Running and Life Lessons from Forrest Gump

By Pete Williams

Gump-posterSunday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Forrest Gump,” the iconic, Oscar-winning film that established Tom Hanks as perhaps America’s most beloved actor.

Sure, he won an Academy Award for his role in “Philadelphia” the year before and his performance in “A League of Their Own” in 1992 might rank as his most underrated. But Forrest Gump finally transitioned Hanks, at 37, from ‘80s comedies into a top-of-the-A-list leading man.

When we look at the growth of running in the last 20 years, nobody played a bigger role than Forrest Gump. He wasn’t responsible for the initial boom in running in the late 1970s. That was movie fiction, unlike his influence on Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Watergate, of course. But Gump did trigger the mid-1990s running explosion usually attributed to Oprah Winfrey.

It was Oprah, after all, who in 1994 ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 4 hours, 29 minutes, inspiring countless folks who figured if Oprah could do it, well, so could they. But Oprah ran past many of the Washington landmarks seen in “Forrest Gump” nearly five months after the movie’s release. By then, “Run, Forrest, Run,” had become the phrase of the year, with thousands taking up running, like Forrest, “for no particular reason.”

Oprah didn’t stick with running, though her 4:29, which seemed modest 20 years ago is a more impressive showing now that so many more people compete in marathons and median times have gone up by 25 or so minutes according to Running in the USA, which tracks such stats. (Median marathon time for women in 1995 was 4:15 as opposed to 4:42 in 2013).

Forrest, meanwhile, keeps running and running on screen, where he’ll be re-released later this year. He’s forever 37 – or 31, really, since Hanks’ younger brother, Jim, served as double for some of the coast-to-coast running scenes featuring a bearded Forrest in his Nike Cortez shoes.

According to Running in the USA, the number of marathon finishers has grown from 293,000 in 1995 to 541,000. That’s only a fraction of the running industry, which includes ultra runs, trail runs, obstacle races, themed runs, and countless 5K races, none of which even offered online registration in July of 1994.

Channeling Forrest Gump at a 5K in 2011

Channeling Forrest Gump at a 5K in 2011

I’ve always felt a kinship with Hanks. At 12, people told me I looked like him, which I wasn’t sure how to take considering Hanks was dressing in drag on “Bosom Buddies” at the time. In 1994, I went as Forrest Gump for Halloween, winning two costume contests, and the white suit, blue plaid shirt, and sneakers still is my go-to outfit when I can’t come up with other Halloween attire. I’ve even run a 5K dressed as Forrest Gump.

I’ve probably watched “Forrest Gump” thirty times and still cry when Lieutenant Dan shows up at Forrest and Jenny’s wedding with his titanium “magic” legs. (Hanks recently said he cries at that point, too.)

There are so many lessons from “Forrest Gump” and not just for running:

MIX IN SOME INTERVALS: Sure, Forrest slogged across the country for more than three years at presumably the same modest pace. Many runners use this template, aiming to run longer rather than faster.

But Forrest was a fast runner. He burst out of his childhood leg braces to outrun bullies and soon was running everywhere at a breakneck pace. In high school, he found another gear to outrun those same bullies, now driving a pick-up, and parlayed that into a University of Alabama football scholarship, where he was an All-American return man. (Most underrated actor in “Forrest Gump?” Sonny Schroyer, who played Bear Bryant after starring as Enos on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Now there’s an actor with some range.)

Forrest running at typical brisk pace.

Forrest running at typical brisk pace.

Forrest learned how to run fast first, kicking it up a notch further in Vietnam, and then extended his distance, ultimately running coast-to-coast several times.

The lesson? Focus on running fast and the distance will naturally follow.

NO TECH NEEDED: “Forrest Gump” had an impressive soundtrack and as Forrest runs across the country dealing with Jenny’s most recent departure we hear Jackson Browne (“Running on Empty”), the Doobie Brothers (“It Keeps You Runnin’”) and Bob Seger (“Against the Wind”).

Not a bad runner’s playlist for 1980 or so, though Forrest ran without technology. That’s because there wasn’t any. The bulky Sony Walkman had just been introduced, though not really available, and few people tracked heart rate, up-to-the-second mileage or pace for the rest of the decade.

Instead, Forrest – like other runners of that era – focused on his mind, body, and the breathtaking scenery he was passing.

“Like that mountain lake,” he explained to Jenny later. “It was so clear. It looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It’s so beautiful.”

FOCUS: Forrest didn’t have technology and other digital distraction. Instead, he applied a laser focus to whatever he pursued, whether it was cleaning his rifle, rescuing fallen soldiers, keeping his eye on the pingpong ball, following Bubba’s shrimp business plan, running, or cutting grass.

Though the movie didn’t take place in 1994, it came out not long before the Internet arrived and changed our lives forever. We’re supposed to be smarter than Forrest Gump, though these days nobody can stay focused on anything. How much could we accomplish by applying a Gump-like focus to our lives?

Gump-running2As his fellow soldier taught him about pingpong: “No matter what happens, never, ever take your eye off the ball.”

MOW LAWNS (OR SOMETHING SIMILAR): Like a lot of Generation X guys, I learned a lot about life by mowing lawns. It taught time management, entrepreneurial skills, the value of physical labor, and even some basic engine maintenance. Pre-teen and teenage boys no longer mow lawns and that’s a shame since they miss out on this experience, which includes seeing the beautiful result of your work in a freshly groomed lawn. Forrest Gump understood this, which is why even after becoming a multimillionaire he spent his days mowing lawns, cutting the high school football field for free. When he was running across America and the newscaster referred to him as a “gardener from Greenbow, Alabama,” you got the impression he’d be proud of that title.

GumpShoesTALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOR: Forrest met the love of his life (Jenny) and his best good friend and would-be business partner (Bubba) by talking to people on the bus. I know several married couples that met on airplanes as well as folks who have landed jobs and built business relationships by striking up conversations on planes, trains, and subways. It’s easier to live in a digital cocoon, but there’s huge upside to being friendly. Maybe the bigger takeaway is to be more like Jenny and Bubba and offer a seat rather than hope you get more space to yourself.

EXECUTE THE PIVOT: Forrest went from All-American football star to war hero to pingpong celebrity to shrimp entrepreneur to running icon by building upon his past successes. Sure, his life was all about serendipity, but he leveraged relationships (Bubba, Lt. Dan), his success in one field (pingpong), and hard work to generate the $25,000 start-up capital and build the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. into a household name.

FIND YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVE ON RELIGION: Forrest wasn’t a particularly religious guy. He prayed for shrimp, joining the choir at the Four Square Baptist Church, and made a sizable donation to the church after the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. took off. Forrest is a compassionate man who spends time thinking about destiny and Lt. Dan’s relationship with the man upstairs. For the most part, though, he just lives life by the golden rule.

Lt. Dan: “Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”
Forrest: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

I’ve used that line several times when people come to my door pitching religion.

GumpShrimpGET A GOOD INVESTMENT ADVISOR: After he made a fortune as a shrimpin’ boat captain, Forrest turned to Lt. Dan, who “got me invested in some kind of fruit company.” We see an image of Forrest pulling a letter out of the mailbox from Apple Computer. It was good for a laugh on July 6, 1994. If only we had known.

Actually, if you went home from the theater that day – or pretty much any day for the next decade – and invested $30,000 in what is now Apple Inc., it would be worth roughly $2 million today. If only we had known.

LOOK OUT FOR MINI-ME: Forrest learned what all parents come to understand about children. You will end up with at least one kid who is an exaggerated version of you, showing more talent for your skills (i.e. pingpong) and replicating your head tilt to the left and other quirks.

Those kids will bring great joy and laughter to your lives.

And they will be smarter than you.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Running

Seeing New Orleans by SUP

By Pete Williams

New Orleans via SUP

New Orleans via SUP

NEW ORLEANS – Though this site is EnduranceSportsFlorida, we love experiencing endurance sports outside of the Sunshine State.

There are many ways to tour New Orleans. There are vampire and voodoo tours, cemetery and architecture tours, riverboat and streetcar excursions. We’ve been to New Orleans a number of times, but today was our first tour via SUP.

Jeff Lakey established NOLA Paddleboards in 2011 and has built a SUP business that combines lessons, rentals and tours — both out of Lake Ponchartrain and Bayou St. John. I shot him an email a week ago and he set me up with a rental this morning, offering to pick me up at my French Quarter hotel for a (reasonable) additional fee.

I took the streetcar instead and it left me off just 50 yards from where Lakey launches boards into Bayou St. John. I figured since I told Lakey I was an experienced paddler, he was just going to rent me a board and send me on my way. Instead, he spent an hour with me and a first-time paddler. We went north and south on Bayou St. John, occasionally ducking under bridges while Lakey pointed out various historic homes and providing insight into post-Katrina New Orleans.

When we were done, we hopped out of the water and only had to walk 50 yards back to the streetcar for the ride back. Though NOLA Paddleboards also operates out of Lake Ponchartrain – and soon will open a store there – we highly recommend his Bayou St. John location if you’re visiting New Orleans and staying in the French Quarter. Total cost: $30 for the rental and $2.50 for roundtrip streetcar fare. What a great way to get in a paddle and experience some of New Orleans that visitors rarely get to see.

Leave a comment

Filed under SUP

The “Waterman Triathlon”

By Pete Williams

HelgaSUP2We’ve often thought it would be a great idea to stage a triathlon involving swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and beach running. It would crown the king and queen of the beach, the true waterman.

We don’t know of such an event yet. But this Saturday at St. Pete Beach, there might be an even better endurance sports combo. At 7 a.m., there’s the Dash N Splash Beach Aquathon at Pass-a-Grille Beach. This second-annual event consists of a 2-mile beach run, a 600-yard swim in the Gulf of Mexico, and a 1-mile run.

At 9 a.m, just 2.25 miles north in front of The Alden Suites Hotel, is the second-annual Florida Cup stand-up paddleboard race. This event already has become one of North America’s premier SUP races, with more than 200 paddlers expected for a weekend-long paddlefest.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in 2013

Like most SUP events, especially those held at St. Pete Beach, parking is at a premium and getting your boards from the parking lot to the beach can be a challenge. (Though race director Bruce Denson and his staff have those details covered.)

Still, if you want to make the logistics easier and become a true waterman, park at Pass-a-Grille Beach for the Dash N Splash. You’ll have a short walk with your board to the beach. Compete in the Dash N Splash at 7, finish by 7:45 (or earlier) and then hop on your board and paddle north to the start of the Florida Cup race, beating the crowds and parking.

IMG_7923You’ll miss the awards ceremony for the Dash N Splash and you’ll need to have waterproof cases for your keys and presumably phone, along with some sort of backpack, but you can arrive in style and in time for the 10-mile Florida Cup elite race (9 a.m.) and plenty of time for the 3-mile open race (9:15 a.m.) In fact, you should be able to make it for the 8:30 captain’s meeting.

We love how only in Florida can you attempt crazy endurance sports doubleheaders like this. We’ve done two sprint triathlons in one day, two obstacle races in a day, and a triathlon and an obstacle race in the same day. But this would be a first.

Who is ready to become a true waterman?

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, Running, SUP, Swimming

Race of the Week: Florida Challenge Half Marathon & 5K Trail Runs

By Pete Williams

When it comes to trail running, Florida is underrated. Sure, the Sunshine State might lack hilly terrain and high altitude, but there is no shortage of challenging trails through breathtaking scenery.

That’s what makes the 11th annual Florida Challenge Half Marathon & 5K Trail Run on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 8 a.m. one of our favorite races. Held at beautiful Alafia River State Park, just east of Tampa, it’s perfectly situated on the race calendar before triathlon season and amid a crowded road race calendar. It’s rated one of the top trail runs in the country, with hillier trails than you’d expect.

It’s also one of the better values in Florida endurance sports. Race-day registration is just $35 for the 5K and $45 for the half marathon (early sign-up rates were even lower). At a time when it costs $80 to pound the asphalt and pavement of a road half-marathon, that’s a bargain.

History: Race debuted in 2004 and is one of a number of popular off-road running events put on by Tampa Races, which also stages the Picnic Island summer adventure run series, along with the XTerra Florida Trail Run series.

Format: The Florida Challenge is a 13.1 mile and a 5K trail run on beginner and intermediate single track trails. The half marathon starts at 8 a.m. and the 5K a half hour later.

Amenities: Long-sleeve T-shirts, custom awards for top finishers, catered post-race food.

Cost: Online registration closing Jan. 23. Race-day registration available – $35 for 5K, $45 for half marathon.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Race of the Week, Races, Running

9 Biggest Trends/Stories in Endurance Sports in 2013

By Pete Williams

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida nearly three years ago, we could not have imagined that this booming field still had lots of room for growth. Back in January of 2011, obstacle racing still was flying under the radar. Stand-up paddleboarding was a regional phenomenon and nobody had coined the term “theme race.”

These days, the market for all things endurance sports is flooded. No matter where you live, there are numerous opportunities to compete every weekend. In Florida, it’s impossible to find fewer than six endurance sports events within a 45-minute drive any weekend of the year, especially in 2013 with Christmas falling on a Wednesday.

The Sunshine State remains the epicenter for all things endurance sports. The hub might be Benderson Park, a sprawling rowing/swimming/paddling/triathlon complex going up in stages in Sarasota.

With that in mind, here are the top 9 stories/trends in the industry from 2013.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

No. 9 - OPEN WATER SWIMMING: These competitions have existed for years, but there’s suddenly increased interest. Maybe it’s because the roads have gotten crowded (and dangerous) with all of the runners and cyclists, to say nothing of motorists focused on their smart phones. Maybe it’s because swimmers are realizing it’s a lot more fun than training in the pool. Maybe it’s because competitive youth swimmers (above) discovered they can get out of the pool and beat 90 percent of adult recreational swimmers in open water. Maybe it’s because many triathletes didn’t learn to swim as adults and want to put their skills to use as often as possible.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Diana Nyad brought attention to open-water swimming in September by becoming the first to complete the treacherous Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage. In January, 15-year-old Becca Mann won the Frogman Swim, the 5K trip in chilly waters from St. Pete to Tampa. Mann, now 16, hopes to reach the Olympics in 2016 in both open-water swimming and pool events. Anyone who has seen her train and compete for the Clearwater Aquatic Team knows this is a distinct possibility.

ArmstrongIronmanNo. 8 - LANCE ARMSTRONG CONFESSES: It seemed like such a foregone conclusion to all but his most ardent supporters that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories that it’s easy to forget that his confession to Oprah Winfrey actually happened in 2013, back in January. It seems much longer ago. Lawsuits have piled up, sponsors bolted, and Lance even had to part ways with Livestrong. Since Armstrong can’t compete in sanctioned events, he’s not even allowed to enter triathlons, though Chris McCormack has challenged him to a one-on-one tri smackdown.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. trumpeted its partnership with Armstrong only to look foolish when he was charged with doping in 2012. So vast was Armstrong’s deception that we’re left to wonder if he even raced clean on the triathlon front and whether his Ironman 70.3 win in Haines City in 2012 was legitimate. Surely, he raced clean there, right? Oprah didn’t ask.

RockRollHalfNo. 7 - NATIONAL EVENTS STRUGGLE IN FLORIDA: So often we see a national race promoter come to Florida and assume the masses will show up. After all, we have great year-round weather and hordes of athletes. Unfortunately, race promoters underestimate the number of established, affordable local events we have. Florida athletes are savvy customers with no patience for overpromising, overpricing, and underdelivering. That’s why it was no surprise that Competitor Group pulled its Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete event after another disappointing turnout in January. Tough Mudder, which had a traffic-related debacle in Sarasota in December of 2012, saw attendance plunge for events in Homestead (March) and Palatka (May). Even Spartan Race officials, who never seem to back down from a challenge, quietly canceled a proposed Spartan Beast event at Little Everglades Ranch for 2014. Ironman continues to sell out its Ironman Florida race in Panama City in a matter of minutes a year in advance, though that’s essentially a home event for the Tampa-based WTC. Warning to out-of-state promoters: Past performance elsewhere does not guarantee future return here and promoters can and do lose money.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete at Benderson Park in Sarasota in August.

No. 6 - SUP — UP AND UP: You know a sport is thriving when it seems every interview with a 24-year-old actress/model/singer mentions how she recently discovered stand-up paddleboarding. SUP has become the new yoga or Pilates, which makes sense since it works the body in a similar fashion and there’s now a cottage industry of SUP/yoga and SUP/Pilates classes. Surf Expo, which comes to the Orange County Convention Center each January and September, might as well be called SUP Expo. SUP board manufacturers have taken over the OCCC floor and the Thursday board demo day at a nearby watersports facility has become a highlight of the event for many.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Besides SUP, er, Surf Expo in Orlando, the Florida Cup has become one of the sport’s premier events after just two years. St. Pete lawyer and avid paddler Bruce Denson has built a late May weekend event in Pinellas County that belongs in the same discussion as the Carolina Cup and perhaps one day soon the Battle of the Paddle in California. The Miramar Beach-based YOLO Board has become a major player in the competitive board manufacturing industry. Then there’s Dunedin’s Karen Mirlenbrink, who is a YOLO Board athlete, a race promoter (Shark Bite Challenge), and a SUP Pilates instructor – basically the Queen of all SUP.

PumpRun2No.5 - THE SPORT OF FITNESS: CrossFit and endurance sports traditionally were polar opposites. CrossFit tended to attract the gym rat demographic while runners never touched the weights. But once Spartan Race and Tough Mudder began actively courting the CrossFit crowd in 2011, the two met in the middle. You’ll still see groups from CrossFit boxes tackle obstacle races, though these days you’re more likely to see them enter CrossFit-style competitions or hybrid events such as the Pump N Run, a Tampa event (above) where athletes bench-pressed all of most of their weight and based on their performance deducted time from a subsequent 5K run. We’re not sure where all this is evolving, but it’s an interesting trend to watch.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: In addition to the Tampa Pump N Run, hosted by Tampa trainer Whit Lasseter in November, CrossFit box owners Clint and Maci Lowery stage regular obstacle races from their Sweat Factory facility in Minneola (near Clermont), which is adjacent to a running trail.

TriGroupNo. 4 - MARKET SATURATION – Back in 2005-07, we hosted a Friday afternoon fitness radio show that featured a brief segment previewing the weekend’s endurance events in Central Florida. The segment took about five minutes. These days it no doubt could fill a half hour and not just because of SUP races, obstacle events, and theme runs that didn’t exist back then. The number of triathlons and road running events has perhaps quadrupled and while that’s generally a good thing, it has diluted many races and created others hosted by organizers who have no business doing so. Triathlon seems to have peeked in popularity in 2011 after a decade of unbridled growth. Our theory is that some would-be triathletes instead turn to obstacle racing or CrossFit, where there’s no need to buy an expensive bike or learn to swim. But while there seems to be the same number of triathletes, there are more triathlons. As for running, it’s impossible in many markets to drive on a Saturday morning without being slowed by race road closures. What’s next? We’re guessing more road runners and obstacle racers will find the happy medium with trail running, which is easier on the body, generally offers a more pleasant race experience, and is often the best value in endurance sports. Which means, of course, that we’ll see a ton of trail races.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: It seems like ages ago when the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg sold out in a few hours in December. These days, it’s possible to register the day before the late-April event. This year St. Anthony’s is hoping to stop the attendance decline by offering a sprint distance to go with the traditional international race.

FlavorRun3No.3 – THEMES, THEMES, and MORE THEMES: We’re not sure if color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, and all of the rest are endurance events or merely festivals with jogging and walking involved. But there’s no denying the impact. The Color Run, which debuted in January 2012 with 6,000 runners in Phoenix is now partnered with sports colossus IMG and stages more than 100 runs annually worldwide. The untimed Color Run, in which white-clad runners pass through stations where they’re doused with colored powder, has inspired numerous knockoffs, including the Florida-based Flavor Run. Most athletes walk or slowly run the events, which are great fun for kids.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Like every other endurance sports category, Florida leads the nation in themed races. The Color Run alone has five Florida events scheduled in 2014 before Mother’s Day with more to come.

JenCalendarNo. 2OBSTACLE RACE SHAKEOUT – With a new obstacle race popping up seemingly ever week, it was only a matter of time before races started crashing in spectacular fashion. Mud runs have a bucket-list, post-the-Facebook-photo quality to them and events quickly have discovered it’s difficult to draw repeat customers. The zombie-themed Run for Your Lives endured the true death the day before Halloween. More surprising was the demise of Hero Rush, the Maryland-based, firefighter-themed obstacle race that we considered the best produced obstacle event of 2012. It flamed out in August, a victim of growing too big too fast. Who will survive? We’re betting on the races that position themselves as competitions rather than muddy office team-building exercises, which tend to attract the one-and-done crowd. That’s why we’re bullish on events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, sort of an outdoor version of American Ninja Warrior produced by Central Florida’s Rock On Adventures. Ditto for Spartan Race, which still trails the untimed, team-oriented Tough Mudder in popularity. With Spartan’s every-athlete-for-himself (or herself) format, new national sponsors such as Reebok, a recent one-hour special on NBC Sports Network, and races of three distances that include events in sports venues, we’re betting on King Leonidas and the gang.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Hero Rush folded shortly before scheduled events in Ocala and South Florida. Through some poor scheduling (or perhaps intended) Tough Mudder and Spartan Race will go head to head in South Florida during the April 12-13, 2014 weekend. Spartan Race also brings its sports venue edition to Florida for the first time with a Spartan Sprint race at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February.

BostonStrongNo.1 – BOSTON STRONG – The Boston Marathon was the biggest endurance sports story of the year for all the wrong reasons. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the storied race on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. The violence drew attention to the vulnerability of endurance events, which take place in wide-open settings, unlike sports competitions in enclosed venues. Runners and non-runners across the nation rallied to stage support runs and raise money for the victims. The Boston Red Sox surprising run to a World Series title further helped the healing process.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: An FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Todashev’s Orlando apartment in the early hours of May 22 after a violent confrontation. A Florida prosecutor is expected to release a report of his investigation into the shooting early next year. On a positive note, numerous Florida runners have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which promises to be the most watched, most secure marathon ever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, Running, SUP, Swimming, Triathlon

2013: Breakout Year for SUP?

By Pete Williams

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

ORLANDO – Surf Expo, the semi-annual trade convention that converges here at the Orange County Convention Center, perhaps should be renamed SUP Expo.

Everywhere we looked on Saturday, stand-up paddleboarding dominated the scene. There were two dozen board manufacturers, more than double the amount from just two years ago, and only a fraction of those represented on Thursday during SUP Demo Day at a nearby watersports facility.

Perhaps the coolest product we saw was the Nocqua 2000 LED system, LED lights that go on the bottom of a paddleboard that light the water below, enabling the paddler to go out at night. (We’re hoping the $399.99 price tag comes down over time.) Even products such as the DryCase and the GoPro Camera, though not SUP-specific, seem made for the sport.

SUP Expo – er – Surf Expo is just one sign of the phenomenon. When I got my first board early in 2011, the sport still was catching on here in Florida. Even though my Paddle Fit co-author Brody Welte had launched a successful SUP business in St. Petersburg two years earlier, I still got odd looks out on the water and occasionally had to explain what I was doing.

These days, it’s impossible to drive for more than an hour in Central Florida and not see a paddleboard strapped to a car. I counted at least two dozen paddleboarders out on the Dunedin Causeway Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t that long ago where I would have been one of only a few out there dodging boats and jet skis. Attendance at SUP races, though still modest compared to running and triathlon, has increased significantly. Benderson Park, the new $40 million, man-made watersports park in Sarasota that has hosted several SUP events, is tailor-made for the sport.

Why the boom? Here are a few theories:

HelgaSUP2IT’S THE BEST WORKOUT EVER: If you want to see some seriously jacked physiques, watch the elite division of a SUP race. SUP combines core training, balance work, and rotational movements. It’s like working out on a giant BOSU ball. Plus, there’s perhaps no better cardio workout than doing intervals on a paddleboard. Find a few buoys, crab traps or other markers in the water and alternate between sprinting and paddling at a relaxed pace. There are SUP Pilates and SUP yoga classes, which are more fun (and definitely more challenging) than traditional yoga and Pilates.

IT’S MORE FUN THAN RUNNING: We’re big fans of distance running. But how much fun is running, really, when many people can’t do it unless they’re tethered to some sort of music device? If you find running boring, try SUP. And while it’s true that you can use a DryCase or some other device to keep your music dry, few paddlers do. That’s because they don’t need to be entertained out on the water. (On a safety note, paddlers should not wear earphones so they can hear oncoming boat and jet ski traffic. Now if only cyclists would get that message and stop with the distracted riding.)

SUP yoga enthusiasts at Surf Expo on Saturday

SUP yoga enthusiasts at Surf Expo on Saturday

IT’S MORE BADASS THAN KAYAKING OR BOATING: I’m often paddling when some jerk in a six-figure boat flies by way too fast, with a beer in one hand and his bloated, sunburned belly jiggling in the breeze. I’ll think of all the money and effort it takes to experience a day on the water like that.

Nothing against boating – and I’m thankful for my friends with boats – but SUP is a more enjoyable, less expensive way to spend a few hours on the water. SUP often is compared to kayaking – or at least a hybrid of surfing and kayaking – and that’s an accurate analogy. But sitting down doesn’t produce the same experience as SUP. You don’t see as many sea critters or get as much of a workout.

IT’S SAFER: Like any watersport, SUP can be dangerous. I prefer to paddle on weekdays since there’s less boat and jet ski traffic. For a while, paddlers resisted life jackets and leashes much like some motorcycle enthusiasts won’t ride with helmets. But there are plenty of small, lightweight personal flotation devices that fit around the waist and these days even experienced paddlers wear them. (If you can’t swim at least a quarter-mile in open water, you should definitely be wearing one.) Unlike cycling, where any fall is going to produce at least road rash, falling off a paddleboard will just make you wet. Unlike running, you’re not pounding your joints into concrete or asphalt hundreds of times an hour.

SUPSandyWOMEN ARE EARLY ADAPTORS: Women drive the popularity of anything. Triathlon boomed six or eight years ago when more women got involved. More recently, we’ve seen the same phenomenon with half-marathons and obstacle races and it’s also fueling the growth of SUP. Women tend to be more adventurous and have better balance than guys, who worry that they’ll fall on their butts and look foolish on paddleboards. (SUP actually is much easier than it looks.) This is true of females of all ages. I’ve introduced a number of kids to SUP and inevitably the girls get it faster and show more patience as they learn.

Most importantly, women control household budgets. A quality board starts at $1,000 and paddles in the $150 range. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but road and triathlon bikes cost more and require far more maintenance. Heck, avid runners spend $1,000 on shoes every two or three years. Boards can last indefinitely.

Two years ago, it seemed SUP would be a niche phenomenon.

Now it seems like everyone is looking to take a stand.

2 Comments

Filed under SUP

The Day-Night Triathlon Doubleheader

By Pete Williams

SunriseSunsetTriathlon2Perhaps it’s not as grueling as an Ironman Triathlon, but racing two triathlons in one day presents its own set of challenges.

Just finding two relatively close events on the same day, one in the morning and one in the evening, is difficult. Heck, Saturday’s scheduling of the Top Gun Triathlon at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg and the Twilight Triathlon in Crystal River might be (for the second straight year) the only opportunity in North America.

Evening triathlons are unusual. It’s much easier to shut down roads in the early morning hours. Race directors do not have to provide much additional lightning or require racers to have their own. Triathletes tend to be morning people anyway and prefer to race as the sun rises.

But the novelty of completing two triathlons in one day – even modest sprint distance events – was too much for about 60 of us to pass up last year. By all accounts, there will be more of us on hand on Saturday.

It’s not so much the distance of the races – quarter-mile swims, 10-mile bikes, and 5K runs – that are as short as it gets for sprint events. It’s the two-hour drive between race venues. Even if you live midway between them it’s a challenge to grab a few hours sleep. Assuming you get up at 4 a.m. for the 7 a.m. Top Gun start, you’ve already been up for 15.5 hours (and completed a triathlon) when you get in the water for the Twilight event.

Racing at Fort De Soto Park

Racing at Fort De Soto Park

Since both events have terrific post-race parties, it tends to be close to a 24-hour day. It also helps that race directors Fred Rzymek (Top Gun) and Chris Mohling (Twilight) are among the best in the business, having staged dozens of races at their respective venues. They bill the doubleheader as the “Sunrise Sunset Triathlon.”

If you’ve never raced a triathlon in the evening, you’re in for a treat. I started doing the Twilight Triathlon in 2010 when it came a week before Top Gun. Then last year with leap year the calendar shifted and the events ended up on the same day and have remained there.

It’s possible to do two obstacle races in one day since start times go on well into the afternoon. With so many OCR events, just do one at 8 a.m. and a nearby race at noon or later. I’ve done two OCR events in one day, an OCR event at night (last Saturday’s Mud Endeavor at the Pasco County Fairgrounds) and even a triathlon (Escape from Ft. DeSoto) and obstacle event (Savage Race) on the same day. But this is the only shot we get at two triathlons in one day.

The most impressive performance likely will come from Whit Lasseter, a thirtysomething fitness guru from South Tampa who will do her first triathlon and then her second in one day. That’s got to be a first.

Racing at night is a blast with the breathtaking sunset and the sight of hundreds of blinking bikes in post-race transition. With two events, it’s not a day for PRs, but perhaps the most memorable triathlon race experience of the year.

Listen to Twilight Triathlon race director Chris Mohling discuss the Sunrise/Sunset Triathlon Challenge on The Fitness Buff Show HERE.

1 Comment

Filed under Triathlon