Monthly Archives: August 2011

Working a Savage Tan

By Pete Williams

Savage Racers

I just signed up for The Savage Race, the Aug. 27 event in Clermont billed as “the race built to kick your ass.”

If nothing else, it might be the hottest race the ever-expanding obstacle mud run category, which includes at least 22 events put on by 17 companies this year in Florida alone. High temperatures in Clermont are projected by to be 89 degrees on Aug. 27 — last wave goes off at noon, so that’s entirely possible.

I’m interested to see what will set the Savage Race apart. For starters, there’s a lake swim where athletes go across a 150-yard body of water that’s deep in the middle. That should separate the swimmers from the pretenders. (Like most obstacle runs, I’m guessing there’s an alternative punishment for those unable or unwilling to complete a challenge). The now-familiar mud run standards will be there: mud, barbwire, one free beer, $10 parking, etc.

I did Muddy Buddy in April, The Spartan Race in June and am signed up for Tough Mudder in December. Who knows? Maybe I’ll jump in a few more before the Year of the Obstacle Mud Run is over.

If nothing else, I’ll be prepared. Saturday is another edition of Tough Mudder training at The Next Level Training Center in Tampa at 10 a.m. It’s no charge and definitely worth it – if you can take the heat.

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Triathlon Boom Continues

By Pete Williams

Three of 2.3 million triathletes in 2010

It’s no secret that triathlon not only has survived during the recession, it’s thrived.

Races seem to sell out faster than ever and it’s tough to keep track of all of the new events, whether it’s a sprint distance or another addition to the Ironman circuit. Here in Florida, we have more races than any other state in the country. New additions over the last year such as the Key West Triathlon in December and the upcoming HITS Triathlon Series event in January have made it possible to do a Florida race every month of the year.

This week, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) and USA Triathlon put out some numbers that quantify the sport’s astounding growth.

An estimated 2.3 million individuals completed a triathlon in 2010, representing 55 percent growth in one year, according to the SGMA. In addition, USA Triathlon annual membership totals reached an all-time high in excess of 140,000 last year, with another 326,000-plus one-day license holders.

According to the SGMA, approximately 2,295,000 individuals completed at least one triathlon in 2010, up from 1,481,000 unique participants in 2009. Additionally, an estimated 1,978,000 individuals participated in an on-road triathlon in 2010, while 929,000 athletes competed in an off-road event last year.

The 1.9-million on-road competitors marked a 63.7 percent increase from 2009 (1.2 million participants) and a 147.9 percent increase since 2007 (798,000 participants). Additionally, the 929,000 off-road participants demonstrated 39.5 percent growth since 2009 (666,000 participants) and 92.3 percent growth since 2007 (483,000 participants).

Additionally, the SGMA estimated that there were 1.2 million core on-road triathletes and another 694,000 core off-road participants in 2010. The SGMA defines core participants as athletes that completed two or more events last year.

Further demonstrating the growth of multisport in the U.S. is the continued expansion of USA Triathlon’s annual membership base and the organization’s varied programs. In 2010, USA Triathlon reached a record total of 140,244 annual members.

By comparison, USA Triathlon had 21,341 annual members in 2000 and totaled 58,073 annual members in 2005. The high-water mark from 2010 of 140,244 annual members represents approximately 557 percent growth since 2000 and 141 percent growth since 2005. Additionally, the 140,244 annual members from August 2010 marked 9 percent growth since year end 2009 (128,653 annual members).

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Biggest Spartan Ever?

By Pete Williams

Spartan Warrior?

Al Harrington, like any NBA player, has some time on his hands these days. With the NBA lockout nearly two months old and labor peace nowhere in sight, pro basketball players are looking for something to do.

On Sept. 24, the Denver Nuggets forward will compete in The Spartan Race at Wolfe’s Pond Park on Staten Island. This is the eight-mile Super Spartan Race. I admire Harrington, 31, for attempting it, but having done the 3-mile version of The Spartan Race in Virginia in June, I’m skeptical of any 6-foot-9, 250-pound guy getting through it, world-class athlete or not.

The Spartan Race, which debuted in Florida this year and returns to Miami on April 23, is one of the tougher events in the ever-growing obstacle mud run category. There’s a lot of crawling under barbwire and other tight areas, climbing through and around obstacles, carrying huge rocks, and doing 30 Burpees for being unwilling or unable to complete challenges.

I can’t imagine navigating the Spartan Race balance beam with Harrington’s size-17 feet. (Thirty Burpees for Al there). In Virginia, where the event was held at a paintball site, a sniper took aim at us during one obstacle. Al would provide a huge target. And I’m guessing Burpees are a lot tougher being 6-foot-9 than 5-10.

I’d be most concerned with an event that provides literally a thousand opportunities to twist an ankle or throw out a knee. Maybe Harrington doesn’t have to worry about playing basketball anytime soon, but what if an unlikely settlement is reached?

Then again, it can’t be any worse than risking a knee or ankle over the course of a basketball game.

When you spend two-plus hours on the ground and in the woods, poison ivy is likely. I acquired the worse case of my life at The Spartan Race. Fortunately, a cycle of prescription steroids knocked it out quickly. Would Harrington be allowed to ‘roid up? Does it matter in a lockout?

“This competition is definitely outside – way outside – my comfort zone,” Harrington said in a Spartan Race release. “But I’m hoping to inspire people to focus on finishing despite the obstacles before them. The Spartan Race is all about doing one’s best. Sure it’s great to win, but just as good to know that you came to play, played all the way, and didn’t hold back.”

Harrington will have no trouble leaping over fire, a staple at The Spartan Race. If he can make it to the end, his size and jumping ability will come in handy. Athletes must climb over a six-foot wall, seven-foot wall, and eight-foot wall, all greased from previous competitors. Most of us struggle. Harrington can probably leap over them.

As for the guys dressed as extras from the movie 300 who guard the finish line and swing giant mallets at the athletes, I’d be worried if I was them. What Spartan wannabe is going to challenge a guy as big as Xerses?

Heck, when Harrington completes the race, he should don the red cape and loincloth and guard the finish line himself.

Spartan Race organizers say 20 percent of the field doesn’t finish. I’m predicting a Harrington finish, some pain for the guys guarding the finish line, and some sore knees the following day.

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Honoring a Fallen Triathlete

By Pete Williams

Jason Workman

Our team captain gathered us around the bed of his pickup on Sunday morning and unwrapped a bundle of American flags. Then he pulled out a printout listing the names of the 30 U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 6.

“Thirty men, none older than 47,” said our captain, a Marine Corps veteran. “Take a flag, pick a name and let’s honor them as we run.”

Our triathlon group, a dozen or so that ride out of Safety Harbor on Sunday mornings, had just finished our usual 30-mile loop. I’ve been a dropout in recent weeks, opting for a stand-up paddleboard workout, but I still show up for the run, which given the heat this time of year is a modest 2-miler. A few other athletes got word of what we were doing and joined us.

I perused the list, feeling guilty that it was the first time I had done so. Just two of the fallen were older than me. Most were much younger. I’m partial to people with names at the end of the alphabet, so I chose Jason Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah.

We left from the Safety Harbor Marina, flags in hand, running north past the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa along the water toward Philippe Park. Usually we turn at the entrance, which is about a mile, but I was feeling uncharacteristically good and proceeded into the park.

Three of us ran another half mile. Walkers in the park smiled and waved as we passed. If I turned around at the top of the hill, it would be a three-mile loop. But still I felt great. Weird. I often joke that my strategy for running better is to do little distance running, opting instead for intervals and the residual benefits of swimming, spin classes, and paddleboarding.

Even though I had pushed through a brutal paddleboard workout, I felt like I could run all day. Rarely can I keep up with my two colleagues, but after we turned – just shy of the 2.5-mile mark – I felt another burst of energy.

Back in the 1990s, I worked at USA Today in Arlington, Va., and went on runs that finished with a loop around the outside of Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial. This was hardly the first time I considered our fallen heroes during a run, but this time felt different.

Now I was cruising, surging 50 yards ahead. I spotted one of our flags on the ground and scooped it up, running with one in each hand. I picked up the pace. All alone now as I ran through Philippe Park under the canopy of oaks draped with Spanish moss, I thought of Jason Workman of Blanding, Utah. What were his hopes and dreams? Did he have family? What compelled him to become a Navy SEAL?

I thought of how I’m a member of the first generation never to have to worry about mandatory military service. So many Jason Workmans have volunteered to make that possible. I ran faster.

I was not breathing particularly hard. I couldn’t recall the last time I had run more than four miles at once. I’ve done a couple of sprint triathlons in the last month, each with a 5K (3.1 mile) run at the end. Where did this kick come from? There was just a few hundred yards to go now as I came around the Safety Harbor Spa, sprinting for our captain’s truck.

As I came to a stop I looked skyward and thanked Workman for his sacrifice.

I felt like I could have gone another five miles.

When I got home, I looked up Jason Workman. He was the youngest of four brothers, one of whom graduated from West Point when Jason was 14. It was then that Jason vowed to become a Navy SEAL. He had been a Mormon missionary in Brazil before enrolling in Southern Utah University and later enlisting in the Navy.

The Deseret (Utah) News reported that Workman was a three-sport star in high school, playing football, baseball, and basketball.

The paper also noted that he was “also a strong swimmer and competed in triathlons.”

At least three others killed were triathletes: Brian Bill, 31, of Stamford, Connecticut; Matthew Mason, 37, of Kansas City; and Jon Tumlinson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa.

Many of the fallen were Navy SEALS. For them a triathlon is a light workout. For all of the talk in the fitness and endurance world these days about boot camps, obstacle mud runs, iron this and tough that, it’s easy to forget that nothing we do remotely approaches military training, let alone putting your life on the line.

Jason Workman leaves behind a wife and 21-month-old son.

He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Filed under Running, Triathlon

Too Late, Too Hot?

By Pete Williams

Too hot to handle?

Should endurance sports events held in July and August ever start after 8 a.m. and go beyond 11 a.m?

Or is the heat issue overblown?

These seem like reasonable questions to ask in light of two deaths in last weekend’s New York City Triathlon and, according to the Kansas City Star, two deaths in a Warrior Dash event in Kansas City on July 30.

There’s a reason we have relatively few triathlons in Florida during the summer months. Even those the Sunshine State does host are usually sprint-distance with start times around 7 a.m. That means even with multiple waves and accounting for slower athletes, everyone is off the course by 9:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country seems to forget that weather everywhere in July and August can be every bit as punishing as what we have in Florida.

Oppressive summer temperatures seem to be more of a concern in obstacle mud runs than in triathlon, where deaths tend to take place in the swim, with stress and pre-existing heart conditions usually contributing more than heat. Triathletes are accustomed to getting up at the crack of dawn to train and race early, avoiding the high temperatures.

This doesn’t mean heat in triathlon is not a concern. Next year, Ironman is debuting in New York/New Jersey on August 12. Tomorrow’s expected high in Manhattan is 85 degrees. Would you want to spend 13 to 16 hours pushing your body through summer New York heat? There’s a reason half of NYC heads out of town in August. At least the SUP athletes paddling 26.5 miles around Manhattan tomorrow will need only 4 to 6 hours (starting at 7 a.m.).

Obstacle mud runs like the Warrior Dash, however, tend to start later and attract thousands of participants that go off in waves that don’t start until 8 a.m. – sometimes later – and go on for hours. That means there are participants on the course until mid/late afternoon.

Why so late? With 10,000 to 20,000 athletes in some instances, organizers have to spread them out, but that’s only part of the reason. Obstacle mud runs appeal to the 21-to-34 demographic that’s more likely to want to sleep late. Mud run athletes (of all ages) also tend to be less serious than triathletes. I’m always amazed to participate in an obstacle mud run and see people walking less than a mile into it. Many of these athletes have trained little, if at all, and are stunned at the difficulty of some of the obstacles. (The Warrior Dash, however, is regarded as one of the less challenging of the obstacle mud runs.)

Usually heat concerns can be eliminated with proper scheduling. Tough Mudder, for instance, will make its Florida debut in Pasco County in December. The Spartan Race takes place in Miami in January. Muddy Buddy, though a much easier event, takes no chances, staging its Florida races in early April (Orlando) and late November (Miami).

This weekend, Warrior Dash will head to Windham, New York, where the expected high temperature is 77 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Heat should not be an issue.

As the endurance sports calendar gets more crowded, with more races launched to compete in a market that shows no signs of slowing down, there will be fewer available dates. That pushes races into cities and dates that might be too hot to handle.

Part of the allure of the obstacle mud runs is the unknown, to push your body further and face obstacles as they come. That also explains to some degree the CrossFit phenomenon.

And, of course, there’s a reason we call them endurance sports. This summer has been one of the hottest on record throughout the country. If you can’t stand the heat, some athletes argue, stay off the course or train harder.

But it’s worth noting that The Death Race, arguably the toughest event in the endurance world, takes place in Vermont in late June when the average high temperature is 75.

Though it’s a brutal test of endurance, nobody has died in the event’s seven-year history. But could it be that some of these other events, far less challenging but in much hotter climates, are becoming more dangerous tests of endurance?

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Filed under Races, Running, SUP, Triathlon

Chipotle Comes to Citrus Park

By Pete Williams

Open in Citrus Park

Good to see Chipotle Mexican Grill open a new location in the Tampa Bay area today near the Citrus Park Mall by the on-ramp to the Veterans Expressway.

Chipotle does an incredible job scouting locations. They like high-traffic spots in upscale areas. The company has an endurance sports heritage, at least in supporting cycling and the occasional triathlon, and seems to have a knack for placing restaurants in areas frequented by the endurance sports crowd. (Good bike routes and proximity to the Suncoast Parkway in the case of the newest Chipotle.)

We’re big fans of Chipotle  here at Endurance Sports Florida. Steve Ells’ vision of food with integrity served in a fast casual style is especially appealing to endurance athletes.

The concept is brilliant on so many levels. When Mark Verstegen introduced us to Chipotle in October of 2002 in Phoenix, Chipotle was virtually non-existent on the East Coast. Now it continues to grow…and grow…and grow.

Even as Wall Street traders scurried about in the last week in a semi-panic along the lines of 2008, the Chipotle around the corner from trading floor continued to attract a line out the door. Incredible, healthy food at an affordable price.

Simple yet amazing formula.

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Surging Interest in Caliente Bare Dare 5K

By Pete Williams

Will you take The Bare Dare?

With just two months to go before the second-annual Caliente Bare Dare 5K on October 9 at 8:30 a.m, race registration is 500 percent ahead of last year’s pace, when 200 runners took the inaugural clothing-optional Bare Dare.

Does this mean we’ll maintain pace and draw 1,000 runners? Hard to say, but clearly people are embracing this true “bucket list” event. That weekend (Oct. 8-9), you could spend thousands of dollars in equipment, travel, and entry fees to become one of tens of thousands of people to complete the Hawaii Ironman in Kona. You could spend more than a $1,000 to travel to Chicago and be among 20,000 runners in the Chicago Marathon.

OR you could compete in a bragging-rights race you’ll really remember. Compete in the race and enjoy a full day at Caliente, America’s most upscale clothing-optional resort, for only the cost of your entry fee: (just $25 through Aug. 31). Last year’s race attracted 200 runners from 13 states and Canada and a field that was 38 percent female – a higher percentage than a typical 5K run. This is the hottest race on the Florida calendar. It’s Caliente, after all. You can do a tri or marathon anytime. Don’t miss your shot at the Bare Dare!

Why nude running? Many runners enjoy the freedom of competing only in shoes and sunscreen. Last year, Competitor magazine mentioned running a clothing-optional 5K among its “runners bucket list.” Sponsors of the race include FITniche, the Central Florida running store that brings its trailer to the race, setting up the world’s only clothing-optional shoe store.

Caliente is offering discounted hotel room rates for the event. Just call the Caliente reservations desk (813-996-3700 ext “0”) and mention promo code “5KRace.” Receive 20 percent off room rate and enjoy no day fees for Saturday and/or Sunday nights, Oct. 8-9. (Race starts at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9). Last year Caliente sold out well in advance of the race. Don’t miss out!

Register online via HERE.

Prefer a mail-in application? Download one HERE.

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