Monthly Archives: March 2011

Race of the Week: Valencia 5K

By Pete Williams

Orlando, April 9, 6 p.m.

We’re changing the format of our Race of the Week, recognizing that it makes more sense to preview a race that’s the following week instead of one just a few days away. This way, athletes have plenty of time to register and adjust calendars accordingly. We’re also going to focus only on events that are not sold out and accept race-day registration.

This week’s focus is on the sixth-annual Valencia 5K, which takes place at the west campus of Valencia Community College in Orlando on Saturday, April 9 at 6 p.m. College-themed runs are becoming increasingly popular and the organizers of this race, recognizing that early starts don’t coincide with the sleep schedules of most college students, have moved this year’s event to an evening start time.

Name of Race: Valencia 5K

Location: Valencia Community College (West Campus) 1800 South Kirkman Road, Orlando, FL 32811

History: This is a sixth-annual event and the first in an evening timeslot, which no doubt will be more attractive to Valencia college students, who make up a large chunk of the field. Event proceeds go to Valencia CC scholarship funds.

Format: Single-loop course through Valencia’s west campus. Also a free run for kids 10 and under immediately following the 5K.

Schwag: Commemorative T-shirts guaranteed to pre-registered runners.

Signature Feature: Students race in their own division for awards.

Projected Turnout: 300-plus

Post-race: Refreshments, along with arts and crafts for kids.

Cost: $22 through April 3; $27 April 4-8; $30 day of race. Various discounts for Valencia students, alumni, and other school affiliated.

Sign-Up: Online via official site

Interesting twist: With the Muddy Buddy event at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports moving this from Mother’s Day weekend to April 9 (7:15 a.m. start) and the Valencia 5K moving to an evening time, athletes can enjoy a challenging day-night double-header in Orlando.

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Preparing for ‘The Death Race’


By Pete Williams

Paul Roarke

If you were going to lay odds on someone to win “The Death Race,” the grueling endurance event in Vermont billed as “Survivor meets 300,” Paul Roarke would be an attractive option.

A former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant and Iraq war veteran who authored the book Corps Strength: A Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant’s Program for Elite Fitness, the chiseled 50-year-old Roarke’s fitness regimen over the years has included boxing, martial arts, power lifting, and triathlon.

Roarke was inspired to write the book after watching many of his fellow career Marines suffer injuries and chronic ailments. Now the Pensacola resident, who serves as an instructor at the Navy’s international leadership school, is among the 200 crazies who on June 24 will attempt The Death Race, arguably the toughest test in the endurance sports world.

Concocted in 2007 by longtime endurance athletes Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg, who decided Ironman Triathlons and eco-challenges weren’t tough enough, the Death Race brings athletes into rural Vermont for a competition with no defined start or finish time. The challenges vary each year but typically involve tasks such as chopping wood, hauling heavy wheelbarrows, crawling under barbwire, navigating long distances in the dark, and carrying tree stumps and bicycles. Only 10 percent of the field finishes.

The Web site for the event is and participants must literally sign their lives away. The winners of the first Death Race finished in about 12 hours but it’s gotten longer each year. This year, athletes are bracing for a 72-hour ordeal.

EnduranceSportsFlorida talked with Roarke about his strategy:

Q: You spent nearly 30 years in the Marine Corps and you have an incredible endurance sports resume. Do you feel any pressure to win this race?

A: Pressure makes diamonds. I always put pressure on myself; it’s my personality type. If I’m not struggling with something, I’m not living so I’m kind of used to it. I wrote a book and put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure it sold well, went out and promoted it. I’ll finish unless I get injured, which can happen, but knock on my wooden head, I’ve never had a major injury. Never had any chronic things – back or knee problems – I have bunions, but my whole family has those. Nothing but minor aches and pains; that’s what led me into the book. The kind of physical training system I’ve developed over the years helped keep me going while others got hurt. Some of these guys I grew up with in Marine Corps were studs, great athletes, but they fell by the wayside and that’s given me a lot of belief in the system.

Q: How do you train for an event like this?

A: I’ve done dozens of triathlons and road races, a few adventure races, and when I looked at this I realized it would be a fundamental mindset change. It’s a long race – three days – and if you figure the average person does a marathon in four hours, you now have to think in terms of 72 hours. So you have to change your mindset and think of what it means to be long, what it’s going to take mentally and physically to get there. I knew off the bat this would not be a speed event. I always talk about doing more exercise in less time, keep the intensity up for a lot of reasons. For this – and I could be wrong – it requires more of a long slow burn. You have to have the physical toughness to do things over and over.

Q: What have you applied to this from your military training?

A: Normally I do training runs at an eight or nine minute a mile pace. That’s too fast for this race. In Marine recon, you’re required to cover extreme distances for drops or to get to a point. You can’t take off at a 7-mile pace; you’d be done after a couple miles. So they developed the Recon Shuffle, a shuffling pace at 12 minutes a mile. That’s a different stress on your body. Mentally you just want to go faster and get it over and your body gets stiff and sore when you run that slow. I know there will be times when I’ll have to hold myself back. I know what it’s like to be up for two or three days without sleep and you basically become a zombie after two days. I know what’s going to happen. People are going to take off and then four or five hours go by, and if they’re not used to doing things for that period of time, they won’t be able to do it. I’m going to hold back at first to put money in the bank. After day one or two days I can withdraw that.

Q: What have you learned from past Death Race competitors?

A: I’ve looked at the videos and talked to people who were in it and I think it’s more about just moving forward for three days than it is about speed and strength. That’s what I’m training for, doing a lot of humping, heavy pack stuff, fast-paced walking. Normal Marine Corps load is 60 pounds. You have to carry certain kinds of gear. A regular Camelbak is not going to cut it. You’re carrying stumps and buckets. I put on a hybrid pack and now I’m training with 40 pounds. I’ve also been training on the beach. I don’t think people up north have done a lot of walking in soft sand, which is tough. Another advantage is I’m from upstate New York and go up there in the summer. Here the humidity is tough in April and May. After I run here for a couple of months, I go up there and feel I have an extra lung because the humidity is less. That’s a huge advantage.

Q: What do you plan to wear for the Death Race?

A: They don’t give you the gear list until two weeks out. My race pack with a 100-ounce Camelbak weighs 12 pounds. I have an Alaskan pack board, which allows you to strap anything to it. They’re going to make us carry a firestarter, some change One year they had to carry a five-pound Greek translation book. I feel like whatever they give me and if the load is under 40 pounds I’ll be fine. I started riding my mountain bike with the pack, which is kind of hairy.

Q: What’s a typical day of training for this like?

A: My big thing is doing combination training. I rode five miles, came back, and I hit the truck tire with a 10-pound sledgehammer. Then I did 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups, a kettle bell routine, and 500 crunches. That’s not much from a time standpoint, just 90 minutes of effort. I want to be able to do that for seven or eight hours and then I’ll feel like I’m ready to race. Sunday is my big day, where I start combining everything. I’ll take off on the mountain bike with the pack, ride 10 miles, carry it for a mile, do that a couple times, go park and run 3-5 miles, gear up again and do it all over. I have a place where I can throw some logs around. My goal is to get to the point a week or 10 days out where I can get up to about a 10-hour day. Think about it. That’s still only one-eighth of the potential race, so you have to pay your dues. If I can do eight hours – I’m going to take breaks to eat – but if I can do 8 to 10 hours of pretty hard but not max effort and if I can bear weight, carry my bike, run, I’ll feel pretty good about it


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The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart

By Pete Williams

A vegan diet isn’t for everyone. But Neal Barnard makes a compelling argument for it in his new book The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health.

The DC-area doctor, author of a number of best-selling books, brings a slew of prominent guests to the book to proclaim its effectiveness, including actress Alicia Silverstone, former NBA player John Salley, Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper, and actress-turned-nutrition guru Marilu Henner, who appeared on The Fitness Buff Show two years ago.

Barnard also gets a contribution from noted ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, who attributes his success to a vegan diet. “Think about what you eat, rather than what you don’t eat,” Jurek says. “Many people eliminate foods from their diet without finding healthy alternatives. I try to eat organic, locally grown, seasonal foods as much as possible. Focus on eating healthy fats, whole grains, beans, soy protein, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.”

Dr. Barnard joined us today on The Fitness Buff Show to talk about his new book. You can listen to that interview HERE.

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Race of the Week: Friends of the Wekiva River at Kings Landing Canoe, Kayak and SUP Race

By Pete Williams

Only advanced racers like her need apply

Anyone who has attempted the Friends of the Wekiva River at Kings Landing Canoe and Kayak Race in the past knows it’s a challenging 8.5-mile, downstream event.

For this year’s event, which takes place Saturday, March 26 at 8:30 a.m. in Apopka, stand-up paddleboarding has been added to the mix. But it might not be an event for novice SUP enthusiasts says David Rose of Paddleboard Orlando, one of the sponsors of the event. “It’s a long course and a test of will,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of places to just pull ashore.”

Location: Kings Landing, Apopka, Fla.

History: This event goes back several years but with the growth and popularity of stand-up paddleboarding, this is the first year where SUP has been offered.

Format: Timed event, paddlers draw for start positions and leave on one-minute intervals. Organizers provide a free shuttle back to Kings Landing. Divisions include men’s race, men’s recreational, and women’s recreational. Awards to top three finishers in each class.

Schwag: T-shirt and raffle ticket to win a kayak.

Signature Feature: The Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run are one of the few remaining near-pristine river systems in Central Florida

Cost: $30 race day

Race Website: Click HERE

Comment: “This is more of an advanced course, but that’s what makes it interesting,” – David Rose, Paddleboard Orlando

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Playboy’s Endurance Sports Adventurer

By Pete Williams


Jaclyn Swedberg, (left) Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for April, is quite the adventure sports enthusiast.

As one of the stars of Playboy TV’s “Badass,” Swedberg has surfed, raced cars, rappelled down mountains, and run in the nude. Sounds like a fitness buff to us. She joined us this week on The Fitness Buff Show to talk about her training regimen, crazy endurance adventures, and what’s next in her endurance sports career.

You can listen to that interview HERE.

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Muddy Buddy Season Preview

By Pete Williams

Williams, Babbitt

Bob Babbitt wasn’t the first to come up with an adventure mud run, though his 12-year-old Muddy Buddy series is largely responsible for inspiring so many mud-themed races that they’re now considered a separate category in the world of endurance sports.

Muddy Buddy might be one of the easier races to complete and that’s just the point. It takes two-athlete teams only an hour or so to navigate a six-mile course via bike and foot, often in costume.

The race has expanded from its origins in 1999 and now includes 18 events in 2011, three of which will take place in Florida. Like NASCAR, Muddy Buddy will begin and end its season in the Sunshine State, moving its ESPN Wide World of Sports event in Lake Buena Vista from Mother’s Day weekend to the season-opening April 9 date. Muddy Buddy returns to Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 for the second straight year, only this time it won’t be the season finale. That’s because there’s a new championship race at the Redneck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

Babbitt (right) is one of the good guys in the endurance sports world, co-founder of Competitor magazine and the Challenged Athlete Foundation. He’s an Ironman Hall of Famer, host of the terrific Competitors radio show and creator of the Muddy Buddy. These days, he’s perhaps best known for donning a frog suit and emceeing the Muddy Buddy events. He spoke with us Monday on The Fitness Buff Radio Show.

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Tough Mudder Coming to Pasco County

By Pete Williams

Typical Tough Mudder obstacle

The Tough Mudder, perhaps the most challenging of the growing field of adventure mud runs, is coming to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on Dec. 3-4.

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces.

Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, Tough Mudder seems to delight in providing a far greater challenge than other mud runs. Only 78 percent finish the course during a typical race, with an average time of two and a half hours.

According to the Tough Mudder press materials, USMC participants say the race is just as hard, if not more difficult, than USMC basic training and “significantly different from other mud events like Warrior Dash or Muddy Buddy because the courses are three times as long and held on hostile terrain.”

Tough Mudder “is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race,” the race Web site says. “It’s Ironman meets Burning Man, and it is coming to a location near you. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor.Tough Mudder is 3-4 times longer and much tougher than a typical mud run such as Warrior Dash.”

Tough Mudder’s obstacles are not of the pegboard or giant inflatable variety. Obstacles include running through fire, mud, freezing water, jumping off 15-foot planks and being shocked by 10,000 volts of electricity.

Walking the plank

There’s also something called the “Ball Shrinker,”which is appropriate since the Tough Mudder is a bit of a sausage fest, with a field that’s typically 80 percent male. (Perhaps Will Dean has a brother Jimmy?)

The Tampa Bay event is expected to draw 10,000 participants over two days and is a great value compared to triathlons and other mud runs – if you register early. The Sunday race, though identical, is cheaper and the current pre-registration price is $100 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday through June 15. (Those who got in before March 16 paid $80 or $60.) The prices go up on the 15th of each month before topping out at $180 and $160.

There’s plenty of jocularity involved, including free mullet haircuts and Tough Mudder tattoos post-race, along with various costume prizes including one for least clothing worn. (Presumably nudity is not allowed.)

Tough Mudder is one of at least a dozen mud runs coming to Florida this year. As we chronicled last month, the Sunshine State leads the nation in this category, to the point where Tough Mudder is going up against the inaugural Muddy Buddy “world championship” at the Red Neck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

Though Tough Mudder only debuted on May 2, 2010, it’s up to 14 events for 2011 and in 2012 will expand to Canada, Japan, Australia, England, and Scotland.

We’re not sure it’s the “toughest endurance event,” at least not compared to The Death Race in Vermont in June. But we wouldn’t bet against Tough Mudder reaching its goal of “replacing Ironman as the ultimate endurance event on the planet.”


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An Alternative to Pain

By Pete Williams


Endurance athletes deal with all sorts of pain, from acute to chronic, and often times the solutions are neither simple nor permanent.

That’s why the injection-based prolotherapy process has become a popular alternative for many athletes. It involves injecting an otherwise non-pharmacological and non-active solution into the body around the tendons and ligaments to strengthen weakened connective tissue and alleviate musculoskeletal pain.

Albert Franchi, a New England area orthopedist who is the team physician for Bentley University and a leader in the field of prolotherapy, joined us to discuss the procedure on today’s episode of The Fitness Buff Show.

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The 17-Day Diet

By Pete Williams

No.1 on

We chatted this morning on The Fitness Buff Show with Mike Moreno, author of the new book The 17-Day Diet. This doesn’t have much to do with endurance sports. After all, most endurance athletes aren’t fighting the battle of the bulge.

Moreno stressed that there’s nothing earthshattering in the book, but that the book’s magic is in its simple message. Hey, anyone who can sell 200,000 copies of a self-published book, get a mainstream book contract, and have it reigning at No.1 on out of the gate has to be onto something.

You can listen to our interview HERE.

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The Simple Science of Natural Running

By Pete Williams

Natural Running

As a running coach and maker of custom orthotics in the late 1980s, Danny Abshire wondered why so many runners got injured.

He realized many were overstriding and landing improperly due to shoes designed to make runners land on the heel rather than on the forefoot as nature intended.

The notion of barefoot or minimalist running shoes was popularized by Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book Born to Run in 2009. Abshire, a co-founder of Newton Running, is an advocate of “natural” running, using a properly designed shoe that both protects the foot from the elements and promotes a natural gait.

In his new book Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running, Abshire shows runners how to find this happy medium. We spoke to Abshire recently on The Fitness Buff Show. You can listen to that interview or read an edited transcript below.

Q: What was your a-ha moment when your realized people were running improperly?

A: It took a long time to realize what was going on. Great coaches like Danny Dreyer were coming along at that time (late ‘80s) and they were trying to get people to alter their gait to natural running. They didn’t realize footwear was getting in the way and once we kind of studied how people were running barefoot and began to cut shoes down lengthwise, we were seeing that the heel of the shoe was getting higher off the ground. If you were standing barefoot and shoved something under your foot that lifts your heel just a half inch, you see how it alters your posture. I was introduced to (runner) Brian Russell who was working on an alternative to foam and moving to absorb shock better. This was the basis of it all back in 1995-96 when we started working on this process.

Q: What’s happening when your heel is raised?

A: Again, if you’re barefoot, put anything under your heel and you’ll notice automatically. Your hips have to tilt to accommodate. They tip forward and we have to balance over the highpoint. The upper body has to lean backwards to get over that highpoint to provide balance. Even with the most expensive running shoes, if you’re walking around on those all day, you’ll have sore heels because you’re loading up to 50 percent of your body weight on a high heel. A lot of people complain that even in their best shoes, if they stand in them all day their lower back hurts and their heels are sore because of this unequal weight distribution. I try to wear a more level shoe during the day and that aids in your running. With that high heel, you’re chronically tightening your calf muscle group, which pulls on your Achilles, which pulls on your plantar fascia and your upper body has to adjust. So people feel soreness in the lower back. You’ll pull your hamstring in that tilted position and tighten the hip flexors.

Foam lessons the communication of the forefoot to the ground. If you’ve been heel striking, it’s like putting on the brakes. People think it’s natural to push off hard when we run and it’s not. When we push, we strain all these propulsive muscles. It’s counterintuitive that people have been told so long that okay to heel strike. You roll through your step and then you push off. That describes how humans walk. It’s safe to heel strike at a walking speed. If you try to sprint or use a walking form for long distance running, there are a lot of injuries associated with that stop-and-start motion.

Q: Why did shoe companies years ago take the opposite approach?

A: There was not a test to test the forefoot of any athletic shoe. When things began developing in the early 1960s, all we had were flat Chuck Taylors for basketball and minimalist running shoes. Once companies started applying protection from concrete and asphalt, for some reason they decided to put it in the heel. The heel is very unstable when you’re moving quickly. Walking, that’s fine at that speed. If you’re in a running mode, think of an athletic position like basketball. The ankles and knees are flexed. If the shoe starts to alter that, your balance will be less than 100 percent. It would be great to adjust all footwear across all sports. At Newton, since we’re so tiny, we’re focused on running, which is our passion.

Q: How do you get back to a natural running gait?

A: You can do some drills that are easy to understand. If you march in place, you’ll notice that you’re lifting from the core. We have to lift our leg off the ground. It’s very stable and the ball of your foot touches, the heel settles and you lift again. That’s how you want to run. How do we go forward? March in place and then fall forward like a tree being cut at a lower level. Take short quick steps, lifting from the core. Now you’re just balancing instead of braking and pushing. Every track drill – high knees, butt kicks, skipping – is intended to have you land underneath your mass and quicken your cadence. Run like you’re running on hot coals. Lift quickly off the ground and touch quickly. Less impact, quicker speed. We’re trying to go back to one-legged balance as opposed to braking and pushing.

Q: In your book you talk about making this transition back to natural running as an eight-week process. Why eight weeks?

A: We throw that out as a worse case scenario for those really starting from scratch and having a hard time transitioning. Some athletes who are cognizant of what’s going on can transition rapidly. Others should take their time. If you’ve been running this way for years, you have to break down some of these muscle firing patterns and change them. People go from heel striking and they think it’s about running on your toes and that’s not it. We have to think of it as marching, feeling the core, and falling forward. You don’t have to take eight weeks, but if you do it right and gradually progress and think of using less power rather than more, your transition will be smoother. It’s an ongoing process of learning how we move from a strength and balance standpoint. We don’t have to heel strike. It’s simply lifting off the ground with the core and falling forward.

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