Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Smaller More Enjoyable St. Anthony’s

By Pete Williams

ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Anthony’s Triathlon staged an Olympic-distance event today for the first time since 2008, which means the 3,000 or so athletes on hand got to enjoy the event they paid for without weather disruptions for the first time since before the economy crashed.

When an event is joint promoted by its health care provider owner and the World Triathlon Corp. (aka Ironman), which seems to be going through the motions with its second-annual 5150 series, it’s not surprising that it comes across as tone deaf to the economy. No wonder St. Anthony’s has gone from a race that used to sell out in December at nearly 5,000 athletes to one that attracts about 3,000 and does not sell out.

That’s bad for Baycare and WTC, but awesome for the athletes. The event seems more manageable with fewer participants, though we’re not sure if moving the swim start north from Spa Beach to just beyond North Shore Beach had the desired effect of keeping athletes out of rough waters. In fact, athletes now seem to spend more time navigating the washing machine immediately in front of the Vinoy basin.

No wonder more than 80 percent of athletes wore wetsuits this morning. That’s a strange thing considering many Tampa Bay homeowners haven’t turned on their heat since February – of 2011. Air temperature was 75 when the pros went off shortly before 7 a.m. and well into the 80s by the time the last of the age groupers entered the water. Race officials announced the water temperature at 76.5 degrees, a wink-wink fudging of the numbers to ensure everyone, especially the hundreds of first-timers, could wear their wetsuits.

It’s a sound strategy. I was among the idiots who swam without a wetsuit. Though the water was plenty warm, just as it was two weeks ago during the half-mile swim at the Escape from Fort DeSoto Triathlon 10 miles to the south where hardly anyone wore wetsuits, I paid the price with an extended stay in the Vinoy basin rinse cycle.

The bike course is where St. Anthony’s has really improved because of decreased attendance. Putting nearly 5,000 bikes on a twisting, turning course through St. Pete more suited for the Honda Grand Prix was making things dangerous. But with just 3,000 cyclists, it’s much safer. St. Anthony’s always does a great job with volunteer support and it doesn’t seem they’ve cut there even as registrations have dropped.

Having endured a few Baycare medical bills in the last 15 months, we’re confident St. Anthony’s can get by with “only” 3,000 athletes. Ditto for WTC, which seems unwilling to admit that the 5150 branding of Olympic distance races was just a bad idea. Even many avid triathletes can’t explain the 5150 specifics, especially in a year involving a Van Halen reunion tour. We’ve never understood the odd relationship between WTC and Baycare. The 5150 series, which didn’t gain any fans in these parts by canceling the inaugural year-end race in Clearwater in November, only further blends two polarizing brands.

WTC has gotten into the habit recently of canceling events that don’t meet registration expectations. The M-Dot doesn’t hold that kind of sway over St. Anthony’s and even if it did, we hope that wouldn’t happen, even if registrations drop another 20 percent in 2013.

After all, it seems the smaller St. Anthony’s gets, the more enjoyable it becomes for the athletes.

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Race Across Tampa Bay SUP a Success

By Pete Williams

 

ST. PETERSBURG – Eighty-six SUP racers competed in the inaugural Race Across Tampa Bay along the St. Pete waterfront Sunday afternoon. Though weather conditions caused race director Bruce Denson to scrap plans for a Tampa-to-St. Pete crossing, thirty-seven paddlers completed a 7.5-mile loop from Spa Beach. Forty-four paddlers finished the 3-mile race and five kids competed in a 200-yard event.

Proceeds went to Paddle Addict, Inc., a nonprofit, dedicated to providing a free paddleboarding experience to people recovering from addictions.

(Photo courtesy Christy Collins Photography)

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Mud Crusade: Finding a Niche?

By Pete Williams

DADE CITY – Had Mud Crusade debuted a year ago, before Florida became saturated with obstacle mud races, athletes probably would have been quite impressed with how the Dade City Motocross and Pasco County Fairgrounds was converted into a short, muddy course over the weekend.

Now it’s tough for any mud run or obstacle race to stand out in a crowded field. Considering many of the 5,600 or so athletes who participated over the two days paid $25 or less via various early-bird promotions, it would be tough to say they didn’t get their money’s worth. Nobody seemed too bent out of shape about getting an insulated tumbler instead of a T-shirt. If the course fell short of the advertised 5K mark by a few tenths of a mile, well, that was okay too.

But given the fierce competition in the obstacle race category, led by national series such as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash, along with Florida-based tours that have put on at least two successful races (Savage Race, Highlander), it might be a challenge for Mud Crusade to establish a foothold, especially if it doesn’t plan to offer $25 discounted entries the next time.

Race director Marshall Chmura says he’ll continue the aggressive early-bird marketing efforts that in January caused him and his partners to revise their projected attendance from 1,800 to more than 5,000. With so many getting in for under $25, T-shirts became cost prohibitive and Chmura erred on the side of caution with the course layout, not wanting to take out too much parking. That turned out to be unnecessary, he said, but it accounted for a course that likely fell shy of 5K.

“Our whole philosophy was to keep it affordable,” Chmura said. “When you’re new to the game, you’d be naïve to think you could challenge Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash. We wanted to build a reputation and build for the long term. There’s a niche group of people who do these events willing to give you a shot, but you’ve got to make the most of that first opportunity.”

We liked the flow of the course. Traffic moved well and there were few backups. It’s difficult at this point to come up with new obstacles, but navigating a lengthy fishnet was a different wrinkle. All of the obstacle race staples were there: balance beam, monkey bars, cargo net, mud/barbwire crawl, water slide, walls of various heights.

There wasn’t a signature obstacle nor anything involving ice or claustrophobia. If this was your first obstacle race, and it was for about half of the 50 crazies I ran with, it was perfect. For those coming off Savage Race in Clermont last month or the Spartan Race in Miami in February looking for a greater challenge, however, it might have seemed a bit of a letdown.

Given the escalation in entry fees for obstacle races and how the category – unlike triathlons and most road racing events – charges $10 for parking and does not provide free refreshments beyond the first beer, we think there’s a place for a race like Mud Crusade — if it keeps its rates at $59 or less. None of its obstacles were so big they couldn’t be easily moved around the state by the event’s Jacksonville-based owners. In that sense, it could fill the first-timer obstacle race void left when Muddy Buddy left the Sunshine State after last year.

Chmura says he plans to launch registration next week for the Sept. 15 Mud Crusade at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Registration is $49 through June 30 and Chmura says he might provide discounts comparable to those given in January for those who signed up early for the Dade City event.

We’ve seen a lot of one-and-done mud runs in Florida in the last year including Iron Crusader, Champions Mud Bash, and Ragin’ Warrior. All had visions of moving beyond the state, though we’ve yet to see a Florida-based promoter pull it off. Savage Race has a number of out-of-state locations planned, though no dates announced. Mud Crusade would be the first to open registration for an out-of-state event. The Miami event listed on the Mud Crusade website for Dec. 1-2 will change, Chmura says, since he does not want to go up against Tough Mudder, which takes place in Fort Meade the same weekend.

Will Mud Crusade ever be as challenging as Tough Mudder or Spartan Race? Probably not. But it could fill a niche staging compact, lower-cost events in central locations within striking distance of its Jacksonville headquarters.

“I simply think that we can deliver as good or better a race at an affordable price,” Chmura said. “I don’t determine what these races cost. Ultimately, the consumer does. Based on what we did here working, we’re going to build better, bigger obstacles, and refine our technique. We did this with not a lot of experience, but a lot of determination and hard work. We’re looking forward to taking it to Atlanta.”

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The Benefits of Trail Running

By Pete Williams

Man was not meant to run on concrete, asphalt and other non-forgiving surfaces. That’s why it’s always a good idea for runners to give their joints a break and get out on the trails. Not only is it more relaxing – and less dangerous – it’s usually more fun. We explored the benefits of trail running recently on ABC Action News.

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Race of the Week: Race Across Tampa Bay

By Pete Williams

Bruce Denson is an attorney, an avid stand-up paddleboarder, and the creator of Paddle Addict, which helps addicts replace destructive habits with something positive, namely stand-up paddleboarding.

Denson, who is based in St. Petersburg, is staging a first in the sport of SUP: a Tampa-to-St. Petersburg “Race Across Tampa Bay” on Sunday, April 22. The 7.5-mile elite race begins in Tampa at Picnic Island, proceeds across Tampa Bay and along St. Petersburg’s waterfront and ends at Spa Beach, next to the Pier. There’s even a 15-mile “super elite” race that starts in St. Pete, turns around at Picnic Island, and returns to St. Pete. That race, like the elite event, is meant for experienced paddlers only.

There’s also a 3-mile open race at 10:30 and a 200-yard kids race at noon. There will be awards, raffles, and a post-race party immediately after at Jonny Reno’s on the Pier.

With Brody Welte postponing his Gulf Coast Stand-Up Paddleboard Championship in Madeira Beach for at least a year, other SUP promoters seem to be picking up the slack. The ninth-annual Shark Bite Challenge drew nearly 200 paddlers over two days at Honeymoon Island last weekend. And Denson’s Race across Tampa Bay could be another great signature SUP event for the area.

Name of Race: Race Across Tampa Bay, inaugural event

Location: The event’s signature race begins at Tampa’s Picnic Island and goes across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, finishing along the pier. Racers are encouraged to drop off their boards the night before and take a shuttle from St. Pete to Tampa at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday. The 3-mile and kids races take place along the St. Pete waterfront.

Format: This is a WPA-sanctioned event and points will be awarded in all WPA categories for the 7.5 mile race and the 3 mile race.

Signature Feature: This is the first across-the-bay SUP race.

Note: All proceeds from this event go to benefit Paddle Addict, Inc., a nonprofit, dedicated to providing a free paddleboarding experience to people recovering from addictions.

Projected Turnout: 100-plus

Cost: $65 for 7.5-mile race; $45 for 3-mile; and $25 for kids

Sign-Up: IMAthlete.com. Race day registration also available.

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Mountain Biking in Florida?

By Pete Williams

You might not think of Florida as a hotbed of mountain biking. But there are plenty of places to enjoy riding off-road, even if the terrain is fairly flat. We explore mountain biking in Florida in this segment for ABC Action News.

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Race of the Week: Shark Bite Challenge

By Pete Williams

April 14-15, 2012

It’s not often you find a race for $30 that offers an hour-plus-long event, a dry-fit shirt, post-race food and entry to one of America’s finest beaches, which is waiving the usual $8 parking fee.

That’s all part of the package for the ninth-annual Shark Bite Challenge and Paddlefest at Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, which includes two days (April 14-15) of paddle races. If you can paddle it, you’re pretty much in. Not surprisingly, a large stand-up paddleboard (SUP) contingent is expected for Sunday. Anyone registering at the Dunedin Brewery from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday night gets a free beer.

The race is organized by Karen Mirlenbrink, owner of the Dunedin Pilates Studio and an accomplished paddler herself. At a time when an increasing number of endurance races charge for parking and offer little in terms of free post-race refreshments, the Shark Bite Challenge & Paddlefest might be the best value in the industry.

Name of Race: Shark Bite Challenge and Paddlefest

Location: Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin

History: The Shark Bite Challenge is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Island Parks, a non-profit, citizen support organization that supports the efforts of Caladesi and Honeymoon Island State Parks.

Format: Two-day event kicks off Saturday, April 14 with a nine-mile, 6-man outrigger canoe race. The following day, there’s a 4-mile and an 8-mile kayak, canoe, surfski, OC1, OC2, SUP, and prone paddleboard race.

Schwag: The Shark Bite Challenge works in conjunction with the Island Earth Days festival. With registration, racers receive a dry-fit t-shirt, free parking, and post-race lunch courtesy of Cafe Honeymoon.

Signature Feature: Honeymoon Island and neighboring Caladesi Island are consistently rated among America’s most beautiful beaches.

Projected Turnout: 150-plus

Cost: A bargain at $30 for Sunday. It’s $120 for each six-man OC-6 canoe on Saturday. Those who compete Saturday get $10 off Sunday entry fees.

Note: Competitors must have personal flotation devices (PFDs) on their vessels at all times.

Sign-Up: Via Active.com. Race day registration also available.

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Drills to Improve Speed, Agility, and Quickness

By Pete Williams

How often do you train for speed, agility, and quickness? Even if you do interval training, you’re not necessarily becoming quicker and more agile, moving in all three planes of motion.

In this video, which we shot for ABC Action News with the help of some of my training group friends, we show two simple drills you can do to improve your “SAQ.” The 5-10-5 drill is a shuttle run that might look familiar if you follow the NFL combine. The box drill incorporates running forward, backward, and laterally, as well as cariocas, which really open the hips.

Try incorporating some SAQ into your routine at least once a week.

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Goruck Challenge: Embracing the Suck

By Pete Williams

TAMPA – They assembled in the waning hours of Good Friday along a windy stretch of Tampa Bay at the end of Bayshore Boulevard called Ballast Point Park.

Thirty-two athletes clad in black, mostly in their thirties but ranging in age from early twenties to late forties – 20 men and 12 women – gathered in the parking lot packing the rucks they would hump for the next 8 to 10 hours, possibly more, as they got a taste of Special Operations training. The Goruck Challenge, created by 30-year-old Jason McCarthy as a way to promote his $295 rucksacks modeled after the ones he used in the Middle East as a Green Beret, quietly has overtaken Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and probably even Ironman to become the most challenging event in endurance sports.

That’s because participants must fill their packs with water bladders, supplies, and bricks: six if you weigh more than 150 pounds, four if you weigh less. The rucks rarely come off during the event. “I trained my ass off to get down to 148,” says one male competitor, who has brought along a scale in case he needs to produce evidence.

His colleagues use the scale to weigh their packs. One six-brick pack comes in at 44.5 pounds, the next at 30. Apparently there’s a big difference between regular bricks and “patio” bricks.

This group is the 143rd “class” to take the Goruck Challenge since it debuted in September of 2010 and the event now moves all over the world. McCarthy and his fellow eight cadre have military backgrounds, most as Green Berets, but the Goruck experience is as much Fight Club as military.

Even after 18 months, the event still flies under the radar. Tampa is a hotbed of endurance sports – triathlon, obstacle racing, trail and road running – but Class 143 consists mostly of members of a CrossFit gym who drove over from Lakeland. Goruck has a Web site – actually two, one for the challenge, one for the ruck – but there is no advertising. Even the cadre retain the shroud of mystery from their Special Forces days.

Cadre "Lou"

At 11:55 p.m. I get a text. “I’m in the silver Jeep Liberty. You here?”

The cadre is among the athletes but yet invisible, setting the tone for the evening. He’s letting me hang with the group for the night as a journalist. As I approach the driver’s side window, it becomes clear his name – Lou – probably is an alias, perhaps left over from his Special Forces days. He’s a dead ringer for Lou Diamond Phillips, a 6-foot-4, Rock of Gibraltar version, and his age and ethnicity are impossible to peg.

Classes begin at 10 p.m. or, like this one, 1 a.m. Nobody knows how long it will last or what exactly it will entail, though the GRC almost always involves carrying tree trunks and telephone poles. Long distances. You will get wet. Often.

It sucks. “They will learn to embrace the suck,” Lou tells me, getting out of the Liberty. “You have to focus on the task at hand, not the next 10 or 14 hours or you will fail.”

For this joyride entrants pay between $120 and $160 depending on how far in advance they register. The official Goruck packs – the GR1 is recommended – costs $295, though participants can bring whatever pack they want at their own peril. About half go for the GR1.

At 1:11 a.m. Lou appoints a team leader. This guy will relay Lou’s missions and keep his finger on the pulse of the group. Mike has the group fall out into the “PT Pit” in four lines of eight, then eight lines of four. Lou walks around, inspecting open packs.

“Do not call me sir,” Lou says. “I’m Lou. I work for a living. I have 18 years in Special Operations, two years with Wounded Warrior and a Ph.D in chaos. I’ve traveled the world thanks to the U.S. Army. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Lou!”

Crab walking to the water

“If you have to go to the bathroom, go now. Only go somewhere with a battle buddy. Your safety is my primary concern. You may not think so, but I’ll be evaluating you constantly. We’re not out here to crush you. There’s no training value to that. You will get out of your comfort zone but your safety is my utmost concern.”

Lou paces slowly. “Bags will never touch the ground. Bags touch the ground, bad shit happens. Don’t try to be an individual. Be an individual, bad shit happens. Milton Bradley calls me for fucking games.” More pacing. “Most importantly, have fun. Smile. It’s not that bad. I only have you for 12 to 14 hours. Cadre did it for three weeks just to get into Special Ops. So smile, embrace the suck, and you’ll have fun.”

At 1:29 a.m., Lou tells the group to put their packs on. Flags, including the one the group must carry for the duration, snap in the wind whipping off Tampa Bay. The group is facing the water, just 20 yards away, but there’s a dock 100 yards to their right through the parking lot. Lou orders them to the dock and into the water.

One minute later, they’re back in formation. Twenty push-ups and back into the water. The next hour is spent shuttling back and forth to the dock. Flutter kicks, more push-ups, mountain climbers. Crab walking to the water, bear crawling back. The packs never come off. Lou never raises his voice, but his nicotine baritone expresses disgust with every effort.

At one point, Lou asks, “Who’s familiar with monkey fuckers?”

Remarkably, two hands go up. The guys come to the front of the class and demonstrate a deep squat, grab-your-ankles move that looks like, well, it doesn’t meet with Lou’s approval anyway. “You guys suck. Thirty count monkey fuckers.”

Back to the water and then more mountain climbers. “Everyone, drink water,” Lou says. “Team leader, it’s up to you to monitor water. When you get low, let me know. Now back in the water. All I want to see are heads.”

More trips into the surf, crab walking and bear crawling. An additional 25-pound pack is shuffled among the group, the mandatory additional team weight that must be carried. GRC 143 has filled its team pack with cans of beer. Lou approves. Lou loves beer. It’s one of the few things Lou will outwardly approve of all night. Lou dislikes moving slowly, indecision, drunks, and a certain breed of man.

“I’m on a quest this year to save the American male from the European invasion,” Lou announces shortly before 2 a.m. “Be on the lookout tonight for men in Spandex and tight jeans. Our No.1 rule is to always look cool. Men in Spandex?” Lou pauses, shaking his head. “Nobody wants to see your junk.”

More crab walking back to the surf. The rucks are shuffled to the chest for crab walks. “We’re building six-pack abs, getting you ready for beach season,” Lou says. “Some of you are thinking of paying for the fucking Brazilian Butt Lift. Now you won’t have to.”

At 2:10, Lou assigns the group a mission. There’s a nuclear submarine under the dock that must be retrieved. Actually it’s a hunk of tree with jagged branches. The group pulls it out quickly and returns to the PT Pit for a 20-count set of military presses with the rucks. More push-ups and water.

“Anyone cold?” Lou asks.

“Yes, Lou!”

“Bullshit.”

Lou has the group pair up with partners of comparable size. It’s time for the fireman’s carry, a tough move in normal circumstances, let alone cold, wet, tired, and wearing a pack.

The women execute it well and head to the surf. Two pairs of men go down hard. Packs smack and heads hit asphalt. The buddy carry exercise ends as Lou orders everyone into the surf. This time they stay a while, huddled together for warmth. “If you have to pee, go now,” someone says.

It’s 2:28 a.m. Lou summons six of the largest guys. Beyond the dock is a six-foot length of railroad tie. It’s a downed pilot that must be transported to Tampa’s SoHo District about eight miles away. While the six get a handle on the pilot, Lou lights a cigarette and orders the rest of the group out of the water.

“Mass together and take advantage of the body heat,” Lou says. “There’s nothing sexual going on; you all stink. Someone’s getting a rise out of this, you’ve got issues.”

At 2:35 comes the first casualty. A guy has tweaked a chronic right knee injury. A buddy offers to drive him home. The group is down to 30.

Ten minutes later, the group finally leaves Ballast Point Park, running down Bayshore. They have 30 minutes to get the downed pilot to SoHo. The six guys up front have the railroad tie in a litter of sorts, but they can’t hold it for long. Another group of six moves up to take the pilot.

“We’re jogging, not walking,” Lou says. “You want to walk, do Warrior Dash.”

Lou miscalculates the time necessary to get to SoHo. No matter. Not his problem.  The next two hours are spent crawling up Bayshore, often literally. Lou moves the group onto the grassy median strip and onto their bellies. The front six push the pilot. Each group lasts about 20 yards before moving to the back. Shadows fall over Bayshore from streetlights and the accent lights of mansions.

They pass a sign: easterisnear.com. Twenty-one hours, actually.

Lou takes note of the group commando-crawling up the Bayshore grass in two columns. They’ve grown close, literally, with 18 men and 12 women remaining. “Some of you don’t have a good view,” Lou says. “Oh well. Some of you have a good view. You’re welcome.”

At 3:48, Lou asks if anybody knows the depth of the water off Bayshore. A brick comes out of a pack and is lowered. Unfortunately for the group, it’s only two feet deep. Lou orders everyone over Bayshore’s Corinthian column wall and into the water. This doesn’t happen quickly enough and soon the group is getting an even better/worse view of one another, aligned ankle-to-shoulder on the sidewalk for inchworm push-ups.

“You didn’t take a course of action,” Lou says. “Let’s see if we can light a fire under your ass and make shit happen. This is what happens when we don’t act as a team and get scared over two feet of water.”

At 4:10, the group is in the water, walking single file along the wall up Bayshore – quietly. They’re behind enemy lines now.

Lou walks along the sidewalk and lights another cigarette. “They’re smiling, which is good,” he says. “They’re learning to embrace the suck and how you have to have a sense of humor. The mind controls the body, not vice versa. I love the sense of accomplishment people get out of this and that’s one of the major things they take out of it.”

The group is doing well, Lou says, but breakdowns in communication typically take place around 5 a.m. when sleep deprivation really kicks in and athletes completely lose track of time. (Watches and cell phones are not allowed.)

At 4:30 the group approaches a staircase out of the water. Not an option. They must lift everyone over the wall, which they accomplish quickly. As a reward, and to warm-up, they do 15 push-ups.

Two women and a guy run by. “What are you guys doing out here?” the guy asks.

“It’s the Goruck Challenge,” Lou says, in a tone that suggests the crazy ones are the ones up at 4:30 on Saturday to go for a jog. He shakes his head as they fade into the darkness. “Good luck training for the 5K.”

At 4:46, they finally arrive at Howard Ave. Mike is relieved of his team leader duties after nearly four hours and gets a round of applause as Angie, a petite blonde takes over. Another change comes as they must carry their rucks – no use of shoulder straps.

By 5:15, they’re in the Bern’s Steakhouse parking garage. “This is a weird place for a parking garage,” Lou says, struggling to grasp that the white warehouse-looking building across the street actually is one of America’s finest restaurants. Lou orders the group up the five flights of stairs. Each time down, they’re challenged to guess Lou’s age. Three times back up.

Finally, at 5:58 a.m, a pitstop at a SoHo convenience store. Water bottles are refilled, additional snacks purchased, restrooms used. “What are you guys, a flash mob?” somebody asks.

“It’s the Goruck Challenge,” Lou says.

The Inchworm Push-Up

Heading down Platt Street at 6:35 a.m., Lou points out a downed telephone pole. It’s unclear how Goruck positions such items conveniently along the course. McCarthy and Lou are vague on how they prepare. Just another part of the Goruck mystery.

Smiling even though Bern's is closed

The group struggles to get a convenient handle on the log. The women are the issue. They’re plenty strong, but the height differential is throwing off the balance. It’s decided the girls will carry the guys’ packs as the guys deal with the log. They head down Plant Street toward downtown, log on one shoulder, periodically shifting shoulders in a three-count move that requires some choreography.

At 6:45, Lou drops to the ground and does 20 push-ups. No particular reason. In the last 90 minutes, he has consumed Budweiser, coffee, a Monster energy drink, and a number of cigarettes.

At 7:29, the sun is up and we’re in downtown Tampa. Lou lets the group ditch the log and it’s time for a group photo along Ashley Street. It’s also time to lose the writer/photographer. I had set up a 10 a.m. group training session at Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade, site of both the Dirty Foot Adventure Run on June 9 and Tough Mudder in December.

Tough Mudder. That event suddenly didn’t look so tough. McCarthy and some of his Green Beret buddies went to one of the first Tough Mudders and field tested the Gorucks, weighted down with bricks, after drinking beer all night.

After I left, the group did countless lunges along the Tampa Riverwalk, advanced to the Florida Aquarium for another group photo and headed back to Bayshore, going back into the water. There were Indian drills where the person in back had to run to the front, and Lou’s dislike of the European male influence became a factor.

Men in Spandex or biker shorts were deemed threats and the group had to drop to a knee whenever one was spotted. If Lou saw the threat first, that meant casualties. The 12 guys had to fireman’s carry the women and the remaining eight guys had to carry all the packs – for nearly two miles.

The group eventually made it to MacDill Air Force Base and the memorial for special forces units before Lou declared it a day at 12:15 p.m.

Just five hours left to go!

Eleven hours and 15 minutes, covering more than 23 miles.

For their efforts, team members received 2×3 inch Goruck patches and some crazy memories of a guy who would disappear in his silver Jeep Liberty and reappear at Ballast Point Park later that evening for a 10 p.m. class.

Class 143 wouldn’t soon forget their night with Lou.

Or whoever the hell he is.

(Listen to Fitness Buff Show interview with Goruck Challenge founder Jason McCarthy)

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The Unlikely Vegetarian

By Pete Williams

I’m 36 hours away from making it through Lent without eating meat and consuming only trace amounts of dairy.

I’m by no means a by-the-book-Catholic, but in recent years I’ve used Lent as a challenge to make lifestyle changes. In 2010 and last year, I went without television. Not one minute. While I went back to watching TV on Easter Sunday both times, I found the experience cut down my television viewing considerably.

For years I’ve wanted to try a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. In January of 2011, I dealt with a kidney stone and even after cutting back on protein intake, tests last fall showed I still was consuming too much animal protein, which can lead to more stones. That’s incentive enough, but I also wanted to improve my performance in endurance sports and feel better overall.

A vegetarian diet can do all of those things and I figured Lent would offer a good 46-day challenge. I would drop meat altogether, but would eat fish and consume the occasional Mix1 protein recovery drink, which contains whey protein, a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Other than that, no dairy, which wouldn’t be much of a stretch for someone who rarely consumes any. Jack LaLanne, who never consumed dairy and lived to 96, stressed that humans are the only animals to consume dairy after the suckling stage.

One of the salmon salads at Fitlife Foods

My Lenten experiment confirmed what I’ve long suspected. A vegan, vegetarian or “pescetarian” (vegetarian with fish) diet, like any other nutrition plan, is mostly about planning and habits. Most of us eat bad stuff not so much because we like to but because it’s ingrained in our lifestyles. In recent years I’ve cut out bread, pasta, and beer, realizing I consumed that stuff out of habit, not because I loved it. It’s easy to substitute things you prefer, especially when they’re better for you, such as additional veggies and the occasional glass of wine.

I figured the same thing would happen with giving up meat and that proved to be the case. I didn’t miss it at all and found it easy to resist, even last weekend at our neighbors’ annual pig roast. Of course, I had a few key weapons:

Vegan and vegetarian friendly

1. CHIPOTLE: I love eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which makes it easy to justify consuming meat since theirs comes from only farm-raised, grass-fed animals not injected with hormones and antibiotics. I typically get a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken or carnitas (pork), along with mild and corn salsas, a sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. The chicken version comes to 805 calories, including 57 grams of protein and 2,150 mg of sodium. That’s a lot of protein and salt for anyone, especially someone who has had a kidney stone.

Eliminating the chicken and cheese, however, brought the burrito bowl down to 515 calories with just 17 grams of protein and 1,600 mg of sodium. My bill with a cup of water also dropped from nearly $9 to $6.69. That’s an incredible value. People spend more than that at fast food restaurants for 1,000 empty calories. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has said he’s cut down on his meat consumption lately and after eating veggie burrito bowls, I can see how it’s an easy transition to make.

2. FITLIFE FOODS: Fitlife Foods, which has three locations in the Tampa Bay area, provides nutritious, ready-made meals packed full of nutrients. They cater to busy professionals and recreational athletes – company founder David Osterweil is a marathoner – and the nutrient-dense meals chef Andrew Ruga creates are designed for the high-performance athlete and professional.

I had been enjoying Fitlife’s chicken and beef dishes before Lent, but found the large versions of Miso Salmon (650 calories, 47g of protein), Citrus Salmon Salad (360 calories, 21g), and Lemon Pepper Tilapia (430 calories, 57g) made me forget about the meat.

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

The tilapia, which comes with a side of green beans, packs a lot of protein. But since I usually went with one fish meal and one vegan dish a day, I didn’t worry about that.

The rest of my diet stayed intact: breakfast of oatmeal and a smoothie consisting of fruit, almonds, and almond butter; a lunch or dinner of black beans, sliced tomatoes, and lots of asparagus; snacks of Clif or Lara bars, fruit/almond butter, and my cheat treat of anything chocolate.

The results have been dramatic. The weight dropped from 163 to as low as 156.6, a figure I haven’t seen since the late 1980s. (I’m at 158.8 today). I fared well at two obstacle races in the last five weeks and despite getting a late jump on triathlon training for next weekend’s Escape from Fort DeSoto race season kickoff, I’m biking and swimming almost in mid-season form – not like someone who virtually ignored both all winter.

Best of all, the mysterious migraines I had in January and February have disappeared.

Nutrition plans are most effective when you can link them to feeling and performing better, not just looking better.

That’s why I just might make this Lenten experiment a permanent thing.

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