Monthly Archives: February 2012

Spartan Race: Toughest Obstacle Event?

By Pete Williams

Guarding the Spartan Race finish line

MIAMI – If the measure of an obstacle race is how sore you feel afterward, then the Spartan Race is the toughest, most challenging event in the category.

After finishing Muddy Buddy and Warrior Dash, I felt like I could get back in line and do them again. At the end of Tough Mudder, I was tired but not sore.

After completing the eight-mile Super Spartan Race at Oleta River State Park here Saturday morning, I’m sore all over. My legs are scraped, feet blistered, ribs bruised, head pounding. During the course of the race, which included running through woods and brush, pretty much everything but my shorts was ripped from my body: race number, timing chip (which I carried the rest of the way) and even my RoadID.

Does that make Spartan Race the best event in the category? Perhaps. But it definitely could be with a few tweaks.

There are things Spartan does better than anyone, starting with adapting to the venue. At a Spartan Race I did last June at a paintball facility in Virginia, snipers fired paintballs at competitors. At another point, we were given guns and given one chance to hit a target. Failure to do so earned you a 30-Burpee penalty.

Navigate this or face 30 Burpees

Perhaps the coolest challenge here at Oleta River was rappelling down an overpass ramp. At the bottom, athletes were given a six-foot rope attached to a five-gallon bucket, which they had to drop about eight feet into the water below. The idea was to get as much water into the bucket as possible – it was tough to fill it more than half way – and hoist it back up, where it was poured into a 30-gallon trash can. Once the trash can was full, it was dumped and the athlete climbed the rope back up the ramp.

It was a terrific mental and physical challenge – I almost fell with the bucket into the drink – one of many at Spartan Race. Tough Mudder is perhaps more effective at making the athlete uncomfortable, whether it’s with claustrophobic dark underground tunnels or the Chernobyl Jacuzzi ice plunge. But Spartan Race does a better job breaking athletes mentally and physically. I’ve done a dozen of these races and the two Spartans were the only ones I considered quitting because of the challenges.

There was the 100-yard tire carry, a 100-yard rock pull, heavy tire flipping, a pulley requiring the athlete to raise a 5-gallon bucket of cement 15 feet, and an endless (3 mile?) twisting run through the woods where it seemed you had to turn every 15 yards, all the while making sure you didn’t go the wrong way. There were just enough pieces of red tape hung to keep athletes on course. (Jon Watson did a terrific video on the event.)

Burpees and more Burpees

But what makes Spartan Race more challenging than any other race, including Tough Mudder, is that it issues 30-Burpee penalties. If an athlete fails a challenge at Tough Mudder or other races, he simply moves on. At Spartan Race, she must do 30 Burpees, the jumping, thrusting, push-up like move that’s tough under any circumstances, especially in muddy clothes after running several miles in Miami heat.

There were five challenges with Burpee penalties: monkey bars, balance beam, climbing 8-foot walls, scaling a knotted rope about 15 feet, and moving across a peg wall. Screw up any of them and do 30 Burpees, though the monkey bar penalty was only 10. (Women could jump onto a board nailed on the 8-foot wall about 18 inches up.)

So that’s potentially 130 Burpees. I did 90, having fallen off the balance beam and peg wall and given up on the knotted rope.

But here’s where Spartan Race was disappointing. It featured two swimming challenges, neither of which involved Burpees, for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t swim. The first was 150 yards and everyone could – and did – walk across. The second was only 30 yards or so, too deep to walk across, and for this Spartan Race provided ropes equivalent to lane lines to hang onto. Life jackets also were available.

Life jackets? Really? Give 30 Burpees to athletes who fall off a balance beam but give floaties to those who won’t swim?

Somewhere King Leonidas is shaking his head.

Rowing 200 meters, one of the easier challenges

Obviously there are safety issues. But if you’re not going to swim, you should face a Burpee penalty and your finish time should reflect it. At the Savage Race, the popular Central Florida event coming up in Clermont in two weeks, there’s a 150-yard swim in deep water. Athletes who can’t or won’t do it must perform 30 Burpees and take a 10-minute penalty. When the race debuted last August, there was a 5-minute penalty (plus the Burpees) but race organizers didn’t feel that was enough of a handicap since, after all, it could take five minutes to swim that distance in shoes – or take five minutes to remove shoes, swim, and put shoes back on.

But at Spartan Race, some of the top finishers didn’t swim. Sort of runs contrary to the tough-as-nails, ultimate athlete vibe Spartan likes to promote, doesn’t it?

Climb rope, ring bell

Here’s another beef with Spartan Race. The final obstacle involves getting past five meatheads wielding these double sided mallets. These guys take their gig way too seriously. Yes, I know I’m going to take some shots going one-on-five toward the finish line. It’s part of the race. But it must be embarrassing to fall for a head fake delivered by an exhausted guy 15 years older than you. Why else would you deliver cheap shots to the back of my head after I’ve blown by?

Might want to work some speed and agility training into your next WOD, fellas.

Spartan Race also takes the spartan theme a little too far. I counted three water stops, which isn’t nearly enough for a race in 80-degree temperatures that takes most more than two hours. As for free post-race refreshment? Even by obstacle race standards, a bottle of water and a banana is pretty chintzy. Keep the free beer. My kingdom for a Mix1 or Muscle Milk.

Spartan Race continues to issue black beefy cotton T-shirts with the year’s schedule of events on the back, a concert shirt look that went out in 1989. (Tough Mudder is just as guilty, though their shirts are gray). This year Warrior Dash has followed the lead of several of our popular Florida obstacle races (Highlander, Savage Race) and switched to the softer, fitted T-shirts.

Obviously it’s about the race not the shirt. I have more race shirts than I could ever wear and, besides, I aged out of the coveted 18-to-34 demographic that makes up most of these events some time ago. You don’t want me wearing your shirt. But judging from the lines of twenty-somethings waiting to get on race shuttle buses from the designated parking lot at Florida International University, you do want those kids serving as walking billboards for your brand, especially when it’s the coolest brand in the category. Print some fitted red Tultex shirts with the Spartan logo that they’ll actually wear.

All of the above are easy tweaks. I’ve gotten up twice while writing this story and feel it more than after any obstacle mud run, running race, triathlon, or paddleboard event. Spartan Race seems to have succeeded in becoming the toughest event.

Postrace cleanup

Joe DeSena modeled the Spartan Race after the Death Race, the brutal no-set-time challenge he stages in Vermont each June. When I had him on the Fitness Buff Show earlier this month, he bristled at my use of “mud run,” stressing that Spartan is an obstacle race.

That’s a good point and perhaps a distinction that could give Spartan an edge over Tough Mudder in the long term, even though TM is drawing bigger numbers at the moment. Tough Mudder is an untimed event with no results posted, with the goal of finishing together with your teammates, helping them over obstacles. Spartan bills itself as a race, a new endurance sports category, where athletes must get through on their own or do 30 Burpees along the way.

At the moment, Tough Mudder has an edge in popularity and sponsorships, which include Under Armour and EAS. Tough Mudder provides all-you-can-consume EAS protein drinks and energy bars at the end of its races. Spartan Race’s Miami event was sponsored by “Dial for Men.” The soap came in handy at the post-race showers, but the “Dial for Men” banners everywhere gave the event a bit of a “Meet the Spartans” feel. Seems like sports marketers are missing a great opportunity with Spartan Race.

I hesitate to lob constructive criticism at DeSena, though not because he comped me into his race as a member of the media. DeSena has a track record of taking suggestions and making his events harder. Several athletes I spoke to in Miami who did last year’s race said this year’s edition was much tougher. One guy said he finished in 1 hour, four minutes last year but took nearly two hours this time. “And I was much better prepared,” he said.

DeSena has a Wall Street background and knows a thing or two about building businesses for the long haul. If Tough Mudder and Spartan Race were stocks, I’d be bullish on both, but it seems Spartan Race could be the better long-term play.


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Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy?

By Pete Williams

Registration now open for 2013

The Tampa Bay Times broke down the numbers from the Feb. 12 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg and the results show that the inaugural event fell well short of what race organizer Competitor Group projected in May when it landed $30,000 in city services and $100,000 from Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater to market the event.

During a splashy news conference in May, Competitor projected 12,000 to 15,000 runners and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the event could account for 10,000 hotel nights and pump $15 million into the local economy.

We examined those numbers at the time, turning to economist Philip Porter of the University of South Florida, a longtime critic of sports economic impact projections. Porter suggested only a small portion of the runners would come from outside the Tampa Bay market, minimizing economic impact.

That’s exactly what happened, according to The Times. The Feb. 12 race had just 7,000 finishers, only 1,248 of which came from out of state. The three official race hotels booked just 200 rooms. Other hotels already were nearly full with other bookings.

Porter says such projections always overestimate economic impact.

“Think about it. You’re coming to City Council and asking for money and support shutting down roads and you’re going to promise the sky,” Porter said this morning. “If you don’t deliver the crowds it doesn’t matter because there’s no mechanism in the contract that holds you accountable.”

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and has pledged $100,000 for each race in 2013 and 2014.

Though the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon generally was well received, some runners wondered why it needed to begin at one site (Tropicana Field) and end at North Shore Park. Runners faced $15 parking fees at The Trop on race day and for mandatory packet pickup on the days before, though many parked in free two-hour spots on the streets and walked over.

Weather was chilly for the race, though that likely had little impact on late registration in the days leading up to the event as entry fees were a whopping $125. Advance registration was as little as $55 and Competitor was offering $65 registration for the 2013 event during packet pickup this year.


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Activate Your Core Anywhere

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Ragin’ Warrior: Mud Runs Go Rambo

By Pete Williams

Coming to Ocala March 3

Donny Jones admires the success that obstacle races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have enjoyed attracting athletes for a couple hours of muddy strength and endurance tests.

But the creator of the Ragin’ Warrior, which takes place at Florida Horse Park in Ocala on March 3, thinks the category could use more noise, some pyrotechnics, and perhaps even a little gunfire.

Athletes navigating the 11.5-mile Ragin’ Warrior course might feel like they’re in a warzone says Jones, who wants them to get at least a small taste of what it’s like to deal with the mental and physical stresses of combat. He consulted with former U.S. Special Forces personnel to create a course that will include guys dressed as drill sergeants barking orders, smoke grenades going off, and “explosions that feel real as hell.”

“There’s going to be dust and mud flying everywhere and you’re going to have to keep calm and collected while all of this is going on around you,” Jones says. “You’re going to have deal with 24 obstacles, most of which won’t be similar to anything that’s been done by Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, or anyone else.”

Most mud runs require athletes to go under barbwire. For Ragin’ Warrior’s “Shock and Awe,” athletes must crawl under electrified barbwire while a 50-caliber machine gun fires compressed air overhead.

“It’s just compressed air, but it sounds like a 50 caliber firing 350 rounds a minute,” Jones says.

Other obstacles include “Icy Burrows,” where athletes must crawl through large metal culverts partially buried in ice water, and “Mount Ragin’,” two metal cargo containers stacked to form a 17-foot obstacle athletes must climb with ropes.

The military theme continues after the race, when athletes can test their target skills with paintball guns. The Ragin’ Warrior has partnered with the Lone Survivor Foundation as its official charity. Post-race will include bands, beer, and vendors selling food.

The Ragin’ Warrior was moved from its Jan. 28 date after the original race site was sold. Now the event is in the middle of a busy Florida obstacle race calendar that includes Spartan Race (Miami, Feb. 25-26) and Savage Race (Clermont, March 10).

“Our goal is to not be a regular mud run,” Jones says. “We want to provide a challenge that’s as much mental as it is physical.


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FitPerkz: Providing Daily Fitness Bargains Via ‘Apple Deals’

By Pete Williams

FitPerkz founders James Bellamy and Whit Lasseter

James Bellamy and Whit Lasseter spend most of their time advocating a healthy lifestyle, serving as marketing ambassadors for fitness-related companies and competing in many Central Florida endurance races.

So it was a natural that the two Tampa residents, who were friends growing up in Tennessee, have teamed to create “,” Groupon-like discount offers for health and fitness-related products and services in the Tampa Bay area.

Dubbed “daily apple deals” after the famous apple-a-day doctor advice, FitPerkz showcases everything from health products stores to upcoming races to Lasseter’s Tampa CrossBoot bootcamp business.

“The idea is to provide information and opportunities for people to get healthy,” says Bellamy. “By doing the small things every day, you can make big changes in your health over time.”

The current apple deal, which runs through Tuesday, is a heavily discounted entry ($59) into next weekend’s Super Spartan Race at Oleta River State Park Miami. The offer is a discount of 52 percent from the $125 entry price for Sunday’s event; Saturday is sold out.

During the last two years, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have become the most popular races in the booming obstacle mud run category. The Super Spartan Race is the eight-mile version of the Spartan Race, which some consider tougher than the 12-mile Tough Mudder. Unlike Tough Mudder, which does not penalize athletes for skipping or not completing obstackes, Spartan requires athletes who do not complete challenges to perform 30 Burpees.

Bellamy says the daily deal will be the centerpiece of a site that will grow in the coming months to include recipes, fitness advice, workout videos, featured athletes, and an event calendar.

“We’ve been fortunate to build a community of fitness enthusiasts in this market and develop a lot of contacts that can help people live a more active, healthy lifestyle,” Bellamy says “FitPerkz makes it as fun an inexpensive as possible to get fit and stay healthy.”

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Super Bowl Triathlon Training

By Pete Williams

Members of the Timex Multisport Team get the pro treatment.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s not the life of a Super Bowl champion, but the life of a sponsored triathlete is pretty good deal.

Actually, here at the Timex Performance Center, home to the New York Giants and to this week’s annual gathering of the Timex Multisport Team, it’s tough to tell the difference.

Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and the gang aren’t around, but 50 top Ironman triathletes have convened for three days of tests, training, meetings, and, most importantly, swag distribution.

It’s nice being mistaken for one of the gang, something that never happened when I covered the NFL. I’m just a sprint triathlete here covering the three-day event, but still get to hang with Team Timex as they eat in the Giants dining room, use their training facilities, meet in their position conference rooms, and even get a taste for having a big-time locker room.

This morning, the Giants locker room staff replaced players’ nameplates with those of the triathletes, who opened Thule backpacks stuffed with race kits, tri shorts, bibs, cycling jerseys, race belts, and assorted swim products. It’s just a fraction of the swag the athletes will get over the course of the year.

Giants staff gave strict instructions not to touch any player stuff, guidance I didn’t need after spending way too much of my life hanging around locker rooms waiting to interview athletes. Many of the triathletes didn’t recognize many names other than Manning. This is a group, after all, that goes to bed early and spends weekends training and competing themselves.

Fourteen researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute are on hand to measure sweat and salt loss during intense training. I underwent a 45-minute session this afternoon and the preliminary results, much to my surprise, were that I don’t sweat that much.

The researchers will have more definitive data tomorrow morning, but the initial theory is that since I train in a warmer climate (Florida), it takes more heat to get me sweating profusely.

I also sat in on a Timex product development meeting. A dozen triathletes offered suggestions on everything from design to GPS, heart rate monitors and a lot of technical stuff that went over my head.

Simple suggestion someone brought up that I’ve always wondered: Why can’t we measure heart rate from the wrist rather than a cumbersome chest strap that’s forever falling off?

Apparently we can – and Timex is working on it.

The juxtaposition of the Giants and triathlon make for some interesting moments. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is legendary for setting clocks five minutes ahead. That means clocks at the Timex Performance Center are never correct.

The Timex product development meeting took place in the defensive line conference room and the whiteboard still included photos, notes, and inside jokes representing Tuck, Chris Canty, Jason Pierre-Paul and others. At one point before my sweat session, a member of the Stringer team had me lie down in the linebackers meeting room to get a resting heart rate.

Then I hammered out a 45-minute workout in the Giants weight room, feeling less like a sportswriter and more like a pro athlete.

At least a pro triathlete.

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Tough Mudder Moves Tampa Event to Fort Meade

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder, the wildly popular obstacle mud run series that drew 20,000 athletes to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City in December, is moving to Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade for this year’s event Dec. 1-2.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said the change was made to “give our participants a challenge, whether it is their first Tough Mudder or fifth. The change to the new location in Fort Meade is a way for us to continue to offer a variety of courses to our participants and to offer others throughout the state easy access to our events.”

Dirty Foot Adventures, located in southern Polk County, is just 60 miles from Tampa or Bradenton and 70 from Orlando or Sarasota. The sprawling facility is used for dirt bike and ATV racing and in October hosted the Iron Crusader mud run, which drew about 1,300 runners for an inaugural event.

Geno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, says Tough Mudder first approached them between 18 and 24 months ago as it was searching for a site for the 2011 event. He said the property also has fielded inquiries from Warrior Dash and other obstacle mud runs about putting on a race at the 1,800-acre facility, which includes miles of trails, creek beds, and other natural terrain.

Walking the plank at Tough Mudder

“This property is the total package,” said Stopowenko, who said Dirty Foot plans to stage its own five-mile obstacle race some time in May. “Every time someone comes to check it out they immediately try to negotiate with us. We’ve hosted events of more than a thousand people, nothing to the magnitude Tough Mudder will bring, but we’ll be ready.”

Little Everglades Ranch, which hosts equestrian and cross country running events, received rave reviews as the site of the inaugural Florida Tough Mudder. The 11.5-mile course was spread out across the Pasco County property and included water obstacles, muddy ravines, and plenty of room for the race’s signature obstacles such as Mt. Everest, the Ball Shrinker, and the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (above).

Convenient to Tampa and Orlando, with plenty of room for parking, Little Everglades seemed a likely site for 2012 and, indeed, Tough Mudder listed a Dec. 1-2, 2012 Tampa event on its Web site within days of last year’s event.

Tough Mudder still lists Tampa as the site of this year’s event. Polk County is considered part of the greater Tampa Bay area.

The scheduling at Dirty Foot Adventures seems to finalize the Florida scheduling for Tough Mudder, which has been in flux for weeks. At one point, Tough Mudder’s website listed 2012 races without dates for Jacksonville, Miami, and Pensacola before updating them to “coming in 2013.”

Di Leo said Tough Mudder did not have solid dates for those locations in 2012, but “we are very excited to host events in these locations in 2013.”

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces. Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, it debuted in March of 2010, expanded to 14 races last year and 32 this year. Athletes complete the course by navigating a field charged with 10,000 volts of electricity, receiving an orange finisher’s headband for their efforts.

Tough Mudder has become the most popular race in the booming obstacle mud run category, successfully marketing to the 21-to-45 year old demographic and to some degree replacing triathlon and half-marathons as the leading aspirational endurance test. Tough Mudder does not issue timing chips or finishing times, stressing that it’s not a race. That inspires groups of friends to sign up together and complete the race as a single unit, often at a leisurely pace.

That has fueled revenues, which could eclipse $100 million for the three-year-old company in 2012. Tough Mudder, like other events in the category, has raised entry fees considerably. Last year, athletes registering for the Tampa race paid as little as $60 for the Saturday race and $80 for Sunday if they registered by March 15 and $100 (Saturday) or $80 (Sunday) through June 15.

This year, Tough Mudder made no distinction between the days and offered a $95 “early bird discount” through yesterday. The registration fee is $125 from Feb. 16 through May 31, $155 from June 1 through Oct. 31 and $200 after Nov. 1.


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An Interview with Joe DeSena, Spartan Race Founder

By Pete Williams

Death Race competitor Joe Decker

We spoke this morning with Joe DeSena, founder of the infamous Spartan Death Race and the Spartan Race series, which quickly have become recognized as the toughest races in endurance sports – perhaps even more so than Tough Mudder.

You can listen to that Fitness Buff Show interview HERE. Some highlights:

— DeSena does not like the term mud runs, preferring “obstacle racing,” believing the competition is more about overcoming obstacles than dealing with mud.

— Though his company plans to attract more than 350,000 competitors to 41 events this year, including several overseas, he bristles at the idea of people entering huge teams of athletes, some of which are not prepared for the rigors of the race.

— More than 10,000 people applied to be on “Unbreakable,” the upcoming reality show that will pit 100 athletes in seven days of Death Race-like competition in Vermont this spring.




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The Inevitable Ironman/Lance Armstrong Marriage

By Pete Williams

Ironman 70.3 Florida competitors can wave to Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong and the World Triathlon Corporation announced a long-rumored partnership this morning that will include the seven-time Tour de France winner competing as a professional triathlete in several Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races, including Ironman 70.3 in Haines City, Fla., on May 20.

The deal, one of the endurance sports industry’s biggest rumors for years, came six days after federal prosecutors dropped a two-year investigation into whether the world’s most famous cyclist and his teammates engaged in a doping program during his greatest years. Armstrong has denied doping charges raised for years by journalists and prominent cyclists.

That the most polarizing figure in endurance sports would partner with the most polarizing organization in the industry seemed inevitable from the time Armstrong announced his most recent retirement from cycling a year ago. The 40-year-old Armstrong, who began his endurance sports career as a teenage triathlete, was looking for a new high-profile platform to further his Livestrong Foundation.

WTC, for all of its success selling out its high-profile Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events, has struggled to extend its brand and generate mainstream media coverage. Its 5150 series, which debuted last year, met with mixed results. WTC scrapped a proposed obstacle mud runs series last year and was a late entry into the booming world of half marathon races. Its signature event, the Ironman Kona race, remains under the radar as a tape-delay highlight broadcast. None of the current professionals are known outside the triathlon world.

Armstrong will bring a built-in audience to Ironman, which in turn should put him back in the limelight. His foray into marathon running from 2006-2008 drew little attention and he returned to cycling late in 2008. It was during his marathon training that talk of a WTC/Livestrong partnership began.

James Gills, the Tarpon Springs opthamologist who owned WTC for nearly three decades, sold WTC and the Ironman brand to Providence Equity Partners for a reported $75 million in September 2008, a week before the Lehman Brothers collapse triggered a national financial crisis. Providence moved WTC from Tarpon Springs to Tampa and in May hired new CEO Andrew Messick, who during a four-year stint as president of AEG Sports oversaw the Amgen Tour of California.

Though triathlon has boomed in the last five years, WTC and Ironman have not emerged into the sports mainstream. Under Gills, the company was fiercely private, operating out of a small suite of offices at his medical practice. Many triathletes have a love-hate relationship with Ironman. Though completing an Ironman is perhaps the most sought-after accomplishment in endurance sports, athletes must deal with steep entry fees ($625 average for Ironman events) and ever-changing registration rules.

Armstrong will have a huge advantage in the bike portion of triathlons, which accounts for 56 miles in a 70.3 (half-Ironman) triathlon and 112 miles of the full distance event. As age-group triathletes are quick to point out on popular triathlon industry message boards such as, bike drafting is illegal in triathlon – and there is random drug testing of the pros at Ironman events.

Armstrong will bring a much-needed spotlight to triathlon, which receives little media attention outside of trade publications. ESPN and other sports networks, which rarely feature triathlon, likely will show highlights from his races. Rank-and-file age group trithletes will clamor for a chance to race against Armstrong, even if he will race as a pro in the first wave of every event he enters.

Those will include Ironman 70.3 Panama on Feb. 12 and the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 in Texas on April 1. Armstrong also will compete in Ironman 70.3 in Florida, moved from Lake Buena Vista to Haines City for this year’s May 20 event, and a 70.3 event in Hawaii June 2.

Armstrong will return to France to compete in Ironman France on June 24. If he competes in Ironman’s world championship in Kona on Oct. 13, it won’t be via a celebrity exemption.

He plans to qualify like anyone else.


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