Tag Archives: Roper Ranch

Triathlon alternative: the ‘YAKathon’

By Pete Williams

Part of the Roper Ranch ‘YAKathon’ course

Jonny Simpkins is a big fan of kayaking. As the race director for such popular events as The Highlander adventure run, he hears from a lot of would-be triathletes who are intimidated by swimming.

So he created the YAKathon adventure race, which debuts Saturday (July 14) at the Roper Ranch in Clermont. Instead of swimming, athletes will kayak nearly a mile before biking off road 6.2 miles and finish by trail running roughly three miles. They’ll also run an additional mile since the transition area/start and kayak launch are about a half-mile apart.

Athletes can bring their own kayaks or use one of the 50 that will be provided. Simpkins says those of us who want to bring a stand-up paddleboard instead of kayaking are welcome to do so. A field of 250 or so is expected. (Athletes go off in waves so there will be plenty of kayaks.)

“I like putting on different races and I’m hearing from both triathletes and people interested in adventure racing,” Simpkins says. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun.”

Simpkins has a background in motocross racing and endurance sports. He’s also owned an irrigation company for years. Those were good qualifications to launch Rock On Adventures, which debuted last year with The Highlander, one of the more popular Florida-based adventure runs.

Simpkins staged The Highlander twice at a facility in Bartow but opted to move to the Roper Ranch and expand his offerings to include the Yakathon and the zombie-themed Monster Bash Dash, which debuted in May and will be back on Oct. 27. The third edition of The Highlander takes place at Roper Ranch on Sept. 22.

By using the same sprawling property for all of his events, Simpkins can overlap some of the courses. The run leg for the YAKathon, for instance, will incorporate some of the Monster Bash Dash course, including some of that race’s minor obstacles. A recent tornado took down a couple of trees on the course, which add to the challenge.

The YAKathon begins at 8 a.m. with waves of 50 every half hour. Simpkins recommends participants bring plenty of water and two pairs of shoes in case they get wet during the kayak leg. Like a triathlon, athletes will have a transition area where they can set up bikes, water, food, towels, and changes of shoes. He says most athletes will take about two hours.

“With just 250 athletes, this will be a very well-organized event that I think athletes really are going to enjoy,” Simpkins says. “Endurance athletes are always looking for something new and I’d be surprised if we didn’t have double the field next year.”

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Surviving the Monster Bash Dash

By Pete Williams

Dealing with the Grim Reaper

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – The inaugural Monster Bash Dash seemed a bit out of place here in Central Florida in late May. Zombies and monsters were positioned throughout the woodsy 5K course laid out over the Roper Ranch, giving it a bit of Halloween feel despite the steamy temperatures.

Rock On Adventures, the Clermont-based event promoters who created the successful Highlander Run last year, staged the Monster Bash Dash to give Floridians a taste of what made Run for Your Lives popular. That event attracted more than 10,000 people near Baltimore last year, a week before Halloween. (Run for Your Lives has become a national circuit this year, with a race on Nov. 17 in Clermont at Revolution Off Road, which twice hosted the Savage Race.)

Rock On had professional face painters on hand to take care of the dozens of monsters, who hid in palmetto, behind trees, and whatever other brush they could find. Athletes wore belts with two flags on their hips, which monsters lunged for the athletes attempted to go through obstacles.

My 9-year-old and I ran the daylight 6 p.m. wave, which probably didn’t give us the full monster experience, though we had a great time. Our wave was modest since most people opted for waves at 8 p.m. or later, which took place in the dark — headlamps mandatory. We only made it halfway through with our flags. At that point, we served as blockers for a 12-year-old running alongside us, though he didn’t make it to the end either.

The obstacles were mostly things hanging from trees, along with branches, and that’s where many of the monsters lurked. There also were haunted houses and a few walls, but mostly the obstacles were dodging the monsters themselves. The challenge was to speed up through the obstacles to dodge the monsters, who would pursue.

I like the concept and can see how it would do even better during Halloween season. Race director Jonny Simpkins says he’ll limit the event next time to after-dark waves. Simpkins said he and his staff pre-ran the event at 1 a.m. while setting up the course and “you didn’t even need monsters at that point. It’s pretty spooky out there.”

We were very impressed with the two Highlander obstacle races Simpkins and his better half Wendy Carson put on last year. The third one will be Sept. 22, also at the Roper Ranch. That venue also will host Rock On’s other adventures: the Yakathon (bike-kayak-run) on July 14, the cops-and-robbers themed Hot Pursuit 5K (Aug. 11), and a Halloween-time edition of the Monster Bash Dash (date TBA).

Simpkins has a background in both endurance sports and motocross racing and is the owner of an irrigation company. There are a number of things Rock On does better than anyone. They were the first to issue Tultex T-shirts, those soft, fitted, poly-cotton blend shirts that are a huge upgrade from cotton and even preferable to tech. The Monster Bash T-shirts came in two versions, one for survivors, one for the “walking dead.”

Rock On always takes kids into account, whether it’s staging kids races, having kids games and activities or simply by not making beer a focal point of the event. Rock On also does not charge for parking for participants. Perhaps that charge is reflected in the entry fee, but athletes seem to appreciate not getting nickel and dimed.

Simpkins has encouraged other obstacle race directors to adhere to high standards and a number of them were on hand helping with the Monster Bash. Given a few trainwrecks we’ve seen in this booming field, where it seems everyone is trying to get a piece of the action, some industry standards are welcome.

We’ll be excited to take on the Monster Bash again around Halloween.

Rock On.

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