make it to Barn Burner that I’d do another race with him — we are thinking about doing the Tahoe Trail 100.

Great thing about races with multiple loops is that it’s not all about you. Even in stage races you’ve got to have a team on you. I’m all about empowering others to feel important. My wife comes up to support me and she’s literally part of every lap I take. Winning by yourself sucks. It’s nice to share the experience with somebody.

Will your wife crew for you at the LT100?

My wife is the best crew in the world. She’s more organized than I am. She’s the one that said I should bring an extra set of wheels to Barn Burner, and I flatted the first lap — hit a rock. Every lap she’s the one that filled my Camelback.

What are you looking forward to about Leadville this year and how will you train for it?

I booked three houses today knowing that I’ll have friends coming up. I’ll show them how to do Leadville and hopefully have a nice race myself.

One of the great things about having Leadville on the horizon is that it’s really difficult to endure the summer inferno here in Tucson if you don’t have something substantial to train for. We have Mt. Lemmon and Kitt Peak, and I do lot of my training on those. On Saturdays, I’ll do the shootout — a group ride that’s 60-or-so miles door-to-door. My wife picks me up with my mountain bike on the car and I go to Lemmon and ride with my wife and a few friends. That’s the only way to get a huge day of riding here.

Then Kitt Peak is a 3,600-feet gain in 12 miles, and has fire road and regular road. I’ll go up on the dirt, which is like climbing Powerline. That dirt road is literally just as hard or even harder because it’s a little loose.

I’ve learned that if I have three good training days, then I don’t have to go as hard the rest of the week. Recovery is important.

Any final words of wisdom?

Just keep pinning those numbers on for different events — 5Ks, XTERRAs, all of it. The energy that you get at races is a connector. We should be sharing those emotions and experiences.

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