Monthly Archives: May 2011

St. Pete Mayor’s Rocky Marathon Deal

By Pete Williams

Another half marathon for St. Pete

For years Philip Porter has shaken his head as public officials around the country have cited dubious economic impact studies to justify massive public spending for sports events.

So when St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster touted an economic impact of as high as $12 million for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon that the City Council approved Thursday night, the University of South Florida economist got out his calculator once again.

“Let’s say you have 25,000 runners,” Porter said Friday morning. “That’s $480 per person, which might be possible if everyone came from out of town. But the vast majority of these people will be local. They’ll enter the event and go home. At most they’ll buy a meal somewhere.”

Local race organizers were out in force Thursday night to protest Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon organizer Competitor Group getting $30,000 in city support, including police and road closures – expenses race directors typically foot on their own – for the Feb. 12, 2012 event.

Given the money being made during this running boom, in the middle of a recession, the question is why any running organization is given a dime in public funding.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, featuring rock bands along the course, is the most popular national marathon and half-marathon series. Half marathon fees average $90. With a typical field of 25,000, that’s $2.25 million in gross revenue, not counting sponsorship dollars.

“For an investment of $30,000, we could have a $12 million return,” Foster, citing the economic impact study, was quoted by The St. Petersburg Times. “I don’t know why we’re still talking about it.”

Here’s why we’re still talking about it:

When a race is put on by a local promoter – such as Chris Lauber of the Halfathon series or Dawna Stone and Matt Dieter of Women’s Running, both of which were on hand last night – the money is supporting local businesses. Competitor Group, owned by New York private equity firm Falconhead Capital, is based in San Diego.

The approval for the Rock ‘n’ Roll event came on the same day Pinellas County announced plans to lay off 1,100 teachers as part of an ongoing budget crisis. Different budgets, to be sure, but still hard to justify.

But the $30,000 is not the most ridiculous or ironic expense approved for the race last night. Actually, it might not rank in the top two.

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, according to The Times, will spend $100,000 to promote the race by taking out ads in national running magazines.

Want to guess what Competitor Group’s core business is?

Yep, they produce national running magazines.

Oh, sure. One of those magazines is Triathlete. The other, Competitor magazine (for which I spent 2010 as a regional editor), does technically cover other endurance sports, though it focuses on running. (At the end of last year, editors were told to write only about running.)

Hopefully the Sports Commission won’t be spending money on Competitor Group magazines. But given Competitor’s strength in that area, why should the Commission be spending any money on magazine advertising at all?

Maybe the Sports Commission could buy some ads in Women’s Running, the magazine published by Dawna Stone!

Somewhere Wendy Johnson, who died last year, is shaking her head. For years, Johnson lobbied the City of St. Petersburg to let her Motion Sports Management company stage a half marathon in St. Pete. City officials resisted, not thinking there was a market.

By the time the city came around, other local organizers were in the bidding. Stone eventually got the contract and now has a three-race national women’s running series, anchored by the November half marathon in St. Pete.

Now St. Pete is all about staging half marathons, even though the Rock ‘n’ Roll event will come just three weeks after Lauber’s Clearwater Halfathon and three weeks before the wildly popular Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa.

The Rock ‘N’ Roll event also will compete with the popular Chilly Willy Duathlon, which has been around for nearly a decade and is held in St. Petersburg on the same Sunday in February at Fort DeSoto Park. The Chilly Willy does not receive a dollar from St. Pete or the county. It’s a safe bet the portly Mayor Foster has never heard of the Chilly Willy Duathlon.

You’d think Foster would have learned from the City of Clearwater, which got little beyond traffic complaints for all the money it paid to host the Ironman 70.3 for the last five years. By the time that deal ended last year, the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. didn’t even put “Clearwater” on one piece of official race merchandise.

Remarkably, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard couldn’t wait to sign up to host the year-end event for the new Ironman 5150 series.

Let’s hope Competitor at least gets the marketing right and doesn’t refer to St. Pete as “Tampa” the way ESPN does whenever Tropicana Field hosts an event.

Speaking of The Trop, perhaps the most incredible aspect of the Rock ‘n’ Roll deal is that Foster and the city asked the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon to hold a health and fitness expo at Tropicana Field for free. That, according to The Times, was valued at $60,000.

Imagine the response when that came across the desk of Rays’ president Matt Silverman, himself a marathon runner.

Silverman and his colleagues have spent the better part of the last 18 months trying to get Foster to let them speak with Hillsborough County about a possible stadium. Foster won’t even entertain the notion.

Granted, only in the warped world of stadium leases does a city have to ask permission from a team to hold an event in a building the city owns. The Rays have no choice but to go along, though it would make for wonderful theater if they refused.

Porter, the USF economist, won’t be the last person to raise an eyebrow over Foster’s generosity with Competitor Group.

“This is the same mayor who tells the Rays to take a hike on the stadium issue,” Porter says. “Now you’ve got an event where mostly local participants are paying entry fees that are being exported. If this is anything like Gasparilla, there’s no economic impact at all. People will wake up at home, go do the race and drive back home.”


Filed under Races, Running

Want to be a Celebrity Trainer?

By Pete Williams

The original celeb trainer

Business Week ran a fascinating story last week on the “rise of the celebrity trainer.”

Being a celebrity trainer is a tough gig. Sure, it can pay well. But it’s a challenge landing clients and tending to folks who can be more than a little high maintenance. This is true whether you train actors, music stars, or athletes.

Jake Steinfeld (“Body by Jake,” left) created the celebrity trainer category back in the 1980s and later parlayed that into an empire of infomercials and fitness equipment. I remember talking to Jake about 10 years ago at the NSGA SuperShow in Atlanta and asking him if he still trained celebrities. He literally shuddered at the question, presumably glad to have moved on to other things.

Unfortunately for trainers, the fastest and most effective way to get noticed and become wealthy, if not a celebrity yourself, is to train celebrities. That’s the route to publicity and exposure, and possibly book deals, videos, equipment, etc. Even Jillian Michaels trains celebrities, at least those with fleeting celeb status on The Biggest Loser.

Perhaps not surprisingly, according to Business Week, there’s even a guy (John Spencer Ellis) giving a seminar on how to become a celebrity trainer for $297 a pop.

Leave a comment

Filed under Training

Why You’re Eating More Wood

By Pete Williams

Food shortage?

Those beavers are onto something. Food manufacturers increasingly are turning to cellulose, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, to “thicken or stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content, and cut the need for ingredients like oil or flour, which are getting more expensive.”

Powdered cellulose comes from tiny pieces of wood pulp, which already is in high demand as Europe and Asia increasingly turn to the U.S. timber market for pulpwood, which is turned into fuel pellets. This is fueling, no pun intended, the market for pulpwood at a time when the demand for wood for building materials has never been lower because of the real estate collapse.

According to the current issue of Forest Landowner Magazine, there’s a shortage of pulpwood coming out of the south. Given the popularity of it by food manufacturers, we could call it a “food” shortage.

According to The WSJ, Kraft Foods uses cellulose from wood pulp (and cotton) in salad dressing. Organic Valley uses it in its shredded-cheese products, preferring it over synthetic ingredients. Meat maker Tyson Foods uses cellulose on some products to maintain glazes or breading, but not as a filler, a spokesman adds. Kellogg Co. uses cellulose to raise the food content of its foods.

This is not another instance of food manufacturers putting more sketchy stuff in what we’re eating. In fact, extra “wood” consumption is a good thing. Cellulose is a rich source of fiber, key to any healthy diet. Nutritionists quoted in The WSJ story say the cellulose we get from wood products is no different than the cellulose we get from celery.

So the next time you’re passing pine plantations as you drive along Florida highways, take a glance and your next healthy meal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

Talking Endurance Sports with Jerry Napp

By Pete Williams

Our guest on the video version of The Fitness Buff Show this week was Jerry Napp, whose background in the endurance sports world spans more than two decades. Jerry’s vast experience includes clinical exercise, corporate fitness, equipment sales and marketing across multiple channels, personal training and coaching. He’s also an accomplished age-group triathlete and runner

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness Buff Show Videos, Training, Triathlon

Race of the Week: Innisbrook Green Day 5K

By Pete Williams

Innisbrook's North Course

Many runners know the joy of running along a golf course early in the morning. Long before golfers show up, it’s possible to enjoy the smell of fresh-cut grass and enjoy the natural sounds of wildlife without worrying about getting hit by errant shots.

Unfortunately, such running usually constitutes trespassing, which is what makes the Innisbrook Green Day 5K such an attractive race. Held on Saturday, May 7 at 8:30 a.m. on the North Course of the Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, which hosts annual PGA and LPGA events, the 5K gives runners the chance to run along the fairways and cart paths of one of Florida’s finest golf destinations.

Innisbrook is a green resort and as part of the Green Day 5K runners and guests can donate gently-used shoes to Soles4Souls. There also will be a free electronic recycling drive in partnership with Intercon Solutions.

Name of Race: Innisbrook Green Day 5K

History: This is a third-annual event held at the Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort, located at 36750 U.S. Highway 19 North between Alderman Road and Klosterman Road.

Format: 5K course on the fairways and cart paths of the North Course, which will be closed to golf. The course offers elevation changes and scenic golf course views.

Amenities: Goodie bag for each 5K participant. Family-friendly activities, age-division awards, live music, and free beer (while supplies last)

Signature Features: Running on the course itself. This is the course to break out the Vibram Five Fingers or similar footwear. The race also is dog friendly. Be sure to bring a six-foot leash and your own bags for cleanup.

Projected Turnout: 200

Cost: $20 in advance, $25 race day. Just $5 for kids 6-12 and children under 5 are free.

Sign-Up: Via IMAthlete

Leave a comment

Filed under Race of the Week, Races, Running

Did St. Anthony’s Find its Mojo?

By Pete Williams

Back in the saddle?

The folks who organize the St. Anthony’s Triathlon can make it a difficult event to like.

In recent years, it’s grown so big that it becomes a weekend-long ordeal to race, with those in the latter waves waiting more than three hours from the time they arrive in transition until they get in the water.

For all of the sponsors and massive financial resources of the organizers, the goody bag and schwag is modest and the shirt has dozens of logos on the back, which means no women are going to wear it.

Despite a bad economy, race fees have gone up in each of the last three years and, when combined with the mandatory ransom, soon will approach $200 for an event that technically has not been an Olympic-distance triathlon since 2008.

Sure, nobody can control the weather. But between the cancellation of the swim in 2009, the shortening of it for the latter waves last year and for everyone on Sunday, it makes you wonder if the triathlon gods aren’t trying to send a message.

St. Anthony, after all, is the patron saint of the poor and travelers.

Now BayCare, the Tampa Bay healthcare juggernaut that owns the event, has partnered with World Triathlon Corp. to make St. Anthony’s part of the 5150 series, Ironman’s latest brand extension.

The use of 5150 is a reference to the combined number of meters in an Olympic-distance triathlon. Others have noted it’s a ripoff of Van Halen, which used it as an album name in 1986, taking a cue from the California police code referring to a “mentally disturbed person.”

WTC and Baycare joining forces is like a marriage between the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. (That actually happened recently when Jerry Jones and the Steinbrenner family created a joint catering business for their new billion-dollar sports palaces.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to St. Anthony’s alienating even more triathletes in 2011.

It accidentally stumbled upon a winning formula.

Because of declining attendance – Sunday’s race featured about 3,200 competitors, insiders say, as opposed to the 5,000 that race organizers continue to announce as if it’s still pre-recession – it’s actually a much more manageable and enjoyable event for everyone.

By tweaking the swim to 1,000 meters (down from the 1,500-meter standard) and shifting it toward the beach in front of the North Shore pool, away from the rougher waters in the Vinoy basin, they’ve found perhaps a better swim site. Any reason why that couldn’t become a permanent change of locale?

It would be nice to see St. Anthony’s freeze entry fees for one year or even offer a $15 discount to recent customers. Imagine if you made your St. Anthony’s debut in 2009, swam in a latter wave in 2010, and showed up again this year. You’ve spent about $500 in entry fees, still haven’t done an Olympic-distance event, and must feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football.

It’s also interesting to note that far fewer people have made the trek down from Atlanta in recent years. The debut of the popular Augusta 70.3 event in 2009 no doubt made a difference, along with the economy and the addition of other races.

The greater competition in the industry means St. Anthony’s no longer can hope to have unbridled growth every year.

Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Longtime triathletes reminisce about when the event was 1,500 people.

It seems like the smaller St. Anthony’s gets, the better.


Filed under Races, Triathlon

The Amazing Rajesh Durbal


By Pete Williams

Triathlete Rajesh Durbal

He’s best known for triathlon, of course, navigating courses of up to Ironman distance despite not having legs or much of one arm.

But when Rajesh Durbal, a 33-year-old triple-amputee engineer for the city of Orlando, really wants to impress people he’ll sit them shotgun and let them watch him drive.

His Ford Focus is not specially equipped. He only drives stick shift. And he does not have a right hand, switching gears through a flurry of smooth movements involving his left arm.

“People ask, ‘Why not get an automatic? It’s so much easier,’” Durbal says. “I learned on stick. My dad never made anything easy for me and I’m glad he did it that way.”

Cops do double takes when they pull him over and see his arms on the wheel. They examine his license, which has no restrictions. They ask questions, especially if he’s wearing shorts.

How do you work the clutch with prosthetic legs?

“It’s all about feeling the vibrations through the legs,” says Durbal, who was born with a congenital deformity in three limbs, had his legs amputated below the knees and has only a nub of a right hand. “Once you realize where the clutch catches it’s like riding a bike.”

That is, riding a bike with one limb for up to 112 miles, as Durbal did during the legendary Hawaii Ironman in Kona in October, finishing the race in 14 hours, 19 minutes, a time for which most triathletes with four limbs would, well, give their right arm.

Go ahead. Make all of the bad jokes and puns. Durbal has heard them all, actually much worse as a kid growing up in New York City.

He spent most of his first six years in and out of hospitals. When it came to sports, he spent most of his time on the bench. Teachers pointed him toward card games or table tennis. This was in the 1980s and early ‘90s, long before the Challenged Athlete Foundation, advanced prosthetics, and the mainstreaming of people with physical challenges.

His Trinadad-born parents, Raj and Anne Durbal, battled the public school system and resisted suggestions to send him to special schooling.

Raj wanted his son to have a normal childhood, which is to say a daredevil one. So he took him hiking, skiing and snowboarding. During a family trip to Niagara Falls, tourists snapped photos and video as Raj and Rajesh ventured out under the falls for a too-close-for-comfort look. It wasn’t because Rajesh looked different.

“They were waiting for us to fall in,” Raj says.

Raj and Rajesh Durbal at the 2011 St. Anthony's Triathlon

Raj challenged neighborhood kids to come over and do underwater laps against Rajesh in their 30-foot-long pool. Nobody could outlast him, which still is the case whenever he and his training group do the drill under the direction of Consuela “Sway” Lively, his Orlando-based triathlon coach.

“He goes at least sixty yards,” says Lively. “I haven’t come across anyone with more mental toughness.”

As for driving, that started at the age of 12 in Antigua. Raj pulled over right before a steep hill and told his son to get behind the wheel of a manual transmission. At least the steering column was on the right side, making it slightly easier.

“He didn’t flinch,” Raj says. “He never backs down from anything, no matter how seemingly dangerous.”

Rajesh eventually discovered the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged and excelled in track events. That helped him fit in to a degree, but everyday life continued to be a struggle. He smoked cigarettes and followed a diet of junk food, became depressed and even considered suicide.

Religion made a difference, and Durbal frequently cites his faith. But what really turned things around was a decision early in 2009 to enter triathlon, of all things.

The sport has a long history with physically challenged athletes, but most have two or three functional limbs.

Wouldn’t other sports have been easier?

Why not drive automatic?

Durbal threw himself into triathlon, sometimes quite literally, like when two handlers place him into the water for the swim start. That and getting help out of the water and into the first transition are the only accommodations he accepts.

For everything else he’s on his own. There are the three sets of legs he brings to the race (bike, run, and walking-around legs). There’s the bike, which is operated from the left side with aerobar pads that ride up on the right side to fit his right stump. There are the running legs, which boost his height from 5-foot-4 to 6-foot-3, which is what doctors project his height would have been.

Triathletes arrive at events with a ton of gear, but Durbal takes it to a new level, which draws a few sideways glances – at least until he takes off his legs, one of six pairs in his closet.

Then there’s the water. Like most swimmers, Durbal breathes every three or four strokes. But he often trains by breathing every seven to nine. The increased lung capacity of the former smoker allows him to stay relaxed and use muscles to compensate for not getting propulsion in the kick.

He spends hours in the pool fine-tuning his stroke and working on directional training so he stays on course in the water and not drift out on his own, as he did during one of his first workouts with Lively in Orlando’s notorious Lucky’s Lake.

He’ll wear a wetsuit if everyone else does, but prefers to go without. “I don’t like the advantage it gives you in terms of extra buoyancy and streamline,” he says. “I’m a fighter. I like to make things as hard as possible.”

That’s why he loves the run. Actually, he hates the run but that’s what makes it his favorite of the three disciplines. Most observers see him gliding along on the run course and assume that’s preferable to one-handed swimming or biking.

They’ve never walked in his shoes, let alone run 26.2 miles in them. Running with prosthetics that rub against the bare skin of his stumps can be excruciating, requiring massive core strength, which Durbal has in abundance.

Durbal making new friends at St. Anthony's

Core strength, for all the talk of washboard abs, actually refers to the many stabilizer muscles of the shoulders, midsection, and hips. The limbs are just along for the ride.

Personal trainers sometimes make an analogy of the core as a mannequin with no limbs. Actually, Durbal is as chiseled as your average plastic model in a department store.

He’ll challenge his training partners to see how long they can stay in a plank position. Nobody can come close to Durbal, even though he’s holding the pose essentially on one arm.

After entering his first sprint-distance triathlon in June 2009, he finished the Hawaii Ironman just 16 months later, a speedy timetable for anyone, let alone someone with a demanding schedule as a systems network engineer for the city of Orlando. He takes a lead role in developing networks and infrastructure, supporting police, fire and virtually every other aspect of the city.

He’s launched a Web site encouraging others (, has become a popular corporate speaker and talks frequently to schoolchildren, who like everyone else want to know the specifics of how he swims, bikes, and runs.

He’s heading back to Kona in October and has eyes on competing in the Paralympics in 2012. Sponsors have embraced his story and he’s a spokesman for 15 companies, including national brands Mix1, Gu Energy, and Zoot Sports.

Triathlon, with its long hours of preparation and choreographed race day rituals of laying out gear is perfect for a man who sets out his legs with his clothes before he goes to bed, always thinking three steps ahead.

“Triathlon fits in well with my approach to life,” Durbal says. “You can train and plan, but there’s always something that comes up and you have to adjust. Something breaks, your equipment fails, the weather’s bad, and how you deal with that is what makes it so rewarding. In the end, it’s just you against the elements.”

(Listen to our interview with Rajesh Durbal on The Fitness Buff Show HERE)


Filed under Enduring Athlete of the Month, Fitness Buff Show Radio, Triathlon