Monthly Archives: September 2011

My PSA for the PSA

By Pete Williams

Dr. Katz' new book

“It can be a sign of prostate cancer.”

That’s what my urologist told me two weeks ago, right in the middle of National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, when he phoned with the results of my PSA test.

No way, I thought, heart beginning to thump. I’m too young. I’m a health nut, the co-author of fitness books, a triathlete and stand-up paddleboarder, someone downright OCD about my diet.

Then again, that’s what I thought in January when I underwent anesthesia three times to remove a 1 cm kidney stone. Since then, I’ve dialed in my nutrition further, becoming a borderline vegan. I’ve dropped to what I weighed at college graduation 20 years ago.

The numbers were scary, though. PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is present in small quantities in the serum of men with healthy prostates but often elevated in the presence of prostate cancer.

My PSA was 1.7 – not dangerous in and of itself, though high for a guy my age (almost 42). The problem was my PSA “velocity,” the rise in PSA from year to year.

Many guys my age haven’t had a PSA test. It’s recommended for men over 40, especially those with a family history (which I don’t have), and highly recommended for guys 50 and over.

I probably wouldn’t have had a PSA test at all at this point. But in July of 2009, the Tampa Bay Rays held a free prostate cancer screening at Tropicana Field. As someone with self-employed health insurance, I jump at any free medical services. Plus, there were free Rays tickets involved.

So I had the PSA, which is a blood test, and it came back at a modest 0.9, well in the safe range. I also had the dreaded digital rectal exam and, um, poked fun at the experience in a blog. A year later, in August 2010, my PSA actually decreased to 0.8. I blogged about that too.

I wasn’t planning to get a PSA done this year. The guidelines suggest waiting until you’re 45 if you’ve had favorable results at 40. The Rays offered another free screening in early September, offering a pair of tickets to late-September games.

Yeah, right. As if the Rays would be playing meaningful baseball at the end of the month.

During a kidney stone follow-up visit to my urologist on August 11, he suggested some routine bloodwork. While we were at it, we could do a PSA test. No problem, I said, though I declined the digital rectal exam. My doc and I have been through a lot this year, and I didn’t want to stress our tenuous relationship.

The PSA results didn’t come back until Sept. 12. When your PSA jumps more than 0.35 from year to year, that’s cause for concern. Mine had gone from 0.8 to 1.7.

“We might want to do a biopsy,” the doc said.

Urologists like to say biopsies are routine. That is, if you view the insertion of the equivalent of a sewing machine needle up your backdoor to take a dozen rapid-fire shots at your prostate as routine. You’ll piss blood for a few days. You’ll see it elsewhere for weeks.

“There must be something else we can do,” I said.

The doc offered to prescribe an antibiotic for a week. It was unlikely, but perhaps I had some prostate inflammation. This could knock it out and we could do another test.

“What else can I do differently?”

He mentioned that vigorous exercise within 48 hours can skew a PSA test. “I don’t imagine you know what you did the two days before your appointment.”

“Are you kidding?” I’m a journalist, triathlete, and an all-around anal guy. I called up my training logs.

Tuesday, August 9 – 5:45 a.m. — 55-minute spin class, 45 minutes of core conditioning

Wednesday, August 10 – 6: 15 a.m. — Dry land Paddle Fit workout. (Water too rough to get on the paddleboard.)

Thursday, August 11 – 6 a.m. — 60 minutes of core conditioning. (Urologist appointment followed at 10:50 a.m.)

“That might be the case,” the doctor said. “But a more telling sign would be if you ejaculated within 48 hours of the PSA test, especially 24 hours before. Do you keep records of that?”

Smart ass.

“I’m pretty sure I’m guilty there, too, Doc.”

We set up another PSA test for a week. I felt nauseous as I hung up the phone. Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, though impotence and incontinence are common side effects. Other than that, there’s nothing to worry about.

I wanted a second opinion. And a third and fourth. I wanted to know everything about the prostate. Let’s face it. What guy gives his prostate much thought until it’s threatened?

I called Dr. James Borin, a urologist at the University of Maryland medical center in Baltimore who had provided so much insight during my kidney stone saga.

“The PSA is not a great test, but it’s the best test we have,” he said. “The holy grail of urology right now is finding a better diagnostic tool for prostate cancer.”

Borin reiterated the need to avoid ejaculating and vigorous exercise for up to 48 hours before my next test. I felt relieved after talking with Dr. Borin.

Dr. Aaron Katz, however, initially scared the hell out of me. I saw him interviewed by Don Imus, who has dealt with prostate cancer for three years. Katz stressed that the side effects from prostate removal and radiation are very real. The impotence percentages are scary.

But what I came to realize is that Katz, who appeared on my Fitness Buff radio show earlier this week and is the author of the new book The Definitive Guide to Prostate Cancer: Everything You Need to Know about Conventional and Integrative Therapies, is a strong advocate of taking a holistic, wait-and-see approach to prostate cancer.

Imus, 71, has not undergone radiation or prostate removal, preferring to undergo a strict diet, along with a regimen of supplements and exercise in order to avoid surgery or radiation.

“Not all men need to be treated,” Katz told me. “It’s not like pancreatic cancer or leukemia where you need urgent treatment. Because of PSA screening, many of these prostate cancers are caught early and many patients go their entire lives without needing radiation or surgery, which has side effects such as impotence and incontinence. There are some patients that do need to go those routes for treatment, but for others a change in diet, combined with herbal compounds and monitoring the cancer for years – even a lifetime – is a better course of action.”

Katz calls the PSA test the “Patient Stimulated Anxiety” test since the results often cause a patient to unnecessarily panic.

“We do more than a million prostate biopsies a year in this country and many are just a knee-jerk response to a high PSA,” says Katz, who is a New York urologist and director of the Center for Holistic Urology at Columbia University. “There are other things we should do first. Take a re-test, especially if you’ve had recent sexual activity. We can do a urine test to make sure bacteria isn’t at work. We can do a free-and-total PSA test and even a prostate ultrasound to calculate its size and density. Some men have a bigger prostate from genetics or a fatty diet. All of which will bump up the PSA and not necessarily be a sign of cancer.”

Katz mentioned that taking a spin class as I did within 48 hours of my first PSA exam wasn’t a good idea. That kind of up-and-down on the bike seat can affect the prostate and thus a PSA reading.

I liked Katz’ philosophy and his diet-and-exercise prescriptions. But if I had prostate cancer, what good would that do? I can’t eat much healthier and exercise much more than I already do.

Last Thursday, I went in for second PSA test. I refrained from vigorous activity of all sorts, including sex, for 72 hours, just to be sure. I finished the antibiotics. I prayed a lot.

This time we did a free-and-total PSA test, which is more in-depth than the regular one.

My “free PSA” was 33 percent. That didn’t sound good until I learned that the highest a guy my age can register is between 35 and 40 percent. As for my regular PSA number?

Back to 0.9, consistent with 2009-2010 and well in the normal range.

We’ll still monitor my PSA, revisiting in another three months. I’ll remember to refrain from vigorous physical activity, especially sex, for at least 48 hours beforehand.

Speaking of sex, what about the theory that lots of it is good for the prostate? Use it or lose it, right?

Katz says he often has men ask him to prescribe a program of sex three to four times a week to present to their wives.

“I see a lot of men at a time in their lives where they don’t ejaculate as much,” he says. “The fluid can build up into the prostate-causing calcium deposits that can cause inflammation that can lead to rising PSA or pain in the prostate. There have been studies suggesting a role in the chronic link in inflammation of the prostate and prostate cancer. So in that regard sexual activity has great benefits ranging from reducing stress to perhaps reducing your rate of prostate cancer.”

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The Enduring Tampa Bay Rays

By Pete Williams

Johnny Damon and Rays emcee Rusty Kath model the Rays playoff gear Wednesday night.

ST. PETERSBURG – This site is about endurance sports: running, cycling, stand-up paddleboarding, triathlon. Tampa Bay is the endurance sports capital of America, but no Ironman, marathoner, or obstacle mud runner can top what a bunch of anaerobic athletes known as the Rays did Wednesday night.

I’ve covered Major League Baseball for 20 years and never have I seen a sequence like what unfolded tonight. The Boston Red Sox should be headed to the playoffs in Texas on Friday. The Rays were down to their final strike against the Yankees here at Tropicana Field, just like the Orioles were against the Red Sox in Baltimore. But in a crazy flurry of split-screen events, the Red Sox unraveled and the Rays completed an improbable comeback.

It culminated in an eight-minute sequence. At 11:57 ET, the Red Sox collapsed in Baltimore. At 12:05, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run to send the Rays to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

This is what Tampa Bay needed. This market gets ripped routinely by outsiders for not supporting its sports franchises. No doubt some of them will note that the Rays drew just 29,518 fans tonight, a modest number for such an important game and far short of a sellout.

What people in New York, DC, Boston and elsewhere don’t realize is how Florida, especially Tampa Bay, has been pummeled by the economy. It’s not about a lack of passion for sports. It’s about struggling to find a job, deal with a home that’s worth far less than what you paid for it, and insure it for $5,000 or $6,000 a year, which is what homeowners insurance costs around here these days.

I can’t tell you how many families I know struggling to make it, with one or both parents either unemployed or underemployed. So they – we – slash expenses further, entertain ourselves at the beach or at home, and somehow press forward.

Sports tickets? We no longer have that luxury. Most of us are trying to find a way to remain in this wonderful, quality-of-life market that’s arguably the toughest in America to make the finances work. Sinatra was wrong. If you can make it in Tampa Bay, you can make it anywhere.

That’s what makes the Rays the perfect representatives for Tampa Bay. Just like all of us around here who compete with less income and greater expenses than much of America, the Rays compete with a payroll that’s a fraction of those in New York in Boston. Last winter, the Rays watched the eight highest-paid players from last year’s roster depart. Two ended up with the Cubs, who still stink. Two ended up with the Red Sox, who pulled off one of the biggest choke jobs in baseball history.

Poor Carl Crawford, a stand-up guy and the greatest player in Rays franchise history, to say nothing of the hardest worker in baseball when it comes to conditioning. He went to Boston for a nine-figure contract and seemingly forgot how to play. At least he can take October off for only the second time since 2007.

This morning no superlative seems like an overstatement for what transpired here Wednesday night. Rays manager Joe Maddon compared Dan Johnson’s last-chance home run in the bottom of the ninth to the most dramatic in baseball history. He invoked names like Bobby Thomson and Joe Carter.

Rays pitcher James Shields, who we profiled earlier in the week for his offseason workout regimen at a North Pinellas gym we frequent, went so far as to say tonight was bigger than 2008, when the Rays went from worst-to-first and reached the World Series.

“I’ll never forget this moment,” he said in a beer-and-champagne soaked Rays clubhouse. “It’s amazing what we did in 2008 but nothing can ever top this. If we go on to win the World Series, I guarantee this will go down as one of the greatest moments in baseball history.”

None of which will solve Tampa Bay’s economic problems, but maybe it can provide a much-needed distraction. The Rays’ run in 2008 coincided with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the official start of an economic downturn that continues, especially in this part of the world.

We didn’t realize then how our world was changing.

This time, we know. We’ve dealt with it for three years. Maybe the Northeast and other parts of America are enjoying the beginnings of a recovery, but we’re not seeing it here.

Maybe that’s what makes this seem so much sweeter.

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ESF’s Pete Williams on ABC 28 Talking Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Vodpod videos no longer available.

SUP on ABC, posted with vodpod

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The Pride of ‘Average Joe’s’

By Pete Williams

Offseason work pays off

It was a Thursday morning last December about the time when a different member of the Tampa Bay Rays seemed to depart each day.

Matt Garza. Gone. Carlos Pena. Gone. Jason Bartlett. Gone. Carl Crawford. Gone. Entire Rays bullpen. Gone.

Still dark outside at 6:15 a.m, there were only a dozen people in the gym, including a tall bearded guy in his late 20s hammering through a workout. I worked on a cable machine, chopping and lifting, catching a glance at ESPN between sets. The volume was down, but it was easy to follow the familiar commentary. The Rays run was likely over. No way could they compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, though they still had Evan Longoria and David Price, along with some up-and-coming pitchers. Maybe B.J. Upton could finally put it together and the Rays could compete for third place in 2011.

I looked around the gym, which like the prospects for the 2011 Rays had gone downhill. Other glitzier facilities had opened. Paint was peeling, equipment rusting. Dumbbells were chipped and there were waterspots on the ceiling. A few years earlier, the gym was a hot spot, a meat market with steroid freaks and figure models prancing around. One cheesy meathead looked like a dead ringer for Ben Stiller’s character in “Dodgeball.”

Now White Goodman and the rest of the gang had departed to new Globo Gyms, leaving a few loyal members of this North Pinellas “Average Joe’s,” including the tall guy who could train wherever he wanted.

“Excuse me,” James Shields said to me. “Do you mind if I work in?”

I stepped aside. Shields had become a regular at Average Joe’s following the worst season of his career, leading American League pitchers in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed, a dubious triple crown. His nickname – “Big Game James” – seemed anything but appropriate.

Shields pushed through a set and stepped aside, catching a glimpse of another Rays player exodus story on the bank of TVs. (There are no flatscreens at Average Joe’s).

Over the next two months, I watched Shields push himself harder than anyone in the gym, which is saying something. I know he was there shortly after 6 a.m. on every Tuesday and Thursday, when I train, and perhaps on other days. He enlisted the help of a trainer named Chad Inovejas, who clearly understands baseball-specific — and pitcher specific – training.

I’ve written Core Performance books with Mark Verstegen, who along with his staff in Phoenix have trained a who’s who of baseball talent, including Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Curt Schilling, and Jacoby Ellsbury. I wondered why Shields just didn’t head to Arizona like everyone else.

Maybe he wanted to stay close to home. Maybe as a longtime Ray (and one of the last remaining Devil Rays), he preferred the underdog setting of Average Joe’s.

I never asked. I don’t cover baseball as much as I once did, but figured I’d leave the shop talk to interviews in the Tropicana Field clubhouse. The funny thing is, everyone else left Shields alone too. He’s easily recognizable, even if he didn’t wear Rays workout shorts many days.

Can you imagine this happening in Boston? I’m guessing Tim Wakefield couldn’t even work out at a gym in Boston. Heck, former Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin trained at Average Joe’s when he lived in the Tampa Bay area.

We have so many current and former pros living here that it’s an everyday experience to see guys at concerts, church, Chipotle, or waiting to work in a set at the gym. Everyone mostly leaves them alone, especially when they’re working harder than anyone else in the room.

By mid-February, Shields had lost the beard and presumably a few pounds. He’s been the best pitcher in the American League not named Justin Verlander. He’s thrown 11 complete games, more than twice that of any other pitcher. He’s thrown a career-high 249 innings and carried the Rays through a tumultuous season.

He seems to have gotten better as the season has progressed, which speaks volumes about his conditioning. Last night, he pitched the Rays into a tie with the Red Sox for a wild-card berth with two games to play. He is, by any measuring stick, the team’s MVP, Big Game James, indeed.

This morning, a few of us were on the floor stretching, talking about last night’s game. The name James Shields came up and we talked about his season, which many baseball commentators have deemed unlikely or surprising.

Not to those of us who watched him all winter at Average Joe’s.

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Strength, Speed and Endurance

By Pete Williams

Eric Hall hammers on the bike at the Top Gun Triathlon at Fort DeSoto Park in July.

TAMPA – Spend a few mornings training here at the University of Tampa under Eric Hall and you get an idea why the school’s strength and conditioning coach is one of the top sprint triathletes in Florida.

Hall, 32, doesn’t look like your typical triathlete and not just because of an intricate tribal tattoo that covers his arms, back, and torso and makes him easy to spot in crowded transition areas. At 5-foot-10 and nearly 190 pounds, he’s technically a borderline Clydesdale, though he has the lean, muscular physique of a sprinter.

That’s because Hall, unlike most endurance athletes, has embraced strength training as a key component of his endurance sports arsenal. It’s why he can kick off his Monday mornings with a 90-minute workout with UT’s baseball or softball teams, two groups of anaerobic athletes undergoing offseason programs, and still derive a huge benefit for his triathlon training.

He’ll lead the teams through grueling sessions that can include deadlifts, lunges, RDLs, weighted pull-ups, resisted runs, and any of dozens of other movements that usually conclude with a series of incline sprints in one of UT’s parking garages. It’s never the same workout twice; Hall typically spends about an hour on the following day’s workout, mixing and matching movements before posting a photo of his handwritten assignment on his Facebook page for those who want added inspiration to get to bed early.

A Dade City native who spent four years in the Army before being spotted at local running races and recruited to run at UT, Hall graduated from the Division II downtown Tampa school and in 2005 became the Spartans strength and conditioning coach, one of few in the Sunshine State Conference. He’s trained four national championship teams – volleyball, women’s soccer, and baseball (twice) – and doesn’t just coach the athletes; he works out alongside them, albeit with far heavier weights.

One-arm lifts building stability are a key part of Hall's program

Such work capacity sessions might seem like overkill for endurance athletes already putting in long weekly hours, though a few of Hall’s triathlon colleagues jump in on Mondays, recognizing the benefits of increasing power output, maximizing movement efficiency, and enabling them to cut back on long, slow, distance training. Others show up on Wednesdays, when Hall leaves the weights untouched, preferring pre-hab work on the shoulders, ankles, and hips with resistance bands.

Endurance athletes are just as notorious for ignoring pre-hab as they are strength training, preferring to stay laser-focused on logging long hours and mileage. That’s counterproductive and likely to lead to injury, says Hall, who logs just 25 miles running each week and rarely swims at all outside of the 12 to 15 triathlons – nearly all sprints – he does each year. Still, he’s a contender in every race he enters, including 5Ks, where he’ll typically log a time under 16:30.

We caught up with Hall recently after one of his typical 90-minute Monday sessions.

Endurance Sports Florida: Why is it endurance athletes are the only athletes who gauge their success by the ability to go longer as opposed to faster?

Hall: It’s true, but I don’t think that way as an endurance athlete. When people tell me they’re going to do a marathon, I think, “I could do a marathon at your pace, but could you run a sub five-minute mile?” The reason I can do that kind of speed is because of my strength training. The faster you run, the more impact your body’s absorbing. There’s a reason sprinters look the way they do. I have coupled my strength training with endurance, which is extremely important. But it’s not like I just do weight lifting. I do them in correlation with each other. Over the years I’ve learned how to put them both together to where I’m not world caliber but I can still compete at a pretty high level.

ESF: Is that a tough sell to endurance athletes?

Hall: It can be. They automatically tune out because once I say “strength,” they think that’s going to make them slower. It takes a while for an athlete to buy in but I can justify it because I use it myself. I understand what power development and strength training is going to do for the endurance athlete. It makes them less injury prone, more structurally sound and makes their running economy more efficient. That’s why I don’t have to go out and log 60 miles a week (running) to have that aerobic capacity because I’m incorporating my strength training. I’m a huge believer in that.

Resisted runs prepare athletes for the end-of-race sprint.

ESF: What’s a typical running week like for you?

Hall: No more than 25 (miles) a week and I can get away with that because I have the running background. You’re also talking about a pace that’s threshold. There’s never a long, slow day for me. But I’m not training for a half marathon or marathon. My mileage would change but not my strength training. That’s what makes me structurally sound and more efficient to where I can handle more stress and endurance on the road. Running is constant impact. If I can make my body structurally sounder in my joints and ligaments that’s going to allow me to be more efficient for a longer period of time on that end run. I have no doubt I could run a half marathon or marathon right now and still compete at a high level with my minimal training.

ESF: We did some resisted runs this morning, running hard as a partner provided resistance with a band. How will that translate during a race?

Hall: The idea is to teach the body to turn over and have as many ground contacts as possible. You’re fooling your body for a  duration of 20-25 seconds over a 20-yard mat. It simulates the intensity of a 200-meter all-out sprint.  For that 15 yards you should be trashed as if it were that sprint. It teaches the body that duration, the oxygen debt. By the time you get three-quarters of the way done, you’re laboring and the speed diminishes. That’s where it’s most important and I look for the ability to maintain that speed.

Wrapping up the run at Fort DeSoto

Now think of how a race ends up – in a sprint. In triathlon, the run is a suffer fest. It’s not about who is the fastest runner. I beat the fastest runners out there all the time because I can be more efficient off the bike to recover, and run. I can get on a bike, which is a machine, and produce a lot of power, which leaves me more efficient for the run. When it comes to running, if your body is not exposed to that kind of stimulus, that kind of oxygen debt, and then you go out and try to run at race pace, what happens? It shuts down. Oxygen debt, you’re done.

I always want to train certain days of the week 15 percent faster than race pace. So I’ll run one mile – just one mile – off of my bike rides at 30 percent faster than race pace because I want my body exposed to that, even if it’s for one mile. Then I can carry that. It’s no longer foreign to my body when I get off the bike, so now I can go at my usual race pace and it’s not traumatic. The reason people suffer off the bike is that they never run faster than race pace. That’s why track workouts are so important. You’re running faster than race pace. I want to put myself in that position all the time so when it comes to a race, I’m already exposed to it. I can get off that bike and run at a good clip because I’m used to running at that faster pace.

ESF: So what’s a typical brick workout like for you?

Hall: Most of the time it’s 16 miles and no more than three miles off the bike. Last Saturday I ran just one mile off the bike but it was a 5:18. It’s only a mile, but now I know when I’m in a race situation that 5:30 won’t seem that bad because I’ve exposed my body to the stimulus. Everything I do, and what I encourage others to do, is to always think in terms of simulating race time situations.

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Ramping it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Stratman takes a dose of his own medicine on "The Prowler."

TAMPA – We thought maybe Eric Stratman was easing up for this morning’s edition of Tough Mudder training, keeping it to the same 75-minute session as two weeks ago.

No chance. The owner of The Next Level training center near Westchase added to the degree of difficulty. He wasn’t responsible for the heat, which approached the mid-90s when we started at 10:35, but he could claim credit for everything else.

This week’s menu included a 2-mile run to start the proceedings, followed by rope climbs, another 800-meter run, a return 200-meter engagement with the dreaded weighted “Prowler” weight sled, another 800-meter run, various 200- and 400- meter runs (backward, lateral shuffle), tire tossing and a whopping 50 Burpees.

My training colleague Eric Keaton and I were “fortunate” enough to have time to spare and got to repeat the 2-mile run along unshaded Race Track Road.

I felt pretty good about my performance, hanging pretty much with a lead pack that included Stratman, Keaton, ex-Florida State swimmer Christie Pesce and a couple of others.

No tiring out for Christie Pesce

Tough Mudder is regarded as one of the more difficult races in the booming category of obstacle mud runs, generally taking athletes two and a half hours to complete a 12-mile course. The race encourages athletes to compete as teams to make obstacle navigation easier and is known for its signature feature: an “Electroshock Therapy” challenge.

Tough Mudder is staging 14 events this year and more than 10,000 athletes per day (plus spectators) are expected at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County on Dec. 3-4. The Saturday race is sold out but space remains for Sunday.

For the next training session, Stratman plans to bring in some Tough Mudder-like obstacles. His free Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Oct. 1 and every other Saturday until the race.

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SUP Adventure Race?

By Pete Williams

One leg of an adventure race?

The two biggest stories in endurance sports this year are the growth of obstacle mud runs and the boom in stand-up paddleboarding.

So it figures somebody would come up with the idea of staging a triathlon where swimming, the limiting factor for many would-be triathletes, is eliminated and replaced with stand-up paddleboarding.

Jim Hartnett is that guy. It’s not an entirely new concept, but the owner of Tampa Races has taken the former Croom Quest Multi-Sport Challenge and rebranded it as the Dirthead Trail Duathlon and Triathlon, which takes place in Brooksville on Oct. 23.

The triathlon consists of an 18-mile trail ride, a 2.5-mile paddle, another 9-mile ride, and an 11-mile trail run. Most athletes will complete the paddle in canoes or kayaks, but the difference in this year’s race, Hartnett says, is that he’s heard from a number of athletes who plan to compete in stand-up paddleboards, which is allowed.

The SUP crowd will be at a disadvantage since they’ll be slower on a paddleboard than in a canoe or kayak. But the guess here is that this will be a growing part of the endurance sports world, even though we’ve been surprised thus far at how little crossover there’s been thus far between triathletes and stand-up paddleboarding.

Triathletes, unlike many first-time paddleboarders, have no concerns about falling off the board since they’re already strong swimmers. I expected to see a lot of triathletes transition into the SUP world, but that hasn’t happened.

A number of triathletes I’ve spoken to bemoan the cost of a paddleboard, which is $800 for an entry-level board and $2,000 for a high-end raceboard, much cheaper than triathlon. An entry-level tri bike runs $1,200 and athletes routinely spend more than $4,000 for mid-range models and $8,000 for high-end chariots. Unlike bikes, which require lots of expensive maintenance, SUP boards are virtually maintenance free.

The more likely reason triathletes haven’t crossed over to SUP or obstacle mud runs is that they tend to have a paint-by-numbers mentality.  Triathletes like to know exactly what their race course is going to be, what their training regimen will look like, and what kind of equipment they can purchase to improve their odds.

It would be unfair to say that triathlon is not growing. USA Triathlon’s membership continues to grow exponentially and races at all levels have seen their numbers increase, even in a recession.

But clearly triathlon has been upstaged this year by obstacle mud runs and stand-up paddleboard events, which tend to attract athletes who prefer the unexpected. The guess here is that the Dirthead will be the first of many Florida adventure races to include a SUP component.

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Quick Study: Helga Goebel

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – SEPTEMBER

By Pete Williams

Helga Goebel on the pivot turn

Watching Helga Goebel race a stand-up paddleboard, it’s hard to believe she never stepped foot on a board until two years ago.

Before a race, the 5-foot-4, 34-year-old Brazilian can be found tinkering on her 12-foot-6 Riviera Ron House model, executing one textbook pivot turn after another. She’s quickly emerged as the top female racer in Florida, easily identifiable between her Carolina-blue bikini and a board that’s a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows.

SUP has proven a safer endeavor for her than kiteboarding. Two years ago, she was in a head-on collision that tore a deep gash in her left leg, requiring 19 stitches, including five internal. (If you have a strong stomach, search for “Helga’s Gash” on YouTube.)

Goebel came to South Florida to study English in 1998 and ended up staying. She now lives in Fort Lauderdale, where she works for ACR Electronics, which produces emergency beacons and other life-saving marine equipment. She also serves as a rep for Riviera, traveling the state and racing for Team Riviera.

She generally wins events within the state unless out-of-towners arrive for the big-money races. Goebel finished third at Brody Welte’s Gulf Coast SUP Championship in May at Madeira Beach behind Candice Appleby (Hawaii) and Heather Baus (Puerto Rico) and fifth last weekend at the U.S. Open of SUP in Miami behind Appleby, Annabel Anderson (New Zealand), Baus, and Gillian Gibree (San Diego).

Endurance Sports Florida recently caught up with Goebel to discuss her SUP career.

Q: How did you get involved in stand-up paddleboarding?

A: I was always active on my bicycle, swimming, a little bit of running. I did three sprint triathlons and a lot of diving, fishing, scuba, snorkeling, and wakeboarding. I’ve always been active, but never in the gym. I like being outside and this is the perfect sport.

Goebel paddling in St. Pete

Q: What do you love about this sport?

A: I love the fitness part of this sport, working out. It hits everything from the toes to the tip of your hair; you’re moving every muscle of your body. It’s all core exercise and it’s just nice to be on the water. Before I would drive around Florida and see two feet of water and say, “I wish to could put a board in there.” Now I can. It’s an easy sport you can do by yourself. You don’t need a lot of gear like windsurfing. It’s just one board and one paddle and you’re out on the water. No gasoline, no cleanup, and not much maintenance.

Q: Is this sport catching on in Brazil?

A: It is but more the surf style. They’re starting to pick up the race board, though.

Q: Do you teach stand-up paddleboarding?

A: I used to and I’m getting back into it. I did a clinic in St. Petersburg for five girls and that’s always a lot of fun. I enjoy teaching it and hope to do more.

Q: What are your goals with this?

A: I want to be one of the top 10 in the paddlers in the world. That’s kind of hard when you have a full-time job, but I try to get out three or four times a week. I’m coming off being sick for a month. I had some mold-related allergies that affected me for six months and it got really bad for that one month. My respiratory tract was affected almost like I had bad asthma and I lost 10 pounds. For a while I was afraid to go 100 percent but now I’m back and ready to make a run at the top 10 again.

Q: Tiger Woods has his red shirt for Sundays. Is the blue bikini your signature race look?

A: (Laughing) I never thought about it. No, it’s not my signature look, just my favorite.

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SUP, Go Pro Dominate Surf Expo

By Pete Williams

Among the many SUP boards at Surf Expo

ORLANDO – If you needed confirmation that the sport of stand-up paddleboarding is growing exponentially, you had only to attend Surf Expo this weekend at the Orange County Convention Center.

A dozen SUP manufacturers were on hand, along with many other vendors peddling SUP accessories. A temporary pool was constructed for anyone wishing to test-drive a paddleboard and everyone, it seemed, was talking about the sport.

This was our first visit to Surf Expo and we’re anxious now to visit the larger January edition. I’ve attended all manner of conventions at the OCCC – Builders Show, PGA Show, Sporting Goods Super Show, etc. – and while I’m accustomed to seeing models hired as booth eye candy, it was startling to see barely-legal, bikini-clad women manning many displays regardless of product. You just don’t see that at the Builders Show.

Go Pro, manufacturers of those cool cameras that attach to a helmet, surfboard, or race car, had a huge presence and it’s difficult to think of a non-Apple company that’s as popular right now for making cool gadgetry. Each afternoon Go Pro raffled off a prize package of everything it makes, drawing hundreds to its booth.

Most clever marketing award goes to Sun Bum, a two-year old manufacturer of high-end sunscreen out of Cocoa Beach. Sun Bum gave out stickers and tote bags emblazoned with its slogan “Protect Your Lazy Ass” and most every attendee was cruising the floors with bag in hand.

Protect Your Lazy Ass. That’s our kind of sunscreen.

We’re already making plans for Surf Expo in January.

 

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The $35,000 SUP Race

By Pete Williams

Annabel Anderson (left) and Candice Appleby battle at the U.S. Open of SUP

MIAMI BEACH – The much-ballyhooed “U.S. Open of SUP” debuted on South Beach today and if you were looking for a postcard-perfect setting and a crowd of spectators where thong-clad women outnumbered stand-up paddleboarders, you came to the right place.

We love thong-clad spectators, especially when they keep drifting into our camera lens when we’re trying to shoot paddleboarders. But we were expecting more than 65 athletes to show for a shot at $35,000 in prize money, a record SUP purse according to the Exclusive Sports Marketing announcer who mentioned it at least 65 times over the course of two sweltering late-morning races.

You’d think ESM, which is based in South Florida and has put on triathlons and volleyball events forever, could have drawn more athletes from its home market. As it was, it seemed at least a third of the group came from out of town, including Connor Baxter and Candice Appleby, who both flew in from Hawaii and won the male and female divisions, respectively, of the 5-mile elite race, which featured 37 athletes.

Connor Baxter finishing first on Saturday

Baxter, who will be 17 this week, won $6,000 as the male winner, finishing in 52:04, more than a minute ahead of Chase Kosterlitz (53:17) of St. Petersburg, who took home $4,000 as runner-up.

Appleby (55:33) won $4,000, narrowly holding off Annabel Anderson of New Zealand in a five-loop race that borrowed its format from the popular Battle of the Paddle in California. After each lap, athletes exited the ocean and circled through a  20-yard water stop before reentering the water.

The format, along with top-notch race shirts, cool tiki trophies, and a tent city of sponsors including Mix1, 5-Hour Energy, and a coconut water provider, gave the U.S. Open a big-event feel.

That’s what ESM promised when it announced the event in February and getting Ark Paddleboards to pony up the prize purse drew some attention. Though the date was moved up a week, it still came in the SUP high season, what with Hennessey’s World SUP and Paddleboard Championship (Sept. 17) and the Battle of the Paddle (Sept. 24-25)

Still, those are California races that only impact which pros attend. Surely there are more rank-and-file paddlers in Florida, even with entry fees that resemble Olympic-distance triathlon rates. (I considered entering the elite race today but was told it was $175. Ouch.)

South Beach SUP fans

The race itself was well organized, even with starting times pushed back to 10 a.m. for the 3-mile open race and 11:30 a.m. for the elite. I continue to wonder why SUP races don’t begin at 8 a.m, especially in Florida during the summer months.

Baxter, one of the top SUP racers, said it was by far the hottest race he’s ever participated in.

“It was a great race,” said Baxter, known for his unorthodox but effective stroke where he chokes down on the paddle. “But the heat really gets to you out there.”

Twenty-eight athletes raced in the three-mile stock board division. Trish Miller, a yoga/SUP instructor whom I met during Brody Welte’s Paddle Fit class in Clearwater earlier this year, won the women’s division with a time of 38:15.

Not bad considering she and her Key West contingent jumped in the race with just two and a half hours of sleep. “And I borrowed a board,” she said.

Bottom line: This event shows promise and if ESM is willing to move it to cooler weather in November or December, when there’s nothing else on the race calendar and the SUP world would be thrilled to visit South Beach, it might have something special.

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