Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mr. Media Features Paddle Fit, Williams Interview

By Pete Williams

Bob Andelman, aka Mr. Media, did a terrific interview with me (terrific because of his efforts, not mine) about Paddle Fit, the stand-up paddleboarding video book “vook” I’ve had the honor of writing with SUP guru Brody Welte.

The first third is mostly interview, but then we kick into gear with some demonstrations. I’m pretty good at this, but check out Brody on Paddle Fit to see one of the world’s top SUP teachers in action.

 

 

 

 

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Race of the Week: Purple Stride

By Pete Williams

Purple Stride highlights Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

We’re at the tail end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and there has been no shortage of terrific races and events to raise awareness and funds for a disease that impacts so many women and their families.

November is Pancreatic Awareness Month, which tends to fly under the radar compared to breast cancer and prostate cancer, which had its awareness month in September. But pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, with only a 6 percent survival rate five years after diagnosis.

Apple founder Steve Jobs died earlier this month after battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer for eight years and the disease has claimed the lives of a number of notable people in recent years, including Gene Upshaw, Myles Brand, Chuck Daly, and Randy Pausch, whose battle with the disease inspired the best-selling book “The Last Lecture.”

In November, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will stage “Purple Stride” events around the country that include 5K and 1-mile runs, walks, and kids fun runs. The events include St. Petersburg (Nov. 5), Orlando (Nov. 13), and in South Florida on (Nov. 20).

We recently spoke with Tracy Connolly, race director of the St. Petersburg event, on The Fitness Buff Show.

Name of Race: Purple Stride – Tampa Bay

When: Saturday, November 5 – 8:30 a.m.

History: This is a third-annual event.

Format: 5K run and 1-mile fun walk around Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg

Amenities: T-shirts, music, kids activities

Noteworthy: Twenty-two people who either have or have had pancreatic cancer will be participating.

Projected Turnout: 1,000-plus

Cost: $25 pre-registration, $30 race-day

Sign-Up: Online HERE

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Running ‘On the Clouds’

By Pete Williams

Cloud running

If 2011 has been the year of moving everything “into the cloud,” should running shoes be any different?

The makers of On Running shoes, those funky, brightly colored shoes with little padded cushioning devices on the sole, certainly think so. The technology is called “running on the clouds,” which brings an element of core training to distance running.

Core training transformed the fitness industry over the last decade as athletes realized they could generate more stability around their hips, midsection, and shoulders by training on unstable surfaces such as physioballs balls and BOSU balls. Such devices force the athlete to recruit more stabilizer muscles, thus building more strength and stability.

Olivier Bernhard figured he could produce the same effect with a running shoe. The Swiss triathlete, a six-time winner of Ironman races, had grown frustrated with nagging knee and Achilles injuries for which doctors and trainers could not find a solution. Bernhard, after all, had textbook running form.

Bernhard knew he preferred training on softer, more forgiving surfaces such as gravel or sand-covered trails, which allowed his foot to softly glide into every step. Could it be his shoes?

On Running co-founder Olivier Bernhard

An engineer Bernhard worked with in Switzerland realized that there are two forces at work when running: the vertical and horizontal impact. It’s the horizontal impact that causes the most damage to muscles, ligaments and joints, though existing running shoes only absorbed the vertical impact.

What if they could create a running shoe that would allow a runner to land as softly as on sand and to push off as effectively as on concrete? The result was On Running, with models like the Cloudsurfer and Cloudrunner launched last year.

“The shoe triggers instability so your body stabilizes,” says Bernhard, in Florida this month promoting the shoes. “It’s not about barefoot running or minimalist shoes. We think of it as an activation shoe.”

The “O” in the company logo includes a light switch, for activation, and Bernhard says the idea is to land soft and push off hard. The “CloudTec” elements of the shoe, the pads on the sole, allow the foot to travel softly into the landing. Once locked, the Clouds are completely firm for a strong push-off. This happens because the “clouds” more effectively slow down impact forces than the compressed rubber or air-like devices in other shoes.

The technology, Bernhard says, is similar to a physioball, where the body must adjust to remain stable. “Think of these shoes as having a bunch of little physioballs that are continually providing feedback to your foot to stabilize your landing and stabilize the hip,” he says.

Bernhard says he’s not selling shoes but rather a “different sensation of running” and, indeed, the Cloudsurfers I’ve tested in recent weeks provide a different feel than anything I’ve worn in recent years, including Newtons and Vibrams.

Bernhard says it’s a mistake to lump Ons with minimalist footwear but to think of them as a training shoe to build stability, and thus speed. (On will introduce racing flats shortly).

The endurance sports crowd seems to be embracing the Ons – along with celebrities. FitNiche, the running store in Clearwater, reportedly sold several pairs of Ons to part-time Clearwater resident Kirstie Alley, who saw her “Dancing with the Stars” partner wearing them.

During the filming of the movie “A Dolphin Tale” in Clearwater, a producer bought a pair from FitNiche and soon returned with orders for cast members Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr.

We’re all for anything that produces core stability, especially among the running crowd which often is guilty of doing little training beyond running. Getting a core workout while running is a great way to get the most out of your training time.

We’ll see if On Running has staying power in a crowded market, but right now we’re enjoying running on cloud nine.

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Recession or Flooded Market?

By Pete Williams

Endurance sports shakeout?

The decision by the World Triathlon Corporation on Tuesday to pull the plug on its season-finale 5150 triathlon series event in Clearwater is the latest move that indicates the world of Florida endurance sports might not be recession proof after all.

The Champions Mud Bash canceled its Nov. 5 event in Tampa. Like the 5150, low registration was the reason. Muddy Buddy opted not to have a year-end championship in Punta Gorda. Several other events have been quietly canceled or indefinitely postponed. WTC, the parent company of Ironman and creator of the 5150 series, pulled the plug on Primal Challenge, which was to have been a new obstacle mud run series with a November event in Lake Wales.

Many other events have experienced declining numbers after years of unbridled growth.

We’ve marveled at how recession proof Florida has been when it comes to endurance sports. After all, the Sunshine State has suffered more than most of the country in terms of the real estate crash and unemployment, a figure that probably does not fully reflect the job troubles in a state where many people are independent contractors and/or self-employed and thus not counted on the unemployment rolls.

Since the economy crashed in the Fall of 2008, Florida endurance sports actually have taken off. The state already lead the nation in the number of triathlon and running events and now can claim top status in obstacle mud runs and stand-up paddleboard events.

The theory is that people will cut back on their discretionary spending when it comes to entertainment, eating out, and home improvement, but will be less likely to slash on participatory events that give them a feeling of accomplishment, which is perhaps more important during stressful economic times. Not only that, many people have more time to train.

We’re of the belief that it’s not the recession but a flooded market for races. Two years ago, Muddy Buddy had a virtual monopoly on obstacle mud runs in Florida. This year, there will be at least 30 such races. Dozens of triathlons and running events of all distances have been added to the calendar since 2009, many with entry fees of $100 or more.

So it figures that there will be a shakeout and, perhaps not surprisingly, many of the initial casualties have been newcomers that have not gained sufficient traction.

Philip LaHaye, WTC’s director of operations, said Tuesday that Clearwater probably cannot sustain a year-end event at $150-a-head like the proposed 5150 finale. LaHaye, the longtime race director for the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, has seen that event’s numbers plunge in recent years, no doubt fueled by increased competition by other races at the Olympic-distance level and the rapid increase in St. Anthony’s entry fees.

It’s not just triathlon. We’ve wondered how long athletes will continue to commit to obstacle mud runs where they must pay $75 entry fees, $10 parking, and receive little more than a bottle of water and perhaps one free beer at the finish line for events that take less than an hour to finish.

And at what point will runners balk at paying up to $100 for a half-marathon? Unlike triathlon or obstacle mud runs, it’s easy to go out and run a half-marathon without entering a race.

Then there’s our pet peeve: lousy T-shirts. Athletes, especially women, do not want to wear something with sponsor logos on the back, especially when they’ve paid $75 or more to enter. If race directors believe they must include logos on the back to provide sufficient value to sponsors, well, they’re probably not providing sufficient value to sponsors.

Like any other product, the winners in 2012 and beyond in endurance sports organizers will be the ones who provide the best value for the entry fee.

For Florida endurance athletes, that’s a positive development.

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Ironman Cancels Clearwater 5150 Finale

By Pete Williams

No 5150 Race in Clearwater in 2011

World Triathlon Corporation, parent company of Ironman, has postponed the year-end event of its inaugural 5150 triathlon series, scheduled for Nov. 12 in Clearwater, because of low interest.

Philip LaHaye, WTC’s director of operations and the event director for the 5150 series, would not say how many athletes registered, but did say registrations fell short of the company’s modest expectations of “800 to 1,000 athletes.”

“When you have low participant numbers, from a budgetary standpoint, it starts to challenge what you can do from from a production standpoint,” LaHaye said.

Though the move is billed as a “postponement,” it’s effectively a cancellation as the race will not be rescheduled for 2011. Athletes were informed this afternoon that they would receive a full refund, including online registration fees.

With the cancellation of the Clearwater event, the 5150 season will end Sunday in Galveston, Texas.

The Olympic-distance Clearwater 5150 triathlon was scheduled a year ago after WTC moved the year-end championship of its 70.3 (half-Ironman) distance race to Nevada after five years in Clearwater.

Most of the 10 domestic races in the 5150 series were existing events with long track records of attracting thousands of athletes, such as the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, DC Triathlon, New York City Triathlon, and Hy-Vee Triathlon.

LaHaye said it proved challenging to draw athletes to a new year-end event in Clearwater that was not a championship. WTC staged the 5150 championship last month in Iowa, where the Hy-Vee Triathlon provides $1.1 million in prize money and attracts an elite field.

Reports of limited interest in the Clearwater 5150 finale picked up steam last month when LaHaye sent an e-blast offering a discount to athletes who registered for both the 5150 finale as well as next year’s St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which became part of the 5150 series this year.

Athletes could register for both events for $250, a discount of $60 from the combined entry fee price, and an unusual move for WTC, which during the triathlon boom of the last five years has been able to command increasingly higher fees for races of all distances.

LaHaye said price point is one area WTC will revisit as it restructures the 5150 series for 2012.

“While we can’t go in and produce a $65-per-person race, that doesn’t mean the (Clearwater) market is ready at end of the season to support a bigger production, $150-per-person race,” LaHaye said. “In 2012, you will see a different 5150 series with new things planned and a different pricing structure that will protect the longevity of the series. It will protect the quality of what we want to do and come in at a reasonable price point for athlete.

“In some regards, 2011 has been a learning experience,” LaHaye added. “There have been a lot of positives that we take away from that. The word I’ve been using is that we’re at a re-set point. I’ll be the first to admit we – and I – made some calculated assumptions that maybe we weren’t completely right on about.”

WTC announced the 10-race, domestic portion of the 5150 series a year ago, rebranding existing Olympic-distance races “5150” in reference to the usual Olympic distance of 51.50 kilometers (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run).

The 5150 series was the latest brand extension for Ironman, which successfully re-branded a number of half-Ironman races as “70.3” in recent years in reference to mileage of a half-Ironman race. That enabled athletes to pursue an Ironman-branded accomplishment without undergoing the ambitious training schedule to complete a full-distance Ironman.

The 5150 series, however, did not generate as much excitement. Unlike the 70.3 series, the Ironman logo did not figure prominently in 5150 marketing and merchandise. Many athletes did not view an Olympic-distance event as an Ironman-worthy accomplishment.

LaHaye said 5150 was never meant to be closely linked to an Ironman-distance race.

“There was never an intent to try to marry this series with Ironman,” he said. “We had the understanding that they were completely different. There is some appeal to going hard and fast on a shorter course for the longer distance athlete, and we want to re-energize the sport at the international distance.”

Unlike the 70.3 championship, which took place in Clearwater from 2006-2010 and determined the male and female champions for the season, the 5150 event in Clearwater was merely a series finale. The lucrative Hy-Vee Triathlon took place in Iowa last month with Greg Bennett of Australia and Sweden’s Lisa Norden each won $151,500 for winning the men’s and women’s divisions, respectively.

The 5150 postponement is the second recent setback for WTC, which in August quietly canceled plans for Primal Challenge, a proposed obstacle mud run series that was to debut in Charlotte last month, with a second run to take place in Lake Wales in November.

LaHaye said WTC wants to have a successful 5150 race in Clearwater but is limited by the calendar. The city already is packed from late February through early April because of spring break and the summer months are too hot for Olympic-distance racing.

“Is it a November race next year with some changes? I don’t know,” he said. “We will sit down with the city and come up with a plan that will work for 2012. Right now it’s too soon to know what that will look like.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Bullish on Highlander

By Pete Williams

Highlander tire challenge

BARTOW – It’s still early to say which of the many Florida obstacle mud runs will survive beyond 2011, but we’re placing a bet on The Highlander Adventure Run which held its second event in 90 days this morning.

We thought it was a little ambitious to return to the same venue so soon after a July 23 debut, but Jonny Simpkins and his crew showed why it’s worth a trip to a property that while off the beaten path even by mud run standards is worth the drive.

Simpkins has a background in both endurance sports and motocross racing and is the owner of an irrigation company. Throw in a unique piece of property, a tract of several thousand acres with terrain of various elevations, and you have a good formula to stand out in an increasingly crowded race category.

In July, we wrote that there were 22 obstacle mud runs being staged in Florida for 2011 by 17 different companies. We haven’t done an updated count, but it figures that list is now 30 runs by 20 outfits, with more to come in 2012.

This year I’ve done Muddy Buddy, the Spartan Race, and Savage Race. Tough Mudder, coming to Dade City in December is on my schedule. Admittedly that’s not a huge sampling of races (especially since I did Spartan Race in Virginia), but it’s enough to know that mud runs follow a typical formula: two dozen obstacles or so over a 3-to-6 mile course, post-race music, limited free food, and (usually) beer, and challenges involving some combination of mud, fire, water, barbwire, and walls.

I lost track of how many obstacles Highlander threw at me over the 3-mile course. I opted for the 3-miler over the 6-miler so I could catch my sons in the kids race (more on that in a moment). There were familiar obstacles such as crawling through mud under barbwire, monkey bars, climbing over wooden walls and ladder obstacles, and negotiating a balance beam and various tire configurations.

Kids got their own race.

More unusual challenges included a series of waist-deep rope maneuvers in a lake best attempted via full immersion (though not required). Pine plantations on the property provided a woodsy change of pace. The last 400 yards included rapid-fire challenges including a zipline, more waist-deep water obstacles, and a climb up the hill to Highlander’s signature finale: a plunge down a 150-foot water slide into muddy water. (I wouldn’t recommend going headfirst and the subsequent belly flop).

The Highlander might have the best layout of any Florida endurance event I’ve attended. Registration, start/finish, and post-race events take place atop a raised area that enables spectators to look down and see more than 75 percent of the course. (This would be an ideal site for a Civil War reenactment if, of course, there had a been a battle anywhere nearby).

A live band kicked into gear before the first wave got underway and a bagpipe player contributed to the Celtic theme of the event. The organizers managed to attract both a younger demographic and a family one with a bounce house and a free kids race.

It’s tough to find a free kids race these days, let alone a significant one. We figured the kids were going to just get a shot at going down the slide, which would have been fine. (Heck, Muddy Buddy charges just for kids to go through a mudpit.) Instead, the Highlander kids got a half-mile course featuring a half dozen obstacles built just for their race – and the slide.

Approaching the waterslide

There were no T-shirts or medals for the kids and, when you think about it, isn’t that how it should be? What parent wouldn’t jump at that tradeoff for a free race? My guys had no complaints, just rave reviews.

The Highlander folks might be largely responsible for one of the most welcome Florida endurance sports trends of 2011: popularizing the Tultex T-shirt. Highlander introduced these soft, poly-cotton, fitted shirts at the first race and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Savage Race provided Tultex shirts as well in August. (We liked them so much we printed on Tultex for our Caliente Bare Dare 5K last week.)

Today’s Highlander shirt was a sharp cranberry-colored Tultex. Hopefully this trend continues. We’re tired of tech shirts that make you feel like you’re wearing a baggy shower curtain, especially when they’re splashed with two dozen sponsor logos on the back. (Not naming names, but an organization with the initials WTC is the biggest offender of this.) Give me a form-fitting Tultex that’s as comfortable as a pajama top and I’m good.

Speaking of WTC, the parent company of Ironman, it quietly canceled plans to launch its own Primal Challenge mud run series. Nothing against Muddy Buddy, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and the other national races – we’ve done most of them and enjoyed them all – but we can’t help but wonder if races put on by Florida-based promoters to smaller, more manageable crowds might be the trend for 2012.

If they’re more like the Highlander, we’ll be all for it.

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Caliente Bare Dare II a Success

By Pete Williams

Caliente Bare Dare 3 coming in Fall 2012

LAND O’LAKES – Nearly 200 runners took the second-annual Caliente Bare Dare on Sunday and completed the 5K course as rain fell over the popular clothing-optional resort.

Though more than 200 runners were pre-registered and many more expected, gloomy weather kept the numbers from reaching the projected 300. Still, more than 75 percent of pre-registered runners attended and nearly everyone ran nude with the exception of shoes.

Like the inaugural 2010 race, nearly 40 percent of the field was female and the majority of runners under the age of 40. Prominent local triathletes and duathletes accounted for most of the top five finishers among both men and women. Both the male and female winners from 2010 returned and defended their titles, picking up gift certificates from Caliente good for free massages. (As always, race results are not posted in the interests of privacy.)

The top 25 male and top 25 female finishers received commemorative bottles of Caliente Bare Dare 5K wine. All participants received fitted Tultex T-shirts. Thanks to a long list of wonderful sponsors, including the host Caliente Resort, FitNiche, Xinji Intimacy Enhancing Sprays, The LaBrecque Center for Aesthetics, Grin & Bare it Charters, and RoadID.

The third-annual Caliente Bare Dare 5K will take place in the Fall of 2012.

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