Category Archives: Races

Nude SUP Challenge Returns to Kissimmee

By Pete Williams

SUPCoveAd4The Nude SUP Challenge, which debuted last year as the world’s first clothing-optional stand-up paddleboard race, returns to the Cypress Cove nudist resort in Kissimmee, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 13.

The four-mile race, held on the 50-acre Brown Lake within the confines of Cypress Cove, takes place the day after Surf Expo, the largest industry trade show for surfing and SUP. Surf Expo is held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, just a 25-minute drive from Cypress Cove.

Registration for the Nude SUP Challenge is now open. Race entry also provides all-day admission into Cypress Cove, one of North America’s premier nudist resorts. Cypress Cove is hosting a weekend of clothing-optional endurance sports with the fifth-annual Streak the Cove 5K taking place on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Registered athletes will receive Cypress Cove member rates on hotel rooms and campsites for the weekend.

“We’re looking forward to a great weekend of racing,” said Cypress Cove owner Ted Hadley. “Between the Streak the Cove and the Nude SUP Challenge it promises to be one of most memorable weekends ever.”

Nineteen athletes – 11 men and eight women – made endurance sports history by competing in the inaugural Nude SUP Challenge in 2014 Athletes came from as far away as Southern California, Ohio, Maryland, and Georgia.With more than a hundred Cypress Cove residents and guests watching along Brown Lake on a balmy morning, paddlers completed four and a half laps around the 50-acre waterway for a total of four miles. The winner, a 25-year-old man from Sarasota, navigated the course in 40 minutes, 45 seconds. The female winner, a 33-year-old also from Sarasota, finished fourth overall at 44:15.

Logo-Final-SmallStand-up paddleboarding is one of America’s fastest-growing sports, combining fitness and water sports. As the sport has grown in recent years, a number of stand-up paddleboard races have emerged. The Nude SUP Challenge was the first clothing-optional stand-up paddleboarding race anywhere and more than 60 paddlers are expected for 2015.

“This is a great event,” said Hadley, who watched the 2014 race unfold from the middle of Brown Lake in his boat with one of several Osceola County EMS staffers hired for safety support. “We’re looking forward to growing the Nude SUP Challenge into an annual tradition.”

The Nude SUP Challenge was organized by Enterprise Media LLC, which has put on the clothing-optional Streak the Cove 5K run at Cypress Cove annually since 2011 and the Caliente Bare Dare 5K in Florida’s Pasco County since 2010.

As with all races put on by Enterprise Media, photography is strictly prohibited. Race results and names of participants are not published.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, SUP

The “Waterman Triathlon”

By Pete Williams

HelgaSUP2We’ve often thought it would be a great idea to stage a triathlon involving swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and beach running. It would crown the king and queen of the beach, the true waterman.

We don’t know of such an event yet. But this Saturday at St. Pete Beach, there might be an even better endurance sports combo. At 7 a.m., there’s the Dash N Splash Beach Aquathon at Pass-a-Grille Beach. This second-annual event consists of a 2-mile beach run, a 600-yard swim in the Gulf of Mexico, and a 1-mile run.

At 9 a.m, just 2.25 miles north in front of The Alden Suites Hotel, is the second-annual Florida Cup stand-up paddleboard race. This event already has become one of North America’s premier SUP races, with more than 200 paddlers expected for a weekend-long paddlefest.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in 2013

Like most SUP events, especially those held at St. Pete Beach, parking is at a premium and getting your boards from the parking lot to the beach can be a challenge. (Though race director Bruce Denson and his staff have those details covered.)

Still, if you want to make the logistics easier and become a true waterman, park at Pass-a-Grille Beach for the Dash N Splash. You’ll have a short walk with your board to the beach. Compete in the Dash N Splash at 7, finish by 7:45 (or earlier) and then hop on your board and paddle north to the start of the Florida Cup race, beating the crowds and parking.

IMG_7923You’ll miss the awards ceremony for the Dash N Splash and you’ll need to have waterproof cases for your keys and presumably phone, along with some sort of backpack, but you can arrive in style and in time for the 10-mile Florida Cup elite race (9 a.m.) and plenty of time for the 3-mile open race (9:15 a.m.) In fact, you should be able to make it for the 8:30 captain’s meeting.

We love how only in Florida can you attempt crazy endurance sports doubleheaders like this. We’ve done two sprint triathlons in one day, two obstacle races in a day, and a triathlon and an obstacle race in the same day. But this would be a first.

Who is ready to become a true waterman?

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, Running, SUP, Swimming

Race of the Week: Florida Challenge Half Marathon & 5K Trail Runs

By Pete Williams

When it comes to trail running, Florida is underrated. Sure, the Sunshine State might lack hilly terrain and high altitude, but there is no shortage of challenging trails through breathtaking scenery.

That’s what makes the 11th annual Florida Challenge Half Marathon & 5K Trail Run on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 8 a.m. one of our favorite races. Held at beautiful Alafia River State Park, just east of Tampa, it’s perfectly situated on the race calendar before triathlon season and amid a crowded road race calendar. It’s rated one of the top trail runs in the country, with hillier trails than you’d expect.

It’s also one of the better values in Florida endurance sports. Race-day registration is just $35 for the 5K and $45 for the half marathon (early sign-up rates were even lower). At a time when it costs $80 to pound the asphalt and pavement of a road half-marathon, that’s a bargain.

History: Race debuted in 2004 and is one of a number of popular off-road running events put on by Tampa Races, which also stages the Picnic Island summer adventure run series, along with the XTerra Florida Trail Run series.

Format: The Florida Challenge is a 13.1 mile and a 5K trail run on beginner and intermediate single track trails. The half marathon starts at 8 a.m. and the 5K a half hour later.

Amenities: Long-sleeve T-shirts, custom awards for top finishers, catered post-race food.

Cost: Online registration closing Jan. 23. Race-day registration available – $35 for 5K, $45 for half marathon.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Race of the Week, Races, Running

9 Biggest Trends/Stories in Endurance Sports in 2013

By Pete Williams

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida nearly three years ago, we could not have imagined that this booming field still had lots of room for growth. Back in January of 2011, obstacle racing still was flying under the radar. Stand-up paddleboarding was a regional phenomenon and nobody had coined the term “theme race.”

These days, the market for all things endurance sports is flooded. No matter where you live, there are numerous opportunities to compete every weekend. In Florida, it’s impossible to find fewer than six endurance sports events within a 45-minute drive any weekend of the year, especially in 2013 with Christmas falling on a Wednesday.

The Sunshine State remains the epicenter for all things endurance sports. The hub might be Benderson Park, a sprawling rowing/swimming/paddling/triathlon complex going up in stages in Sarasota.

With that in mind, here are the top 9 stories/trends in the industry from 2013.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

No. 9 – OPEN WATER SWIMMING: These competitions have existed for years, but there’s suddenly increased interest. Maybe it’s because the roads have gotten crowded (and dangerous) with all of the runners and cyclists, to say nothing of motorists focused on their smart phones. Maybe it’s because swimmers are realizing it’s a lot more fun than training in the pool. Maybe it’s because competitive youth swimmers (above) discovered they can get out of the pool and beat 90 percent of adult recreational swimmers in open water. Maybe it’s because many triathletes didn’t learn to swim as adults and want to put their skills to use as often as possible.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Diana Nyad brought attention to open-water swimming in September by becoming the first to complete the treacherous Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage. In January, 15-year-old Becca Mann won the Frogman Swim, the 5K trip in chilly waters from St. Pete to Tampa. Mann, now 16, hopes to reach the Olympics in 2016 in both open-water swimming and pool events. Anyone who has seen her train and compete for the Clearwater Aquatic Team knows this is a distinct possibility.

ArmstrongIronmanNo. 8 – LANCE ARMSTRONG CONFESSES: It seemed like such a foregone conclusion to all but his most ardent supporters that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories that it’s easy to forget that his confession to Oprah Winfrey actually happened in 2013, back in January. It seems much longer ago. Lawsuits have piled up, sponsors bolted, and Lance even had to part ways with Livestrong. Since Armstrong can’t compete in sanctioned events, he’s not even allowed to enter triathlons, though Chris McCormack has challenged him to a one-on-one tri smackdown.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. trumpeted its partnership with Armstrong only to look foolish when he was charged with doping in 2012. So vast was Armstrong’s deception that we’re left to wonder if he even raced clean on the triathlon front and whether his Ironman 70.3 win in Haines City in 2012 was legitimate. Surely, he raced clean there, right? Oprah didn’t ask.

RockRollHalfNo. 7 – NATIONAL EVENTS STRUGGLE IN FLORIDA: So often we see a national race promoter come to Florida and assume the masses will show up. After all, we have great year-round weather and hordes of athletes. Unfortunately, race promoters underestimate the number of established, affordable local events we have. Florida athletes are savvy customers with no patience for overpromising, overpricing, and underdelivering. That’s why it was no surprise that Competitor Group pulled its Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete event after another disappointing turnout in January. Tough Mudder, which had a traffic-related debacle in Sarasota in December of 2012, saw attendance plunge for events in Homestead (March) and Palatka (May). Even Spartan Race officials, who never seem to back down from a challenge, quietly canceled a proposed Spartan Beast event at Little Everglades Ranch for 2014. Ironman continues to sell out its Ironman Florida race in Panama City in a matter of minutes a year in advance, though that’s essentially a home event for the Tampa-based WTC. Warning to out-of-state promoters: Past performance elsewhere does not guarantee future return here and promoters can and do lose money.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete at Benderson Park in Sarasota in August.

No. 6 – SUP — UP AND UP: You know a sport is thriving when it seems every interview with a 24-year-old actress/model/singer mentions how she recently discovered stand-up paddleboarding. SUP has become the new yoga or Pilates, which makes sense since it works the body in a similar fashion and there’s now a cottage industry of SUP/yoga and SUP/Pilates classes. Surf Expo, which comes to the Orange County Convention Center each January and September, might as well be called SUP Expo. SUP board manufacturers have taken over the OCCC floor and the Thursday board demo day at a nearby watersports facility has become a highlight of the event for many.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Besides SUP, er, Surf Expo in Orlando, the Florida Cup has become one of the sport’s premier events after just two years. St. Pete lawyer and avid paddler Bruce Denson has built a late May weekend event in Pinellas County that belongs in the same discussion as the Carolina Cup and perhaps one day soon the Battle of the Paddle in California. The Miramar Beach-based YOLO Board has become a major player in the competitive board manufacturing industry. Then there’s Dunedin’s Karen Mirlenbrink, who is a YOLO Board athlete, a race promoter (Shark Bite Challenge), and a SUP Pilates instructor — basically the Queen of all SUP.

PumpRun2No.5 – THE SPORT OF FITNESS: CrossFit and endurance sports traditionally were polar opposites. CrossFit tended to attract the gym rat demographic while runners never touched the weights. But once Spartan Race and Tough Mudder began actively courting the CrossFit crowd in 2011, the two met in the middle. You’ll still see groups from CrossFit boxes tackle obstacle races, though these days you’re more likely to see them enter CrossFit-style competitions or hybrid events such as the Pump N Run, a Tampa event (above) where athletes bench-pressed all of most of their weight and based on their performance deducted time from a subsequent 5K run. We’re not sure where all this is evolving, but it’s an interesting trend to watch.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: In addition to the Tampa Pump N Run, hosted by Tampa trainer Whit Lasseter in November, CrossFit box owners Clint and Maci Lowery stage regular obstacle races from their Sweat Factory facility in Minneola (near Clermont), which is adjacent to a running trail.

TriGroupNo. 4 – MARKET SATURATION – Back in 2005-07, we hosted a Friday afternoon fitness radio show that featured a brief segment previewing the weekend’s endurance events in Central Florida. The segment took about five minutes. These days it no doubt could fill a half hour and not just because of SUP races, obstacle events, and theme runs that didn’t exist back then. The number of triathlons and road running events has perhaps quadrupled and while that’s generally a good thing, it has diluted many races and created others hosted by organizers who have no business doing so. Triathlon seems to have peeked in popularity in 2011 after a decade of unbridled growth. Our theory is that some would-be triathletes instead turn to obstacle racing or CrossFit, where there’s no need to buy an expensive bike or learn to swim. But while there seems to be the same number of triathletes, there are more triathlons. As for running, it’s impossible in many markets to drive on a Saturday morning without being slowed by race road closures. What’s next? We’re guessing more road runners and obstacle racers will find the happy medium with trail running, which is easier on the body, generally offers a more pleasant race experience, and is often the best value in endurance sports. Which means, of course, that we’ll see a ton of trail races.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: It seems like ages ago when the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg sold out in a few hours in December. These days, it’s possible to register the day before the late-April event. This year St. Anthony’s is hoping to stop the attendance decline by offering a sprint distance to go with the traditional international race.

FlavorRun3No.3 – THEMES, THEMES, and MORE THEMES: We’re not sure if color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, and all of the rest are endurance events or merely festivals with jogging and walking involved. But there’s no denying the impact. The Color Run, which debuted in January 2012 with 6,000 runners in Phoenix is now partnered with sports colossus IMG and stages more than 100 runs annually worldwide. The untimed Color Run, in which white-clad runners pass through stations where they’re doused with colored powder, has inspired numerous knockoffs, including the Florida-based Flavor Run. Most athletes walk or slowly run the events, which are great fun for kids.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Like every other endurance sports category, Florida leads the nation in themed races. The Color Run alone has five Florida events scheduled in 2014 before Mother’s Day with more to come.

JenCalendarNo. 2OBSTACLE RACE SHAKEOUT – With a new obstacle race popping up seemingly ever week, it was only a matter of time before races started crashing in spectacular fashion. Mud runs have a bucket-list, post-the-Facebook-photo quality to them and events quickly have discovered it’s difficult to draw repeat customers. The zombie-themed Run for Your Lives endured the true death the day before Halloween. More surprising was the demise of Hero Rush, the Maryland-based, firefighter-themed obstacle race that we considered the best produced obstacle event of 2012. It flamed out in August, a victim of growing too big too fast. Who will survive? We’re betting on the races that position themselves as competitions rather than muddy office team-building exercises, which tend to attract the one-and-done crowd. That’s why we’re bullish on events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, sort of an outdoor version of American Ninja Warrior produced by Central Florida’s Rock On Adventures. Ditto for Spartan Race, which still trails the untimed, team-oriented Tough Mudder in popularity. With Spartan’s every-athlete-for-himself (or herself) format, new national sponsors such as Reebok, a recent one-hour special on NBC Sports Network, and races of three distances that include events in sports venues, we’re betting on King Leonidas and the gang.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Hero Rush folded shortly before scheduled events in Ocala and South Florida. Through some poor scheduling (or perhaps intended) Tough Mudder and Spartan Race will go head to head in South Florida during the April 12-13, 2014 weekend. Spartan Race also brings its sports venue edition to Florida for the first time with a Spartan Sprint race at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February.

BostonStrongNo.1 – BOSTON STRONG – The Boston Marathon was the biggest endurance sports story of the year for all the wrong reasons. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the storied race on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. The violence drew attention to the vulnerability of endurance events, which take place in wide-open settings, unlike sports competitions in enclosed venues. Runners and non-runners across the nation rallied to stage support runs and raise money for the victims. The Boston Red Sox surprising run to a World Series title further helped the healing process.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: An FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Todashev’s Orlando apartment in the early hours of May 22 after a violent confrontation. A Florida prosecutor is expected to release a report of his investigation into the shooting early next year. On a positive note, numerous Florida runners have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which promises to be the most watched, most secure marathon ever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, Running, SUP, Swimming, Triathlon

Continuing to Beat Cancer with a Paddle

By Corrie Seabrook

ArnieGoodman3Arnie Goodman slides his legs until they touch the end of his shallow kayak. He grips the paddle and glides along the water flowing through Riverfront Park in Tampa. He’s paddling just as he has done on this day for the past five years. The myeloma cancer is working through his body, dangerously. But Goodman keeps paddling, for himself and for a cure.

Goodman, 54, grew up in the waters off Fort Lauderdale. There he boated and sailed through the east coast waves. When he moved to Tampa he was introduced to kayaking, where he fell in love with the sport.

“It became my love,” he says.

At 47, he was a practicing ear, throat and nose physician and continued to swim and kayak regularly. Then he was diagnosed with myeloma cancer. He, his wife and their two kids stared into what was left of the time that this cancer had cut short.

He has dealt with the disease for more than seven years. Since the treatment is so extensive and time consuming, Goodman stopped practicing medicine. A year after the diagnosis, he formed the non-profit organization, Beat Cancer with a Paddle. Though the organization, Goodman, Russell Farrow (owner of Sweetwater Kayaks) and other sponsors created the “Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure” race in 2009.

This year’s event takes place on Sunday, May 5 from Tampa’s Riverfront Park.

SweetwaterThe race started with individuals and groups competing in kayaks. Then one year a man showed up with a stand-up paddleboard. “We thought, who’s this buff guy out there on a surfboard?” Goodman says. As the years have progressed, more and more paddle boarders have accompanied the kayakers.

The Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure doesn’t solely include endurance athletes. Parents bring their children to enjoy the day on the water in double kayaks. Beginners come to fall and try again on the kayak and paddleboard rentals.

“Paddleboard companies that work with us, Stand Up Paddle Life and Urban Kai, provide the boards and demo for those who want it,” Goodman says.

The participants set up in a staggered line. The gun blasts and the racers paddle off. The course takes the boarders down past the Tampa Convention Center and under the bridge. They swirl around three buoys up the channel and then hurry back to the finish.

The event’s target audiences are paddlers, newcomers to the sport, and those who come to support the cause. (All proceeds from the event benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and Be The Match National Bone Marrow Registry.) The event consists of a 5-mile race for time at 9 a.m. The second race is a 2-mile family fun paddle around the course. The event has raised more than $35,000 since 2009.

Goodman predicts that “the paddle boarders will probably outnumber the kayakers this year.”

This is the first year this race has become officially sanctioned by the World Paddle Association. It’s also the first time it will include a tie-in to firefighters.

Sweetwater2Tampa’s fire department will be volunteering alongside high school students. A unique race called the Firemen’s Challenge Relay will be set up specifically for the different firehouses to put their training to the test. These firefighters will sprint against each other for trophies and the cause.

Last fall Goodman endured a bone marrow transplant. He’s also undergone two stem cell transplants. 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 former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.

After treatments, Goodman puts his energy into making this event a success despite how he feels. “It helps me to tolerate the side effects. You have to force yourself to do something even if you don’t feel good,” he says.

Recently Goodman received an email from a man suffering with myeloma. He expressed that he was coming from his home in New York to do the race. Goodman felt good from the impact he had made to someone in such a personal way.

Goodman continues to chug through his life kayaking with the cancer moving through his body like the river does beneath his vessel.

“I want people to remember this race and come back again. I’m going to keep going for as long as I can.”

Corrie Seabrook is an intern for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com and ObstacleFit.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, SUP

Becoming a ‘Dirty Girl’

By Pete Williams

IMG_6907Corrie Seabrook, (right) a University of South Florida mass communications student who is interning with EnduranceSportsFlorida.com and our sister site, ObstacleFit.com, reviewed Saturday’s Dirty Girl Adventure Run at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City.

You can read Corrie’s report on Dirty Girl HERE.

Leave a comment

Filed under Races, Running

Warrior Goes Long with Iron Warrior Dash

By Pete Williams

WarriorDash2012aWarrior Dash, the first obstacle mud run to attract more than 10,000 participants to a single event, announced today a longer version of its popular entry-level 5K race. The move comes at a time when more athletes are shifting to Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and longer, more challenging obstacle events.

Touted as the “most intense obstacle race,” Iron Warrior Dash will debut March 13 in Smithville, Texas, which is between Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, and feature 26 obstacles spread over a course of “15 to 20 miles of ruthless terrain and best-in-class obstacles,” though the three announced events range from 15 to 15.6 miles.

The two other races will take place April 13 in Douglasville, Ga. (near Atlanta) and on Sept. 21 in Michigan. Though there are no Florida locations, a press release issued today promised additional venues to be announced in the spring. The April 13 event could steal some thunder from the Savage Race, which takes place the same day at Little Everglades Ranch, just north of Tampa in Pasco County.

warriordash2012cIn July of 2009, Chicago entrepreneur Joe Reynolds, then 29, debuted Warrior Dash, a 3-mile muddy obstacle race and raucous post-race party, giving finishers one free beer and a fuzzy viking hat that looked like something Fred Flintstone might wear.

Warrior Dash was an outgrowth of the Great Urban Race series Reynolds had created two years earlier after watching an episode of “The Amazing Race.” Warrior Dash has scaled more quickly and this year attracted more than 500,000 participants to 50 events in the United States, Canada, and Australia, accounting for most of the $65 million in revenue that Reynolds’ Red Frog Events will generate from entry fees and sponsor deals with Miller Coors, Reebok, and Monster Energy.

Though Warrior Dash, which returns to Lake Wales, Fla., on Feb. 2, is one of the shorter and easier obstacle races, it attracts an equal number of men and women, with an average age of 30. Most races, including Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, tilt 70 to 80 percent male.

“Being an attainable goal opens up us up to a very wide demographic,” Munirah McNeely, Warrior Dash’s chief innovation officer, told SportsBusiness Journal recently.  “It’s something for young people to do with friends other than just hanging out or going to a concert.”

Warrior Dash debuted eight months before Tough Mudder and 10 months before Spartan Race. Warrior is known for its smooth operations but has seen attendance at some events drop off this year as many obstacle racers seek greater challenges than the modest 5K Warrior Dash.

Tough Mudder, though plagued with traffic issues this fall at events in Maryland and here in Florida, has duplicated Warrior’s lively post-race party scene while providing a more challenging course of 10 to 12 miles, mocking Warrior Dash with a sign at the 3-mile mark reading “Warrior Dash Finish Line.”

WarriorDashGroupAt 15 to 15.6 miles, Iron Warrior will be comparable in distance to Tough Mudder and the Spartan Beast, the 15-mile version of Spartan Race. Entry fees, which range from $105 to $205, are similar to the other events.

Obstacle races have soared in popularity over the last 18 months, with dozens of new events created around the country, most at the entry-level 3-to-5 mile distance to attract the most participants. Since many of those people tend to be one-and-done, bucket-list, casual athletes who do it for the novelty, we feel the longer-term play is at the greater distance as obstacle racing develops into more of a competitive sport.

We’re guessing Warrior Dash, with its experience, bankroll, and legions of Millennial-aged employees who tirelessly work events, has the power to take on Tough Mudder and Spartan at the longer distance.

We’re also curious to see if the World Triathlon Corp., which always is aggressive in protecting its Ironman brand, will go after Red Frog for using Iron Warrior. WTC only has the trademark on Ironman as it pertains to triathlon, but always is aggressive pursuing anyone using Iron in the title of an endurance event.

Of course, that’s usually when a new promoter enters the game. It will be interesting to see if WTC is willing to take on someone its own size.

Then again, given the struggles of WTC this year and the success of Warrior Dash, Red Frog might have leaped over Ironman in terms of size.

(Read our review of the 2012 Warrior Dash at Lake Wales, Fla.)

1 Comment

Filed under Races, Running

Tough Mudder: Growing Pains

By Pete Williams

TMTampa2013bSARASOTA – By now athletes know what to expect from Tough Mudder. There will be a well-organized event of 11 to 12 miles of physical and Fear Factor-style obstacles, adequate water stops, free post-race refreshments, and even a sharp Under Armour T-shirt.

Since Will Dean took a Harvard Business School project and turned it into Tough Mudder in March of 2010, it has grown into a global phenomenon that will draw more than 500,000 participants and gross $70 million this year.

No company in American business has better harnessed social media, especially Facebook. Tough Mudder now includes major sponsors such as Under Armour, EAS, Bic, and Dos Equis. Dean says Tough Mudder will draw 1 million participants in 2013 and there no doubt are at least that many people still angling to post Timeline photos of themselves smiling, exhausted, and wearing the signature orange finisher’s headband.

Tough Mudder always has been something of the Woodstock of sports with its big crowds of young people, mud, silliness, and rural locations not unlike Max Yasgur’s farm. In recent months, the analogy has become too appropriate. Traffic delays of four-plus hours, first near Frederick, Md., in September and on Saturday here getting to the Hi Hat Ranch off I-75, have raised the question of whether Tough Mudder has become too big to be staged at off-road venues connected to interstates by two-lane roads.

Climbing a wall to get to the starting line

Climbing a wall to get to the starting line

In March, Tough Mudder will host its first South Florida event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, a facility accustomed to welcoming gatherings of 70,000 people. Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic partnerships, said two weeks ago that the speedway was chosen because of its vast infrastructure, parking, and experience handling large crowds.

With Tough Mudder routinely attracting 25,000 people over two days, we’re guessing we’ll see the event move into similar large venues. Weinberg said Tough Mudder already is looking at other NASCAR facilities. That could make it more of challenge to replicate the backwoods formula that has become arguably the most effective in the obstacle mud run industry.

Spartan Race, with its 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacle attempts, three race distances, and more competitive mentality, remains the more challenging event. Unlike Tough Mudder, which does not track results or even distribute timing chips, Spartan is billed as an actual race and does a better job coming up with challenges unique to each race venue.

Best race emcee anywhere

Best race emcee anywhere

But Tough Mudder proved again this weekend why it provides the best overall race-day experience for the masses and for that Warrior Dash, the other major national player on the obstacle race scene, with a more modest 5K race, should be worried. In an industry known for being chintzy with refreshments, T-shirts and other race window dressing, Tough Mudder delivers big-time.

There’s the no-line registration area, free bag check, and several hundred port-a-potties. There’s the memorable pre-race briefing with an emcee who is part comedian and part motivational speaker, sort of a cross between Chris Rock and Tony Robbins. There are the frequent water stops with bananas and packets of gel “chomps.” There’s the finish chute with Dos Equis backpacks and all-you-can-grab Clif bars and EAS recovery drink packets. (EAS ready-to-drink products are available at a nearby tent).

TMTampa2013fThere’s a black Under Armour tech shirt (women’s sizes, too), replacing the unisex, gray, cotton shirts Tough Mudder provided previously. Instead of a concert-shirt style race tour calendar on the back, there’s now the Tough Mudder pre-race pledge recited pre-race. (“I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine – kids whine,” etc.)

There’s a Dos Equis keg toss, with those who can hoist an empty keg far enough winning a second free beer to go with the one received for finishing. There’s a live band most of the day and a massive merchandise tent doing brisk sales, perhaps the biggest testament to the Tough Mudder marketing machine.

Tough Mudder's Mount Everest

Tough Mudder’s Mount Everest

The course itself remains challenging, but in talking to fellow veterans of last year’s Tough Mudder Florida debut at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, the consensus was that it felt easier. Maybe it’s because we’ve now done so many other races, some of which have replicated Tough Mudder’s signature “Arctic Enema” ice plunge, “Mount Everest” half-pipe lunge, and “Walk the Plank” jump of 10-12 feet into water. Maybe it’s because Tough Mudder’s notorious race-ending, 10,000-volt “Electroshock Therapy” doesn’t usually deliver much of a current. (Not that we’re complaining, though.) Maybe it’s because the claustrophobia-inducing “Trench Warfare” crawl through freshly-dug tunnels doesn’t seem as uncomfortable as the pitch-black labyrinth of the firefighter-themed Hero Rush event.

Or maybe it’s because this year’s course did not feature as many different obstacles as the 2011 edition. There were no cargo nets to climb or roll over, no hay bale pyramid to navigate, or even a balance beam. There was no peg board wall that required athletes to scale from side to side. And for a race that has fire in its logo, there was no fire to run through or jump over as there was last year at Little Everglades Ranch. Instead there were four or five near-identical marches up dirt and through water for several repetitions.

Tough Mudder still is new enough that most participants are first-timers. But for returning customers, some variety would be nice. It’s like attending a concert for a familiar band. You want to hear their signature tunes, but expect some new material. Tough Mudder, of course, must cart some of its obstacles all over the country, so there are limitations. That gives an advantage to some of the Florida-based races such as The Highlander and the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which have permanent homes and can keep adding obstacles to existing courses.

Navigating the Funky Monkey

Navigating the Funky Monkey

The only major addition to this year’s Florida Tough Mudder, albeit a brutal one, was a 300-yard “Wounded Warrior” carry. Athletes grabbed partners and carried them piggy-back or fireman’s style 150 yards before switching off. I had the misfortune of arriving at this obstacle with only two of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates, both of whom weigh 165-170 and were perfectly matched. I  ended up with a 190-pound partner, which probably explains why all 154 pounds of me are aching this morning.

Little Everglades was a better venue last year than Hi Hat and not just because of better traffic patterns. The scenic, well-manicured Pasco County ranch is accustomed to staging big events and, unlike Hi Hat, there’s more natural water. At Hi Hat, the “Hold Your Wood” log carry took you through the woods. At Little Everglades, athletes went through water for that and for other obstacles, such as a memorable 200-yard slog through waist-deep water where at times you’d sink further in the muck.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said earlier in the year that the event did not return to Little Everglades since it wanted to provide athletes with a variety of venues. Its first choice for the 2012 Tampa area event, Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade, was nixed when Polk County, fearing traffic tie-ups, refused to issue a permit for an event of such magnitude. Dirty Foot has since held two successful smaller races of 1,000 or so athletes and will host on third on March 9.

The 5-mile Savage Race, which has emulated some of Tough Mudder’s business model, including a number of its obstacles, moved from Clermont to Little Everglades in October and will return on April 13. Savage flew a plane over Tough Mudder on Saturday pulling a banner pledging “more obstacles per mile.” We continue to be amazed at how many Tough Mudder competitors walk most of the course, so perhaps Savage’s less-running formula is a wise one. (Outside Magazine recently chronicled how Tough Mudder emulated Britain’s Tough Guy and how Savage emulated Tough Mudder.)

TMTampa2013aThen again, Tough Mudder’s longer course remains one of the more popular challenges in endurance sports, even for those who don’t wish to run all of it. We’re curious to see what location Tough Mudder chooses for its scheduled Tampa-area event on Nov. 2-3, 2013 since it’s hard to imagine Sarasota County issuing another permit for Hi Hat after this weekend’s traffic snarls.

We can’t think of a Central Florida venue like Homestead-Miami Speedway with multiple entrances and vast stretches of parking surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, to say nothing of a vast man-made lake in the facility that can be incorporated into the course. Daytona International Speedway is surrounded by an airport, hotels, and commercial development.

No matter. We’re guessing Tough Mudder officials will figure that out in the next few months, further fueling the fastest-growing property in endurance sports.

7 Comments

Filed under Races, Running

Gentlemen, Start Your Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder’s notorious ice plunge

Tough Mudder, the popular obstacle mud run, has staged events all over the world, typically in rural areas, ranches and at ski resorts in the summer months.

Now Tough Mudder is coming March 2-3 to Homestead-Miami Speedway, best known as the site for NASCAR’s season finale race, which was held on Sunday.

Tough Mudder has worked with other racetracks, including Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., an NHRA venue that hosted the “World’s Toughest Mudder” competition last weekend. In January, Tough Mudder will return for a second year to Phillip Island, a grand prix venue outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic partnerships, said Homestead-Miami Speedway was chosen because of its vast infrastructure, parking, and experience handling large crowds. Tough Mudder events have attracted up to 30,000 athletes over a two-day period, a fraction of the speedway’s 65,000-seat capacity.

“Racetracks are good fits for us from all aspects,” said Weinberg, who said Tough Mudder is exploring other NASCAR venues for U.S. events. “From parking to concessions to logistics, they make for a great overall fan and participant experience.”

Weinberg said the event layout was still being determined, but said it’s likely the course will go both inside and outside the venue, which is a 45-minute drive south from Miami and just over an hour from Fort Lauderdale. The track is a 1.5-mile oval and the infield includes a man-made lake big enough for swimming. In August of 2011, Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted Olympic-distance and sprint-distance triathlons consisting of a swim in the infield lake, transition in pit road, bike through Homestead, and a run around the golf cart path surrounding the track. The track is surrounded by vast stretches of parking lots and undeveloped areas.

Tough Mudder, at roughly 12 miles, requires only a fraction of that space. The bigger key to the event will be the infrastructure. Since debuting early in March of 2010, Tough Mudder has grown exponentially, with revenue of more than $70 million in 2012. With that has come growing pains, such as a September event near Washington D.C., where massive traffic back-ups and weather caused the cancellation of the event’s second day.

Here in Florida, Tough Mudder had to move its planned Tampa area event from Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade after Polk County officials refused to issue a permit for a 20,000-person event. That event takes place next weekend (Dec. 1-2) at the Hi Hat Ranch in Sarasota.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway race will be Tough Mudder’s first Florida event beyond the greater Tampa Bay/Sarasota area. Tough Mudder debuted in the Sunshine State in December of 2011 at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City and also has events planned for 2013 in Jacksonville (May 18-19) and at a to-be-determined Tampa site (Nov. 2-3).

Unlike Central Florida, with its many sprawling ranches and thousands of acres of undeveloped land, South Florida has fewer wide-open sites for obstacle races. This year, Spartan Race and Superhero Scramble debuted South Florida events at Oleta River State Park in North Miami. Spartan Race will return to that venue in Feb. 23-24, the weekend before Tough Mudder in Homestead. Superhero Scramble shifts to Amelia Earhart Park, also in Miami, for a Jan. 12 race.

Tough Mudder’s move to a larger sports venue is part of a recent industry trend. Last week Spartan Race staged an event at Boston’s Fenway Park, attracting 8,000 racers over two days to the storied baseball facility.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit will be in Phoenix the weekend of March 2-3, which will make it impossible for any drivers to participate in Tough Mudder at Homestead. Top drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne posted impressive times at a triathlon in Charleston in July, competing the morning after a NASCAR night race in Daytona Beach.

1 Comment

Filed under Races, Running

Pacifico – Stepping Up the SUP Race Experience

By Pete Williams

Start of Pacifico open race

ST. PETE BEACH – I heard footsteps. Make that splashes. For 77 minutes, I could not shake the paddler behind me at the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge off St. Pete Beach on Saturday afternoon.

Were this a running event or triathlon, I probably would have let him pass. But there was money involved. Not much, just the $25 for third-place in the men’s stock board division of the 4-plus mile “elite” race, enough for me to understand how motivating a little cash can be in an athletic event.

And so I kept paddling. Hard. Stand-up paddling usually is a relaxing way to spend a leisurely afternoon. But when you’re hammering your core, pushing your lactate threshold, and trying to stay balanced on a 29.5-inch wide Yolo Ecotrainer, it’s a wonderful test of pain.

The four-lap technical course featured nine buoy terms per lap, each an opportunity to fall into an increasingly rough surf kicked up by afternoon winds. One fall is enough to lose 20 seconds.

I’ve often wondered why Shane “Waterboy” Webb and other organizers of SUP races feel the need to throw prize money into the mix. Does it attract more prominent athletes? Maybe. What I do know is it makes the race far more interesting for those of will never get any closer to being professionals – and those watching us.

Stand-up paddleboard racing might never be as big or as organized as road racing, triathlon, or obstacle mud racing. But as the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge demonstrated here Saturday afternoon in front of the Postcard Inn, SUP racing is developing into a different race experience than other endurance sports.

Sure, there’s chip timing, T-shirts, various competitive divisions, race numbers, and post-race awards. But if you’re looking for an early-morning, to-the-minute itinerary that gets you home by 11 a.m. like running or triathlon, well, SUP racing might not always be for you.

The first of Pacifico’s four races was scheduled to start at 11 and got underway about 45 minutes later. The 2-plus mile open race was followed at 12:45 by a 4-plus mile elite race, a kids’ race and a relay event. Awards did not kick off until 5:30.

Transitioning – Battle of the Paddle style

And yet the late-morning, island-time mentality – which we’ve seen at other SUP races, too – seems to work for a sport that grew out of the Hawaii and California surf culture and the 125 or so racers and their guests didn’t seem to mind spending a full day (or weekend) around the Postcard Inn, especially with weather right out of a chamber of commerce video.

Webb and co-race director Grace Marcel again created a big-time race atmosphere, with a tent city of sponsors, an announcer’s booth and sound system perched atop scaffolding, 20-foot Pacifico beer inflatables, and a race format inspired by the Battle of the Paddle in California, which is to SUP what Ironman Kona is to triathlon.

On a weekend where the well-heeled Competitor Group debuted its TriRock triathlon amid little fanfare in Clearwater Beach, the Pacifico had perhaps the most big-time feel of any Tampa Bay endurance event. There was $5,000 in cash and prizes, numerous high-ticket raffle items, and the return of the best post-race spread of any endurance event we’ve attended: a pig roast.

SUP also has the best people-watching element of any endurance sport. Some believe SUP is the best workout ever created with its full-body, rotational movements and the way it challenges your balance, core and proprioception in a tough cardio workout. Exhibit A: the chiseled, jacked people you see at a SUP race.

Our friend Karen Mirlenbrink, an accomplished paddler and race director for the annual Shark Bite Challenge at Honeymoon Island, bowed out of the elite race after falling and cracking her board by landing on one side of her rear end. Talk about buns of steel. How many women can crack a board with their glutes? (Pretty good testimony for Karen’s business, Dunedin Pilates.) Unfortunately for me, Karen’s equally accomplished paddling husband decided to jump in the race in my stock board division and collect the $150 first-prize purse, which presumably goes toward Karen’s new board. (Second place received $50.)

Webb, the race director, spent a lot of time pre-race making sure everyone was familiar with the course, a technical, multi-buoy layout that required nine turns per lap — two laps for the open race, four for the elite. Such instructions seemed unnecessary since he provided a terrific pre-race video of the course, something we’d like to see triathlon and obstacle racing emulate.

We love the Battle-of-the-Paddle format, which requires racers to come to the beach after each lap, run 50 yards or so through a chute and then transition quickly back onto the board, which board caddies turn around and place into position. This is SUP’s answer to triathlon’s transition and perhaps gives a bit of advantage to those of us accustomed to the quick turnarounds of triathlon or obstacle racing.

Best post-race food anywhere

Last year I showed up for this event and won $75 by default as the only guy on a stock board — as opposed to a sleeker, faster race board — to complete the elite race. I wondered if prize money was necessary, especially since the $35,000 pot for the one-and-done U.S. Open of SUP in September of 2011 in Miami didn’t attract the crowds.

Last year, I only had to finish to collect cash. Lining up before the race, I could tell there were at least a half dozen guys on stock boards entered. When the horn sounded, two shot out well in front of me. I passed two others and settled into fourth. Early in the first lap, the guy in front of me fell on a buoy turn, giving me an opening to pass.

I spent the rest of the race holding him off. As we came to the beach for each transition, people cheered us on, producing a strange dynamic. As stock board racers, we were near the back of the pack. But as third-place contenders in our division, we still had a shot at money.

By the start of the fourth lap, my shoulders and back were barking. The surf was getting choppy and my opponent closer. On long straightaways, he took a lower path and soon I could see him out of the corner of my eye. If I fell, there was no way I’d regain my lead.

As we rounded the final buoy, he made one last push. All I had to do was get to shore first and run through the finish chute. I paddled as hard as I could to shore, leaped from the board, and chugged up the sand – winning by six seconds. Afterward, my new buddy — 38-year-old Bruce Jones – offered congratulations and mentioned that he quit smoking two years ago and only has been paddling since March. Clearly I have to step up my game.

Webb raised the entry fees of the race from a $45 pre-registration rate last year to $58 this year. That’s still an incredible value considering there were no online entry fees. Plus racers got to compete in a chip-timed event with tech T-shirts and a bonus four-person relay race. Then there was the pig roast and cash to the top three finishers in multiple divisions, including $700 apiece to the men’s and women’s elite winners.

Pacifico winnings

We can’t imagine Webb is making much money on these events. But he seems to be putting a long-term model in place to benefit as the sport grows — as opposed to obstacle races, many of which seem to be pushing the limits on how much they can charge and how little they can provide.

Heck, with multiple SUP races, a pig roast, and cash money involved, who can complain about a schedule that falls behind an hour? We’re guessing we’ll continue to see smaller SUP races spring up, traditional no-frills endurance events that start and finish early. But it’s hard not be bullish on the grander SUP race experience

It’s definitely worth building a weekend around.

6 Comments

Filed under Races, SUP