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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