Category Archives: Enduring Athlete of the Month

Still Racing at 91

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY

By Pete Williams

 

Charlie Futrell finishes the Chilly Willy Duathlon

ST. PETERSBURG – Charlie Futrell took a little longer to finish this morning’s Chilly Willy Duathlon at Fort DeSoto Park but perhaps that’s understandable.

After all, it’s a little more challenging to run 3.1 miles, bike 10, and run another 3.1 when you’re going to be 92 years old in August.

Futrell, who also competes in triathlon, is believed to be the oldest person ever to compete a multisport event, a record he adds to each time he races. Futrell, who lives near Orlando, is nine months older than John Taylor, a longtime rival who lives in Atlanta.

“Longtime” is a relative term since Futrell was in his late 50s when triathlon exploded into the sports world with Ironman in the late 1970s. Futrell raced his first triathlon at 65 and in 1992, at the age of 72, made his Ironman Kona debut, the first of six consecutive appearances.

He posted his best time (15:35:23) that year, finishing third in his age group to two guys who had won gold medals in swimming at the 1936 Olympics. He would have finished fourth were it not for a push at the end when he caught Norton Davey, who at 74 had been featured by media outlets for years as one of Ironman’s oldest competitors. (Davey died in 2003).

“I managed to catch him with 300 yards to go, right when you can start to hear all the crowd noise,” Futrell said. “Looking back, that’s been my most memorable accomplishment.”

There have been many others.

Futrell was a star baseball player at East Carolina Teachers College (now East Carolina University) from 1938-41 and is in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. During World War II, he served as a U.S. Air Force physical training instructor. After a brief stint playing minor league baseball, he began a long career in Maryland as a high school teacher who also coached baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. Among his students: a young Sylvester Stallone.

When it comes to longevity, Futrell has followed the proper game plan – and not just when it comes to physical activity. He’s remained active socially and in his community and was married for 62 years before his wife died from cancer three years ago.

Futrell maintains a constant weight of 152 despite only recently eliminating his evening ice cream ritual. He no longer drinks coffee and follows a healthy diet heavy on fruits. For years he’s gone to bed at 9:30 and risen at 7.

He recently added regular 45-minute spin classes to his routines, which include two to three hours of daily training. He averages one triathlon or duathlon a month during the season and runs 5Ks during the Florida winters.

“I’ve stuck to my routines, goals, and monitored my eating,” Futrell says. “I’ve been doing that for a lot of years and keeping that regular schedule is important.”

Futrell has a rotator cuff injury that forces him at times to flip over on his back during the swim and perform a modified backstroke during triathlons. Since he relies on prescription eyeglasses to see, he usually has a friend in a kayak guide him along the swim. Today a friend accompanied him throughout the Chilly Willy Duathlon.

As for regrets, Futrell says he wishes he had known 60 years ago the importance of taking care of his skin. He has been treated for skin cancer and sees a dermatologist regularly. Other than that, he’s a model of good health. Futrell is such a popular figure in Florida triathlon circles that a race director of youth triathlons in the Tampa Bay area invites him to attend events.

Futrell, whose accomplishments are chronicled at http://www.charliefutrell.com, shows up in race attire with 92 written on his calf. Parents jump at the opportunity to shoot a rear-calf photo of their children alongside him. (He’s “already” 92 since by USA Triathlon rules athletes race as the age they will turn in the calendar year.)

Futrell enjoys talking to groups, especially youngsters who inevitably ask how he can swim in Florida lakes when alligators could be present. He smiles and dodges the question, “They’ll never bother you unless you’re hungry,” he says.

“I always enjoy it when parents and grandparents of athletes tell me I’ve inspired them because of what I’m showing is possible at 90,” Futrell says. “I plan to keep competing for as long as my body will let me.”

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Quick Study: Helga Goebel

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – SEPTEMBER

By Pete Williams

Helga Goebel on the pivot turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goebel paddling in St. Pete

Q: What do you love about this sport?

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

Q: Is this sport catching on in Brazil?

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

Q: Do you teach stand-up paddleboarding?

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

Q: What are your goals with this?

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

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

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

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Spartan Women

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETES OF THE MONTH – JUNE and JULY

By Pete Williams

YouMayDie.com

There are endurance athletes and then there are people like Rebecca Hansen, 49, and Megan Mays, 28, who were among the four women (and just 35 overall) who finished the 45-hour Spartan Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont, last month.

Competitors in The Death Race have no idea how long the event will be – it gets longer every year – and only a vague idea of what obstacles and challenges they must face. This year’s group was forced to do six-hours of squats, wade through 45-degree waters, and spend two nights climbing mountains in the dark.

Oh, and they had to do most of it with heavy logs tied to their backs. No wonder most of the 155-person field dropped out.

Mays, who lives in Tallahassee, and the Naples-based Hansen underwent a staggering amount of training for The Death Race, but even they were amazed at what Death Race creators Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg threw at them.

We spoke to them in March on The Fitness Buff Show about their preparations for the event and again this morning, 10 days after the race. You can listen to that interview HERE or read an edited transcript below. Here’s our report on the race from a two-hour visit to the site.

Q: How do you feel?

Megan: I feel pretty tired still, definitely recovering. My muscles not happy with me, but mentally I’m ecstatic for going through the race and finishing.

Rebecca: I’m pretty good, feeling back to normal.

Q: How did you step up your training leading up to the Death Race?

Megan on the mountain

Megan: I had the help of a wonderful local gym here in Tallahassee. The owner Laurel Blackburn got very creative coming up with some death race simulations for 12 hours and that was very helpful. We don’t have a lot of mountains in Florida so there was no helping training for that, but putting us through those exhausting, menial tasks that went on forever really helped.

Q:  The event began with a ring of stones ranging from 10 to 30 pounds that you had to squat for five hours. What was that like?

Megan: I was shocked when I heard what we were supposed to do and doubtful I could make it through the first day. One guy dropped one on his foot and broke it.

Q: So now you’re at 1 a.m. in the woods in the freezing water looking for fish.

Rebecca: That was my favorite part of the race. I grew up trout fishing with my dad and the glow of the lights was beautiful. It was freezing but we caught trout in a baggie with our hat and I really enjoyed that part of the race.

Q: I didn’t realize there were volunteers and support crew. Did you meet up with people or bring them along?

Megan: I had an awesome support crew. Three came from Florida and two lived in New York and drove over for the weekend and I definitely could not have finished without them. It was all about team effort.

Q: What were they allowed to help with?

Megan:  They were allowed to clothe, feed you and tell you where you were but they weren’t allowed to touch your gear. They couldn’t put your backpack on you or help you with any of your tasks.

Climbing the mountain

Q: How much of these people did you see?

Megan: In the beginning it was touch and go. They would check on me and bring me food, but toward the end I had one of them with me at all times.

Q: Rebecca, you are involved in ultramarathons, what kind of preparation did you undergo?

Rebecca: The most valuable thing I did was a 60-hour race simulation. I had gone 48 hours without sleep but I wanted to see if I went to 60 what would happen. I slept two hours a night and did race stuff when I was awake and the second night I’m lying on my lawn and fireants crawled on me and bit me. I was groggy and moved to my neighbor’s lawn and the sprinkler goes off. By the third day I was in a stupor and I was really exhausted but I knew if I could get to 60 with that much exhaustion I could get through anything. I did this 10 days before the race.

Q: Megan, when I saw you at the Death Race you were wearing long pants. How did you choose wardrobe for this?

Megan: I wasn’t very well prepared. I brought all of the workout clothes I owned and I knew that I didn’t want poison ivy or bug bites, but I was not prepared for the cold. I had two racers give me shirts off their backs because I was in water and shaking so bad they were worried I would go hypothermic. Just the way everyone helped each other was awesome.

Q: Are there limits to what you can bring?

Rebecca: I had some good people coaching me that had done it before but if I had to do it again – and I will next year – I would take the bare minimum.

Rebecca - running it back in 2012

Q: Just 10 days removed from the race and you’re commited to doing it again?

Rebecca: Andy (race co-founder Andy Weinberg) asked me before the race if I would so I signed up before the race.

Q: Megan?

Q: I have no plans to do this next year but I do have a friend going back so I promised to be on his support team so I’m looking forward to helping him.

Q: You spent long hours climbing those mountains, often in the dark. Did you have much to go by?

Rebecca: We really didn’t. Megan and I met on the second mountain and I was nervous because it was thundering and lightning and there was a nice man that helped us out there. His instruction on how to climb a mountain in torrential downpour was invaluable. The mountain was hell and it just didn’t let up.

Q: It seems like you had to carry a log forever.

Megan: At least a full day and probably more than that – at least 25 or 26 hours.

Rebecca: At least three-quarters of the race. Love the log.

Q: It seems like this race gets longer every year. Does it seem like this harder than what you’ve seen from the last couple of years?

Rebecca: When Andy told me to sign up, it was a 24-hour race. Then it became 36 and then longer. I think because 35 of us finished they’ll bend over backward to make it more difficult and longer and tougher next year.

Q: What was the toughest part of it?

Megan: The biggest challenge was being out there the second night and it was dark and I was tired and going up a mountain and not knowing where I was going. I almost sat down and didn’t get up. Once the sun came up, I felt better and was going down the mountain and I just pushed through those times.

Q: What was your biggest injury in the race?

Megan: I didn’t have too many injuries but I was going into the race with knee problems and they got really achy, especially since half of the race was downhill. I didn’t get any major injuries, but I did see people with gashes and broken fingers.

Q: Could you sense when people were dropping out of race?

Rebecca: It was the second night when a lot of people dropped on that second mountain. I was climbing with some guys and they ditched me. I didn’t realize they had quit the race. As people tired and started to hurt, they dropped out. They weren’t necessarily physically tired but mentally tired. Going through that water and pushing toward hypothermia, people were pushed to their limits.

Q: Was there a lot of swimming?

Rebecca: We were chest-deep swimming across that pond with your backpack. I thought I was going to go under. It wasn’t swimming, more like dog paddling with a backpack and a log.

Q: How tough was handling nutrition during this?

Rebecca:  I thought I had it down from ultramarathoning events. I had ziplock bags of four hours worth of food and the second climb my food floated down the river and I ran out of water and there was a period of eight hours when I didn’t have anything. That was more psychological than anything.

Q: Did it seem like the racers helped each other out?

Megan: Absolutely. I didn’t feel any competition at all but that was because I was in the rear, coming in the back end of the group, I got help from so many other racers so I offered whatever I can. I can’t say I had fun at the Death Race, but it was the most awesome weekend I ever had.

Death Race finishers give thanks

Q: Anything you trained for that you were disappointed wasn’t included?

Rebecca: I thought there would be more barbwire. I set up an obstacle course on my lawn simulating that. I shouldn’t say that otherwise there will be tons of it next year.

Q: What do your neighbors think of this?

Rebecca: They look at me like I’m a lunatic and my kids come out and shake their heads and go back inside.

Q: After finishing the Death Race, it must be a letdown to jump into a local 10K or sprint triathlon. What do you possibly do for an encore?

Megan: I’m setting my sights on mountain climbing. I don’t have Everest in future but I want to summit Denali in the next couple years. I have no mountain climbing experience.

Rebecca: I’m training for my first double Ironman in February and some of the guys I met in the race were talking about Primal Quest next year, so I’m talking about that too.

Read Megan Mays’ blog chronicling her training and race experience HERE.

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The Amazing Rajesh Durbal

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – MAY

By Pete Williams

Triathlete Rajesh Durbal

He’s best known for triathlon, of course, navigating courses of up to Ironman distance despite not having legs or much of one arm.

But when Rajesh Durbal, a 33-year-old triple-amputee engineer for the city of Orlando, really wants to impress people he’ll sit them shotgun and let them watch him drive.

His Ford Focus is not specially equipped. He only drives stick shift. And he does not have a right hand, switching gears through a flurry of smooth movements involving his left arm.

“People ask, ‘Why not get an automatic? It’s so much easier,’” Durbal says. “I learned on stick. My dad never made anything easy for me and I’m glad he did it that way.”

Cops do double takes when they pull him over and see his arms on the wheel. They examine his license, which has no restrictions. They ask questions, especially if he’s wearing shorts.

How do you work the clutch with prosthetic legs?

“It’s all about feeling the vibrations through the legs,” says Durbal, who was born with a congenital deformity in three limbs, had his legs amputated below the knees and has only a nub of a right hand. “Once you realize where the clutch catches it’s like riding a bike.”

That is, riding a bike with one limb for up to 112 miles, as Durbal did during the legendary Hawaii Ironman in Kona in October, finishing the race in 14 hours, 19 minutes, a time for which most triathletes with four limbs would, well, give their right arm.

Go ahead. Make all of the bad jokes and puns. Durbal has heard them all, actually much worse as a kid growing up in New York City.

He spent most of his first six years in and out of hospitals. When it came to sports, he spent most of his time on the bench. Teachers pointed him toward card games or table tennis. This was in the 1980s and early ‘90s, long before the Challenged Athlete Foundation, advanced prosthetics, and the mainstreaming of people with physical challenges.

His Trinadad-born parents, Raj and Anne Durbal, battled the public school system and resisted suggestions to send him to special schooling.

Raj wanted his son to have a normal childhood, which is to say a daredevil one. So he took him hiking, skiing and snowboarding. During a family trip to Niagara Falls, tourists snapped photos and video as Raj and Rajesh ventured out under the falls for a too-close-for-comfort look. It wasn’t because Rajesh looked different.

“They were waiting for us to fall in,” Raj says.

Raj and Rajesh Durbal at the 2011 St. Anthony's Triathlon

Raj challenged neighborhood kids to come over and do underwater laps against Rajesh in their 30-foot-long pool. Nobody could outlast him, which still is the case whenever he and his training group do the drill under the direction of Consuela “Sway” Lively, his Orlando-based triathlon coach.

“He goes at least sixty yards,” says Lively. “I haven’t come across anyone with more mental toughness.”

As for driving, that started at the age of 12 in Antigua. Raj pulled over right before a steep hill and told his son to get behind the wheel of a manual transmission. At least the steering column was on the right side, making it slightly easier.

“He didn’t flinch,” Raj says. “He never backs down from anything, no matter how seemingly dangerous.”

Rajesh eventually discovered the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged and excelled in track events. That helped him fit in to a degree, but everyday life continued to be a struggle. He smoked cigarettes and followed a diet of junk food, became depressed and even considered suicide.

Religion made a difference, and Durbal frequently cites his faith. But what really turned things around was a decision early in 2009 to enter triathlon, of all things.

The sport has a long history with physically challenged athletes, but most have two or three functional limbs.

Wouldn’t other sports have been easier?

Why not drive automatic?

Durbal threw himself into triathlon, sometimes quite literally, like when two handlers place him into the water for the swim start. That and getting help out of the water and into the first transition are the only accommodations he accepts.

For everything else he’s on his own. There are the three sets of legs he brings to the race (bike, run, and walking-around legs). There’s the bike, which is operated from the left side with aerobar pads that ride up on the right side to fit his right stump. There are the running legs, which boost his height from 5-foot-4 to 6-foot-3, which is what doctors project his height would have been.

Triathletes arrive at events with a ton of gear, but Durbal takes it to a new level, which draws a few sideways glances – at least until he takes off his legs, one of six pairs in his closet.

Then there’s the water. Like most swimmers, Durbal breathes every three or four strokes. But he often trains by breathing every seven to nine. The increased lung capacity of the former smoker allows him to stay relaxed and use muscles to compensate for not getting propulsion in the kick.

He spends hours in the pool fine-tuning his stroke and working on directional training so he stays on course in the water and not drift out on his own, as he did during one of his first workouts with Lively in Orlando’s notorious Lucky’s Lake.

He’ll wear a wetsuit if everyone else does, but prefers to go without. “I don’t like the advantage it gives you in terms of extra buoyancy and streamline,” he says. “I’m a fighter. I like to make things as hard as possible.”

That’s why he loves the run. Actually, he hates the run but that’s what makes it his favorite of the three disciplines. Most observers see him gliding along on the run course and assume that’s preferable to one-handed swimming or biking.

They’ve never walked in his shoes, let alone run 26.2 miles in them. Running with prosthetics that rub against the bare skin of his stumps can be excruciating, requiring massive core strength, which Durbal has in abundance.

Durbal making new friends at St. Anthony's

Core strength, for all the talk of washboard abs, actually refers to the many stabilizer muscles of the shoulders, midsection, and hips. The limbs are just along for the ride.

Personal trainers sometimes make an analogy of the core as a mannequin with no limbs. Actually, Durbal is as chiseled as your average plastic model in a department store.

He’ll challenge his training partners to see how long they can stay in a plank position. Nobody can come close to Durbal, even though he’s holding the pose essentially on one arm.

After entering his first sprint-distance triathlon in June 2009, he finished the Hawaii Ironman just 16 months later, a speedy timetable for anyone, let alone someone with a demanding schedule as a systems network engineer for the city of Orlando. He takes a lead role in developing networks and infrastructure, supporting police, fire and virtually every other aspect of the city.

He’s launched a Web site encouraging others (live-free.net), has become a popular corporate speaker and talks frequently to schoolchildren, who like everyone else want to know the specifics of how he swims, bikes, and runs.

He’s heading back to Kona in October and has eyes on competing in the Paralympics in 2012. Sponsors have embraced his story and he’s a spokesman for 15 companies, including national brands Mix1, Gu Energy, and Zoot Sports.

Triathlon, with its long hours of preparation and choreographed race day rituals of laying out gear is perfect for a man who sets out his legs with his clothes before he goes to bed, always thinking three steps ahead.

“Triathlon fits in well with my approach to life,” Durbal says. “You can train and plan, but there’s always something that comes up and you have to adjust. Something breaks, your equipment fails, the weather’s bad, and how you deal with that is what makes it so rewarding. In the end, it’s just you against the elements.”

(Listen to our interview with Rajesh Durbal on The Fitness Buff Show HERE)

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Paddling for a Cure

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – APRIL

By Pete Williams

Arnie Goodman and friend

Five years ago, Arnie Goodman was at the top of his game. At 47, he had a thriving practice as an ear, nose, and throat physician. Married and a father of two, he threw himself into endurance sports, especially cycling, swimming, and kayaking.

But something didn’t seem quite right. He became out of breath quickly while working out with his Saturday morning training group. Colleagues he always outran now were blowing by.

Test revealed multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. Multiple myeloma accounts for just 1 percent of cancer cases but has claimed the lives of a number of prominent Americans, including Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers and, more recently, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.

Goodman has written extensively about the disease online and in 2009 created the “Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure,” which began as a 5-mile kayak race and a 2-mile fun paddle through downtown Tampa. That year, just one stand-up paddle boarder entered. This year, the Tampa physician, now 52, expects SUP enthusiasts to outnumber kayakers. All proceeds go toward the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Goodman has undergone two stem cell transplants, including one at the end of 2010 following a relapse. He’s gradually getting back to a normal workout regimen. The longtime kayaker hopes to become proficient in stand-up paddle boarding this year.

Endurance Sports Florida talked with Goodman about his fight and the upcoming Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure, which begins from Riverfront Park in downtown Tampa on Saturday, May 7 at 8:30 a.m.

Q: What went through your mind when you got the diagnosis of multiple myeloma?

A: It was a shock. I was always a fitness nut who ate very healthy. I kept myself in pretty good shape and was always a big believer in fitness and nutrition before I was diagnosed. The last thing you think is you’re going to get cancer and friends said I was the last person they would expect to get it. So I did all the right things and still go it, which shows that if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.

Q: What’s happening in your body when you have multiple myeloma?

A: Basically in your blood you have plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cells that produce the antibodies that fight infection. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of those cells. One of those cells goes crazy and overproduces, initially in the bone marrow, creating these holes and lesions which create fractures, cause anemia and compromise the immune system. There’s no cure, unfortunately, but it is treatable and there have been huge advances in the last five or 10 years. People are living much longer than before, but unfortunately it’s not a curable cancer. All the money for our event goes to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and they’re laser-focused on new drug development for multiple myeloma and have been tremendously successful at bringing new drugs to market and prolonging life for people with the disease.

Q: You’ve undergone two stem cell transplants. What’s entailed with that procedure?

A: It’s actually more of a transfusion where your own cells are harvested. You’re given a medication to stimulate the stem cells, which are then harvested by an intravenous catheter. You’re given high doses of chemotherapy, which wipes out the bone marrow and immune system. The stem cells are given back to you and those are used to jumpstart your bone marrow again. The problem is that there’s a period of 10 days to two weeks after the chemotherapy where you’re waiting for the stem cells to take where you have no immune system at all. So you’re really prone to infection and have to be in the hospital pretty much all that time.

Goodman out on the water

Q: How much training have you been able to do?

A: I went through the most recent transplant over Christmas and by the end of January I got back to working out. I’ve been slowing building up from there, back to swimming and cycling, almost to where I was before. I’m doing really good and getting back to normal life and a normal activity level. I do have some pain in my ribs but I don’t seem to feel it when I’m cycling. I do make sure to stick with calmer water when I kayak.

Q: The race is for a great cause but it seems like it’s popular for other reasons. Why do you think that is?

A: People love the course. It’s a great way to see downtown Tampa from the water. The college and high school crew teams have known about it for years. The course takes you through downtown Tampa, the convention center, Marriott Waterside, and Harbor Island. It really highlights downtown Tampa. We also reach out to all kinds of paddlers from the serious kayak and paddle boarders to those who have never paddled and, of course, those who have a connection to multiple myeloma. The reason we have two races is so there’s something for the competitive people – a five-mile race – and a two-mile family fun paddle for those with little or no experience. We have rental boats and boards available so that’s no a barrier either.

Q: What’s the status of multiple myeloma research?

A: The pipeline of drugs for the disease is unbelievable. There are no less than a dozen drugs in the pipeline; a couple will get FDA approved this year. They just mapped the genome for multiple myeloma within the last month or two. The future looks great and I’m just hoping it comes soon enough.

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Preparing for ‘The Death Race’

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – MARCH

By Pete Williams

Paul Roarke

If you were going to lay odds on someone to win “The Death Race,” the grueling endurance event in Vermont billed as “Survivor meets 300,” Paul Roarke would be an attractive option.

A former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant and Iraq war veteran who authored the book Corps Strength: A Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant’s Program for Elite Fitness, the chiseled 50-year-old Roarke’s fitness regimen over the years has included boxing, martial arts, power lifting, and triathlon.

Roarke was inspired to write the book after watching many of his fellow career Marines suffer injuries and chronic ailments. Now the Pensacola resident, who serves as an instructor at the Navy’s international leadership school, is among the 200 crazies who on June 24 will attempt The Death Race, arguably the toughest test in the endurance sports world.

Concocted in 2007 by longtime endurance athletes Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg, who decided Ironman Triathlons and eco-challenges weren’t tough enough, the Death Race brings athletes into rural Vermont for a competition with no defined start or finish time. The challenges vary each year but typically involve tasks such as chopping wood, hauling heavy wheelbarrows, crawling under barbwire, navigating long distances in the dark, and carrying tree stumps and bicycles. Only 10 percent of the field finishes.

The Web site for the event is youmaydie.com and participants must literally sign their lives away. The winners of the first Death Race finished in about 12 hours but it’s gotten longer each year. This year, athletes are bracing for a 72-hour ordeal.

EnduranceSportsFlorida talked with Roarke about his strategy:

Q: You spent nearly 30 years in the Marine Corps and you have an incredible endurance sports resume. Do you feel any pressure to win this race?

A: Pressure makes diamonds. I always put pressure on myself; it’s my personality type. If I’m not struggling with something, I’m not living so I’m kind of used to it. I wrote a book and put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure it sold well, went out and promoted it. I’ll finish unless I get injured, which can happen, but knock on my wooden head, I’ve never had a major injury. Never had any chronic things – back or knee problems – I have bunions, but my whole family has those. Nothing but minor aches and pains; that’s what led me into the book. The kind of physical training system I’ve developed over the years helped keep me going while others got hurt. Some of these guys I grew up with in Marine Corps were studs, great athletes, but they fell by the wayside and that’s given me a lot of belief in the system.

Q: How do you train for an event like this?

A: I’ve done dozens of triathlons and road races, a few adventure races, and when I looked at this I realized it would be a fundamental mindset change. It’s a long race – three days – and if you figure the average person does a marathon in four hours, you now have to think in terms of 72 hours. So you have to change your mindset and think of what it means to be long, what it’s going to take mentally and physically to get there. I knew off the bat this would not be a speed event. I always talk about doing more exercise in less time, keep the intensity up for a lot of reasons. For this – and I could be wrong – it requires more of a long slow burn. You have to have the physical toughness to do things over and over.

Q: What have you applied to this from your military training?

A: Normally I do training runs at an eight or nine minute a mile pace. That’s too fast for this race. In Marine recon, you’re required to cover extreme distances for drops or to get to a point. You can’t take off at a 7-mile pace; you’d be done after a couple miles. So they developed the Recon Shuffle, a shuffling pace at 12 minutes a mile. That’s a different stress on your body. Mentally you just want to go faster and get it over and your body gets stiff and sore when you run that slow. I know there will be times when I’ll have to hold myself back. I know what it’s like to be up for two or three days without sleep and you basically become a zombie after two days. I know what’s going to happen. People are going to take off and then four or five hours go by, and if they’re not used to doing things for that period of time, they won’t be able to do it. I’m going to hold back at first to put money in the bank. After day one or two days I can withdraw that.

Q: What have you learned from past Death Race competitors?

A: I’ve looked at the videos and talked to people who were in it and I think it’s more about just moving forward for three days than it is about speed and strength. That’s what I’m training for, doing a lot of humping, heavy pack stuff, fast-paced walking. Normal Marine Corps load is 60 pounds. You have to carry certain kinds of gear. A regular Camelbak is not going to cut it. You’re carrying stumps and buckets. I put on a hybrid pack and now I’m training with 40 pounds. I’ve also been training on the beach. I don’t think people up north have done a lot of walking in soft sand, which is tough. Another advantage is I’m from upstate New York and go up there in the summer. Here the humidity is tough in April and May. After I run here for a couple of months, I go up there and feel I have an extra lung because the humidity is less. That’s a huge advantage.

Q: What do you plan to wear for the Death Race?

A: They don’t give you the gear list until two weeks out. My race pack with a 100-ounce Camelbak weighs 12 pounds. I have an Alaskan pack board, which allows you to strap anything to it. They’re going to make us carry a firestarter, some change One year they had to carry a five-pound Greek translation book. I feel like whatever they give me and if the load is under 40 pounds I’ll be fine. I started riding my mountain bike with the pack, which is kind of hairy.

Q: What’s a typical day of training for this like?

A: My big thing is doing combination training. I rode five miles, came back, and I hit the truck tire with a 10-pound sledgehammer. Then I did 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups, a kettle bell routine, and 500 crunches. That’s not much from a time standpoint, just 90 minutes of effort. I want to be able to do that for seven or eight hours and then I’ll feel like I’m ready to race. Sunday is my big day, where I start combining everything. I’ll take off on the mountain bike with the pack, ride 10 miles, carry it for a mile, do that a couple times, go park and run 3-5 miles, gear up again and do it all over. I have a place where I can throw some logs around. My goal is to get to the point a week or 10 days out where I can get up to about a 10-hour day. Think about it. That’s still only one-eighth of the potential race, so you have to pay your dues. If I can do eight hours – I’m going to take breaks to eat – but if I can do 8 to 10 hours of pretty hard but not max effort and if I can bear weight, carry my bike, run, I’ll feel pretty good about it

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Filed under Enduring Athlete of the Month, Races, Running

Triathlon’s Breakout Star for 2011?

ESF’s ENDURING ATHLETE OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY

By Pete Williams

New triathlon pro Mandy McLane

A year ago, Mandy McLane was coming off a finish as the top elite amateur at the Miami International Triathlon and starting to think about a pro triathlon career.

That was before finishing as the top female amateur at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, ahead of a number of pros, and being honored as the USA Triathlon Age Grouper of the Year, capping a year that also included capturing the women’s 30-to-34 title at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater and winning the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals.

Unlike a lot of athletes who reach the elite levels of the sport quickly, McLane (mandymclane.com) does not have a background as a college swimmer. Nor does she have a day job as a triathlon coach, physical therapist, or nutritionist; she’s a self-employed speech language pathologist who competed in track in college at Clemson.

The Orlando native seems to thrive in Florida, though like many elite triathletes she now spends much of her year in Colorado. Having turned professional for 2011, the stunning, dominant, 32-year-old American might be exactly what pro triathlon needs to break into mainstream sports coverage. We recently caught up with McLane between workouts.

(Note: An audio version of this interview can be found at The Fitness Buff Show.)

Q: How does one make the transition to pro triathlon?

A: It goes according to rankings, race times and how you finish in certain races. With nationals and the world championship, if you’re top three overall then you qualify to apply for a pro card. St. Anthony’s, MIT (Miami International Triathlon) and Eagleman are races that if you finish in the top percentage of your age group and overall top three, then you qualify for that pro card. Then it’s up to you if you’re ready to make that leap and begin racing.

Q: When did you know you were ready?

A: After Eagleman. I had a great St. Anthony’s and MIT. Those are Olympic-distance races and I needed another half iron to feel confident I could race both distances competitively. I finished well at Eagleman and that’s when I had the confidence, but my coach and I decided it would be a good idea to get a national or world title under my belt and it all unfolded as planned.

Q: Do you think you’ve proven that a native Floridian can be competitive at the highest level in triathlon?

A: Absolutely. I have an advantage over many triathletes in that I’ve always been able to tolerate heat. The athletes that come from mountain areas have an advantage over us flatlanders but you can simulate that kind of stuff on the treadmill or on the trainer and increase elevation and resistance. It’s definitely very possible for people from Florida or any region where it’s flat to be competitive.

Q: Have you left Florida completely?

A: I’m pretty much between the two. During the summers, I’m definitely going to be in Boulder and that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s hot with the altitude and the climbing. In the winters I’m coming back to Orlando for two-week periods, mostly because it’s warm, and you’re going back to sea level. It’s imp for me to teeter totter back and forth.

Q: You swam competitively only from the ages of 5 to 11, but you’re very strong in the water. Why is that?

McLane on the run

A: Once you’ve created that muscle memory it’s very easy to draw from that and like anything else as you train and put intervals and effort into anything you’re making progress. The early years of my swimming have given me a strong base to work from.

Q: It’s a struggle for many pro triathletes land sponsors and earn recognition. How do you approach that challenge?

A: That’s a good question and it is a challenge. One of the biggest things that have been helpful for me is to go to conventions such as Interbike and give out business cards and resumes and talk to people so they can put a face to your name. I follow up with an email and then to be brutally honest you have to be almost annoying. You walk a fine line of touching base, following up on regular basis and sometimes they get right back to you and sometimes they get caught up on other things.

Q: Doesn’t it help that you look good on magazine covers?

A: It has helped, but what also helps is that I’m on Facebook and Twitter and am proactive trying to market myself and products I believe in and moving in that direction to where I’m doing a lot of talking and blogging and making everything as public as possible. That definitely helps.

Q: What are your goals for your first year as a pro and what would make it a success?

A: I would like to have a couple of podium finishes and be top five in a large percentage of races. So I have high expectations. I know it’s a totally different world out there but at the same time I think I’ll rise up and go with the flow and push myself a bit harder to hang. I’m real interested to see how it unfolds but I strongly believe I can have a few podium finishes at both distances and be top five in a large percentage of races.

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Filed under Enduring Athlete of the Month, Fitness Buff Show Radio, Triathlon