Tag Archives: running

Running and Life Lessons from Forrest Gump

By Pete Williams

Gump-posterSunday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Forrest Gump,” the iconic, Oscar-winning film that established Tom Hanks as perhaps America’s most beloved actor.

Sure, he won an Academy Award for his role in “Philadelphia” the year before and his performance in “A League of Their Own” in 1992 might rank as his most underrated. But Forrest Gump finally transitioned Hanks, at 37, from ‘80s comedies into a top-of-the-A-list leading man.

When we look at the growth of running in the last 20 years, nobody played a bigger role than Forrest Gump. He wasn’t responsible for the initial boom in running in the late 1970s. That was movie fiction, unlike his influence on Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Watergate, of course. But Gump did trigger the mid-1990s running explosion usually attributed to Oprah Winfrey.

It was Oprah, after all, who in 1994 ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 4 hours, 29 minutes, inspiring countless folks who figured if Oprah could do it, well, so could they. But Oprah ran past many of the Washington landmarks seen in “Forrest Gump” nearly five months after the movie’s release. By then, “Run, Forrest, Run,” had become the phrase of the year, with thousands taking up running, like Forrest, “for no particular reason.”

Oprah didn’t stick with running, though her 4:29, which seemed modest 20 years ago is a more impressive showing now that so many more people compete in marathons and median times have gone up by 25 or so minutes according to Running in the USA, which tracks such stats. (Median marathon time for women in 1995 was 4:15 as opposed to 4:42 in 2013).

Forrest, meanwhile, keeps running and running on screen, where he’ll be re-released later this year. He’s forever 37 – or 31, really, since Hanks’ younger brother, Jim, served as double for some of the coast-to-coast running scenes featuring a bearded Forrest in his Nike Cortez shoes.

According to Running in the USA, the number of marathon finishers has grown from 293,000 in 1995 to 541,000. That’s only a fraction of the running industry, which includes ultra runs, trail runs, obstacle races, themed runs, and countless 5K races, none of which even offered online registration in July of 1994.

Channeling Forrest Gump at a 5K in 2011

Channeling Forrest Gump at a 5K in 2011

I’ve always felt a kinship with Hanks. At 12, people told me I looked like him, which I wasn’t sure how to take considering Hanks was dressing in drag on “Bosom Buddies” at the time. In 1994, I went as Forrest Gump for Halloween, winning two costume contests, and the white suit, blue plaid shirt, and sneakers still is my go-to outfit when I can’t come up with other Halloween attire. I’ve even run a 5K dressed as Forrest Gump.

I’ve probably watched “Forrest Gump” thirty times and still cry when Lieutenant Dan shows up at Forrest and Jenny’s wedding with his titanium “magic” legs. (Hanks recently said he cries at that point, too.)

There are so many lessons from “Forrest Gump” and not just for running:

MIX IN SOME INTERVALS: Sure, Forrest slogged across the country for more than three years at presumably the same modest pace. Many runners use this template, aiming to run longer rather than faster.

But Forrest was a fast runner. He burst out of his childhood leg braces to outrun bullies and soon was running everywhere at a breakneck pace. In high school, he found another gear to outrun those same bullies, now driving a pick-up, and parlayed that into a University of Alabama football scholarship, where he was an All-American return man. (Most underrated actor in “Forrest Gump?” Sonny Schroyer, who played Bear Bryant after starring as Enos on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Now there’s an actor with some range.)

Forrest running at typical brisk pace.

Forrest running at typical brisk pace.

Forrest learned how to run fast first, kicking it up a notch further in Vietnam, and then extended his distance, ultimately running coast-to-coast several times.

The lesson? Focus on running fast and the distance will naturally follow.

NO TECH NEEDED: “Forrest Gump” had an impressive soundtrack and as Forrest runs across the country dealing with Jenny’s most recent departure we hear Jackson Browne (“Running on Empty”), the Doobie Brothers (“It Keeps You Runnin’”) and Bob Seger (“Against the Wind”).

Not a bad runner’s playlist for 1980 or so, though Forrest ran without technology. That’s because there wasn’t any. The bulky Sony Walkman had just been introduced, though not really available, and few people tracked heart rate, up-to-the-second mileage or pace for the rest of the decade.

Instead, Forrest – like other runners of that era – focused on his mind, body, and the breathtaking scenery he was passing.

“Like that mountain lake,” he explained to Jenny later. “It was so clear. It looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It’s so beautiful.”

FOCUS: Forrest didn’t have technology and other digital distraction. Instead, he applied a laser focus to whatever he pursued, whether it was cleaning his rifle, rescuing fallen soldiers, keeping his eye on the pingpong ball, following Bubba’s shrimp business plan, running, or cutting grass.

Though the movie didn’t take place in 1994, it came out not long before the Internet arrived and changed our lives forever. We’re supposed to be smarter than Forrest Gump, though these days nobody can stay focused on anything. How much could we accomplish by applying a Gump-like focus to our lives?

Gump-running2As his fellow soldier taught him about pingpong: “No matter what happens, never, ever take your eye off the ball.”

MOW LAWNS (OR SOMETHING SIMILAR): Like a lot of Generation X guys, I learned a lot about life by mowing lawns. It taught time management, entrepreneurial skills, the value of physical labor, and even some basic engine maintenance. Pre-teen and teenage boys no longer mow lawns and that’s a shame since they miss out on this experience, which includes seeing the beautiful result of your work in a freshly groomed lawn. Forrest Gump understood this, which is why even after becoming a multimillionaire he spent his days mowing lawns, cutting the high school football field for free. When he was running across America and the newscaster referred to him as a “gardener from Greenbow, Alabama,” you got the impression he’d be proud of that title.

GumpShoesTALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOR: Forrest met the love of his life (Jenny) and his best good friend and would-be business partner (Bubba) by talking to people on the bus. I know several married couples that met on airplanes as well as folks who have landed jobs and built business relationships by striking up conversations on planes, trains, and subways. It’s easier to live in a digital cocoon, but there’s huge upside to being friendly. Maybe the bigger takeaway is to be more like Jenny and Bubba and offer a seat rather than hope you get more space to yourself.

EXECUTE THE PIVOT: Forrest went from All-American football star to war hero to pingpong celebrity to shrimp entrepreneur to running icon by building upon his past successes. Sure, his life was all about serendipity, but he leveraged relationships (Bubba, Lt. Dan), his success in one field (pingpong), and hard work to generate the $25,000 start-up capital and build the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. into a household name.

FIND YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVE ON RELIGION: Forrest wasn’t a particularly religious guy. He prayed for shrimp, joining the choir at the Four Square Baptist Church, and made a sizable donation to the church after the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. took off. Forrest is a compassionate man who spends time thinking about destiny and Lt. Dan’s relationship with the man upstairs. For the most part, though, he just lives life by the golden rule.

Lt. Dan: “Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”
Forrest: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

I’ve used that line several times when people come to my door pitching religion.

GumpShrimpGET A GOOD INVESTMENT ADVISOR: After he made a fortune as a shrimpin’ boat captain, Forrest turned to Lt. Dan, who “got me invested in some kind of fruit company.” We see an image of Forrest pulling a letter out of the mailbox from Apple Computer. It was good for a laugh on July 6, 1994. If only we had known.

Actually, if you went home from the theater that day – or pretty much any day for the next decade – and invested $30,000 in what is now Apple Inc., it would be worth roughly $2 million today. If only we had known.

LOOK OUT FOR MINI-ME: Forrest learned what all parents come to understand about children. You will end up with at least one kid who is an exaggerated version of you, showing more talent for your skills (i.e. pingpong) and replicating your head tilt to the left and other quirks.

Those kids will bring great joy and laughter to your lives.

And they will be smarter than you.




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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.

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Strength, Speed and Endurance

By Pete Williams

Eric Hall hammers on the bike at the Top Gun Triathlon at Fort DeSoto Park in July.

TAMPA – Spend a few mornings training here at the University of Tampa under Eric Hall and you get an idea why the school’s strength and conditioning coach is one of the top sprint triathletes in Florida.

Hall, 32, doesn’t look like your typical triathlete and not just because of an intricate tribal tattoo that covers his arms, back, and torso and makes him easy to spot in crowded transition areas. At 5-foot-10 and nearly 190 pounds, he’s technically a borderline Clydesdale, though he has the lean, muscular physique of a sprinter.

That’s because Hall, unlike most endurance athletes, has embraced strength training as a key component of his endurance sports arsenal. It’s why he can kick off his Monday mornings with a 90-minute workout with UT’s baseball or softball teams, two groups of anaerobic athletes undergoing offseason programs, and still derive a huge benefit for his triathlon training.

He’ll lead the teams through grueling sessions that can include deadlifts, lunges, RDLs, weighted pull-ups, resisted runs, and any of dozens of other movements that usually conclude with a series of incline sprints in one of UT’s parking garages. It’s never the same workout twice; Hall typically spends about an hour on the following day’s workout, mixing and matching movements before posting a photo of his handwritten assignment on his Facebook page for those who want added inspiration to get to bed early.

A Dade City native who spent four years in the Army before being spotted at local running races and recruited to run at UT, Hall graduated from the Division II downtown Tampa school and in 2005 became the Spartans strength and conditioning coach, one of few in the Sunshine State Conference. He’s trained four national championship teams – volleyball, women’s soccer, and baseball (twice) – and doesn’t just coach the athletes; he works out alongside them, albeit with far heavier weights.

One-arm lifts building stability are a key part of Hall's program

Such work capacity sessions might seem like overkill for endurance athletes already putting in long weekly hours, though a few of Hall’s triathlon colleagues jump in on Mondays, recognizing the benefits of increasing power output, maximizing movement efficiency, and enabling them to cut back on long, slow, distance training. Others show up on Wednesdays, when Hall leaves the weights untouched, preferring pre-hab work on the shoulders, ankles, and hips with resistance bands.

Endurance athletes are just as notorious for ignoring pre-hab as they are strength training, preferring to stay laser-focused on logging long hours and mileage. That’s counterproductive and likely to lead to injury, says Hall, who logs just 25 miles running each week and rarely swims at all outside of the 12 to 15 triathlons – nearly all sprints – he does each year. Still, he’s a contender in every race he enters, including 5Ks, where he’ll typically log a time under 16:30.

We caught up with Hall recently after one of his typical 90-minute Monday sessions.

Endurance Sports Florida: Why is it endurance athletes are the only athletes who gauge their success by the ability to go longer as opposed to faster?

Hall: It’s true, but I don’t think that way as an endurance athlete. When people tell me they’re going to do a marathon, I think, “I could do a marathon at your pace, but could you run a sub five-minute mile?” The reason I can do that kind of speed is because of my strength training. The faster you run, the more impact your body’s absorbing. There’s a reason sprinters look the way they do. I have coupled my strength training with endurance, which is extremely important. But it’s not like I just do weight lifting. I do them in correlation with each other. Over the years I’ve learned how to put them both together to where I’m not world caliber but I can still compete at a pretty high level.

ESF: Is that a tough sell to endurance athletes?

Hall: It can be. They automatically tune out because once I say “strength,” they think that’s going to make them slower. It takes a while for an athlete to buy in but I can justify it because I use it myself. I understand what power development and strength training is going to do for the endurance athlete. It makes them less injury prone, more structurally sound and makes their running economy more efficient. That’s why I don’t have to go out and log 60 miles a week (running) to have that aerobic capacity because I’m incorporating my strength training. I’m a huge believer in that.

Resisted runs prepare athletes for the end-of-race sprint.

ESF: What’s a typical running week like for you?

Hall: No more than 25 (miles) a week and I can get away with that because I have the running background. You’re also talking about a pace that’s threshold. There’s never a long, slow day for me. But I’m not training for a half marathon or marathon. My mileage would change but not my strength training. That’s what makes me structurally sound and more efficient to where I can handle more stress and endurance on the road. Running is constant impact. If I can make my body structurally sounder in my joints and ligaments that’s going to allow me to be more efficient for a longer period of time on that end run. I have no doubt I could run a half marathon or marathon right now and still compete at a high level with my minimal training.

ESF: We did some resisted runs this morning, running hard as a partner provided resistance with a band. How will that translate during a race?

Hall: The idea is to teach the body to turn over and have as many ground contacts as possible. You’re fooling your body for a  duration of 20-25 seconds over a 20-yard mat. It simulates the intensity of a 200-meter all-out sprint.  For that 15 yards you should be trashed as if it were that sprint. It teaches the body that duration, the oxygen debt. By the time you get three-quarters of the way done, you’re laboring and the speed diminishes. That’s where it’s most important and I look for the ability to maintain that speed.

Wrapping up the run at Fort DeSoto

Now think of how a race ends up – in a sprint. In triathlon, the run is a suffer fest. It’s not about who is the fastest runner. I beat the fastest runners out there all the time because I can be more efficient off the bike to recover, and run. I can get on a bike, which is a machine, and produce a lot of power, which leaves me more efficient for the run. When it comes to running, if your body is not exposed to that kind of stimulus, that kind of oxygen debt, and then you go out and try to run at race pace, what happens? It shuts down. Oxygen debt, you’re done.

I always want to train certain days of the week 15 percent faster than race pace. So I’ll run one mile – just one mile – off of my bike rides at 30 percent faster than race pace because I want my body exposed to that, even if it’s for one mile. Then I can carry that. It’s no longer foreign to my body when I get off the bike, so now I can go at my usual race pace and it’s not traumatic. The reason people suffer off the bike is that they never run faster than race pace. That’s why track workouts are so important. You’re running faster than race pace. I want to put myself in that position all the time so when it comes to a race, I’m already exposed to it. I can get off that bike and run at a good clip because I’m used to running at that faster pace.

ESF: So what’s a typical brick workout like for you?

Hall: Most of the time it’s 16 miles and no more than three miles off the bike. Last Saturday I ran just one mile off the bike but it was a 5:18. It’s only a mile, but now I know when I’m in a race situation that 5:30 won’t seem that bad because I’ve exposed my body to the stimulus. Everything I do, and what I encourage others to do, is to always think in terms of simulating race time situations.

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Working a Savage Tan

By Pete Williams

Savage Racers

I just signed up for The Savage Race, the Aug. 27 event in Clermont billed as “the race built to kick your ass.”

If nothing else, it might be the hottest race the ever-expanding obstacle mud run category, which includes at least 22 events put on by 17 companies this year in Florida alone. High temperatures in Clermont are projected by Weather.com to be 89 degrees on Aug. 27 — last wave goes off at noon, so that’s entirely possible.

I’m interested to see what will set the Savage Race apart. For starters, there’s a lake swim where athletes go across a 150-yard body of water that’s deep in the middle. That should separate the swimmers from the pretenders. (Like most obstacle runs, I’m guessing there’s an alternative punishment for those unable or unwilling to complete a challenge). The now-familiar mud run standards will be there: mud, barbwire, one free beer, $10 parking, etc.

I did Muddy Buddy in April, The Spartan Race in June and am signed up for Tough Mudder in December. Who knows? Maybe I’ll jump in a few more before the Year of the Obstacle Mud Run is over.

If nothing else, I’ll be prepared. Saturday is another edition of Tough Mudder training at The Next Level Training Center in Tampa at 10 a.m. It’s no charge and definitely worth it – if you can take the heat.

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Race of the Week: Spring into Summer 5K

By Pete Williams

Running at Al Lopez Park

Lynn Gray is a one-woman running conglomerate in the Tampa Bay area. An accomplished age-group runner of all distances, she’s mentored countless runners through her Take the First Step Club. She’s also an author, triathlete, featured trainer in The St. Petersburg Times, and part of the team behind the upcoming Spring into Summer 5K.

The race, which takes place at Tampa’s Al Lopez Park on Saturday, June 4 at 8 a.m., is known for it’s many raffle prizes and large turnout, especially among women. It’s a popular first-time 5K, though many return year after year to do a fast course with a great post-race party.

We spoke with Gray about running and the race this week on The Fitness Buff Show.

Name of Race: Spring into Summer 5K

History: Eighth-annual event

Format: One loop course through shady Al Lopez Park, located near Raymond James Stadium and Jesuit High School in Tampa. Also a one-mile Kids Fun Run.

Amenities: T-shirts, post-race food, raffles, 3-deep age-group awards

Signature Features: Numerous raffle prizes, including donations from multiple Tampa Bay area running stores. “A lot of people are going to go home with something,” Gray says.

Projected Turnout: 350-plus

Cost: $25 for 5K; $10 for Kids Fun Run

Sign-Up: Via Active.com or download a printable copy HERE

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Martin Dugard’s ‘To be a Runner’

By Pete Williams

Martin Dugard's latest

Martin Dugard is best known for immersing himself into cultures to produce best-selling books such as Into Africa and The Last Voyage of Columbus, collaborating with Mark Burnett on Survivor-related books, and chronicling his own adventures in top magazines.

But he’s also one of the most prolific endurance sports journalists in the industry, having written the book Chasing Lance and countless magazine articles that have appeared in Runner’s World, Sports Illustrated, and Esquire.

Somehow he finds the time to coach high school cross country in Southern California. In his terrific new book To Be a Runner, Dugard, who turns 50 in June, weaves a lifetime of running experiences into interesting life lessons

We spoke with Dugard on The Fitness Buff Show. You can listen to that interview here or read an edited transcript below.

Q: You write about running “in the tempo zone” as a broader metaphor for life. What do you mean by that?

A: We’re going to have struggles; it goes with the territory. The trick is how you deal with it. Put yourself in the moment and no matter what you do keep everything smooth and level and not let your fears and anxiety overcome you and not burning the candles at both ends. It’s finding that place, that smooth place where you find that balance and that piece of mind and, yeah, that tempo. When you run, when you’re in a really good run where you find that rhythm and groove it just carries you and if you can find that same thing in daily life it’s just an amazing feeling.

Q: You live by the motto of “keep pushing always” and never accepting mediocrity. What’s your philosophy behind that?

A: We live in this world of people getting trophies just for showing up, just for breathing essentially, so we’ve become a culture of that accepts mediocrity, that accepts the status quo. At some point we kind of hold people at arm’s length who dare to push their limits every day but I think that’s what running is all about. When you run, just putting your shoes on and getting out the door, you’re making a choice to be a better version of yourself. And that decision is not just with running but with writing or parenting or coaching. If we push ourselves day by day to be better we change not only ourselves but the world around us.

Q: How does running help you overcome writer’s block?

A: This morning when I was writing I was in a funk. I couldn’t find the right words and everything I wrote seemed boring. I don’t know what happens but when I put my shoes on and head for the trailhead a half mile from my house, within five minutes the words started forming in my head. Something takes place when you step outside yourself where you don’t think so much but let things talk back to you. I just finished a screenplay. It wasn’t just narrative, it was actual characters and I’d go run and these characters talked to me to the point where they became real people. So when I began to write their dialogue I got back to the office and knew what to write. Running helps us organize our thoughts, our decision making process and frees us up to think and to write with a lot more clarity.

Q: You live around some beautiful trails with some dangerous wildlife. Any close calls?

A: I’ve had more close calls than I realize. I know mountain lions are out there. I never run on trails at dusk or dawn, which is prime feeding time. I’ll hear the snakes moving in the dry grass or I’ll see the paw prints and wonder if that’s a dog, coyote or mountain lion. I’ve seen them in the distance, seen bobcats. But I wouldn’t run as much if I couldn’t run on trails and that’s one of the tradeoffs. You have to suspend fears and keep your eyes and ears open, but there’s nothing like trail running. It changes your world view and just your entire day when you’re out there.

Q: What do you attribute the latest running boom to?

A: Whenever there are hard times economically running spikes and I don’t know why that is but I know running has changed. When I became a runner it was more competition driven, more people running sub 3-hour marathons that today. You see a lot of people who just like the feeling of doing a half marathon at their pace. They may walk some but they’ll see their friends and have a great day. It’s not about competition, but attempting something that’s beyond your ability and that’s where running is going.

Q: Is running an easier sell to kids today?

A: Cross-country runners are still kind of geeky but with the success of my girls team and the boys to a lesser extent, we’ve had more kids come out and just try it. They learn all of these great things that come from running, the idea of perseverance and putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll finish the goal. When I competed in high school, the girls were treated like girls, definitely considered the weaker sex. Now I coach the girls team the same way as boys, just as hard and demanding. The girls step up and I think mentally they’re tougher and they allow themselves to compete and be a little bit of a badass and change their definition of what it means to be a runner.

Q: How do get people past the notion of running as “long, slow distance?”

A: It’s really a misnomer. When Arthur Lydiard coined LSD he meant long, steady distance and that’s a difference. Even now I have runners say that since they worked hard yesterday today they’re going to just jog four miles. No, let’s go a little deeper, 85 percent instead of down to 75 percent. A couple friends of mine, women, have asked me to draw up marathon programs. They’re non-runners or at least first-time marathon runners and I asked them to do speed work. Not four 100s in 60 seconds but simple vvo2 stuff – 200 on, 100 off – and the great thing is it informs your form and that translates into your next run even if it’s a longer run. At first they don’t think they can do it and feel uncomfortable on the track. But once you introduce them to speed as opposed to volume they push themselves and get more competitive.

Q: Do you find that’s the ‘aha’ moment for many runners?

A: I totally find that. There are days I don’t get that run in the morning and I only have 25 minutes later and I need to do something. If I do something as simple as a 200 at 2-mile pace followed by a 100 jog with the same work to rest ratio within six or seven laps I’m drenched with sweat. Within 20 minutes, I’ve had a great workout, my endorphin levels are off the chart, I feel great and in that short period of time I have gotten a little more efficient.

Q: How is running a metaphor for overcoming obstacles?

A: It’s funny. When I wrote this book I didn’t set out to write it this way. I had some thoughts about running and as I wrote these essays these themes came through and I realized what a profound change running has made in my life. I road bike and mountain bike but you’re at the mercy of a machine if you get a flat. If you run, you’re in charge. It’s just you and there’s something fortifying about that. Those themes came forward and I wanted to spread the word.

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Escaping from Fort DeSoto

By Pete Williams

ST. PETERSBURG – For all of the growth in triathlon over the last decade, there are a number of races that have been around for more than two decades – and not just a little October gathering in Kona.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, the Escape from Fort DeSoto Triathlon marked its 25th running this morning with more than 1,000 athletes competing. Most opted to forgo the wetsuits. Water temperatures were 74.5 degrees but seemed warmer. They also were surprisingly choppy, at least by our standards. We filed this report:

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Filed under Cycling, Races, Running, Swimming, Triathlon

Race of the Week: Valencia 5K

By Pete Williams

Orlando, April 9, 6 p.m.

We’re changing the format of our Race of the Week, recognizing that it makes more sense to preview a race that’s the following week instead of one just a few days away. This way, athletes have plenty of time to register and adjust calendars accordingly. We’re also going to focus only on events that are not sold out and accept race-day registration.

This week’s focus is on the sixth-annual Valencia 5K, which takes place at the west campus of Valencia Community College in Orlando on Saturday, April 9 at 6 p.m. College-themed runs are becoming increasingly popular and the organizers of this race, recognizing that early starts don’t coincide with the sleep schedules of most college students, have moved this year’s event to an evening start time.

Name of Race: Valencia 5K

Location: Valencia Community College (West Campus) 1800 South Kirkman Road, Orlando, FL 32811

History: This is a sixth-annual event and the first in an evening timeslot, which no doubt will be more attractive to Valencia college students, who make up a large chunk of the field. Event proceeds go to Valencia CC scholarship funds.

Format: Single-loop course through Valencia’s west campus. Also a free run for kids 10 and under immediately following the 5K.

Schwag: Commemorative T-shirts guaranteed to pre-registered runners.

Signature Feature: Students race in their own division for awards.

Projected Turnout: 300-plus

Post-race: Refreshments, along with arts and crafts for kids.

Cost: $22 through April 3; $27 April 4-8; $30 day of race. Various discounts for Valencia students, alumni, and other school affiliated.

Sign-Up: Online via official site

Interesting twist: With the Muddy Buddy event at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports moving this from Mother’s Day weekend to April 9 (7:15 a.m. start) and the Valencia 5K moving to an evening time, athletes can enjoy a challenging day-night double-header in Orlando.

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The Simple Science of Natural Running

By Pete Williams

Natural Running

As a running coach and maker of custom orthotics in the late 1980s, Danny Abshire wondered why so many runners got injured.

He realized many were overstriding and landing improperly due to shoes designed to make runners land on the heel rather than on the forefoot as nature intended.

The notion of barefoot or minimalist running shoes was popularized by Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book Born to Run in 2009. Abshire, a co-founder of Newton Running, is an advocate of “natural” running, using a properly designed shoe that both protects the foot from the elements and promotes a natural gait.

In his new book Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running, Abshire shows runners how to find this happy medium. We spoke to Abshire recently on The Fitness Buff Show. You can listen to that interview or read an edited transcript below.

Q: What was your a-ha moment when your realized people were running improperly?

A: It took a long time to realize what was going on. Great coaches like Danny Dreyer were coming along at that time (late ‘80s) and they were trying to get people to alter their gait to natural running. They didn’t realize footwear was getting in the way and once we kind of studied how people were running barefoot and began to cut shoes down lengthwise, we were seeing that the heel of the shoe was getting higher off the ground. If you were standing barefoot and shoved something under your foot that lifts your heel just a half inch, you see how it alters your posture. I was introduced to (runner) Brian Russell who was working on an alternative to foam and moving to absorb shock better. This was the basis of it all back in 1995-96 when we started working on this process.

Q: What’s happening when your heel is raised?

A: Again, if you’re barefoot, put anything under your heel and you’ll notice automatically. Your hips have to tilt to accommodate. They tip forward and we have to balance over the highpoint. The upper body has to lean backwards to get over that highpoint to provide balance. Even with the most expensive running shoes, if you’re walking around on those all day, you’ll have sore heels because you’re loading up to 50 percent of your body weight on a high heel. A lot of people complain that even in their best shoes, if they stand in them all day their lower back hurts and their heels are sore because of this unequal weight distribution. I try to wear a more level shoe during the day and that aids in your running. With that high heel, you’re chronically tightening your calf muscle group, which pulls on your Achilles, which pulls on your plantar fascia and your upper body has to adjust. So people feel soreness in the lower back. You’ll pull your hamstring in that tilted position and tighten the hip flexors.

Foam lessons the communication of the forefoot to the ground. If you’ve been heel striking, it’s like putting on the brakes. People think it’s natural to push off hard when we run and it’s not. When we push, we strain all these propulsive muscles. It’s counterintuitive that people have been told so long that okay to heel strike. You roll through your step and then you push off. That describes how humans walk. It’s safe to heel strike at a walking speed. If you try to sprint or use a walking form for long distance running, there are a lot of injuries associated with that stop-and-start motion.

Q: Why did shoe companies years ago take the opposite approach?

A: There was not a test to test the forefoot of any athletic shoe. When things began developing in the early 1960s, all we had were flat Chuck Taylors for basketball and minimalist running shoes. Once companies started applying protection from concrete and asphalt, for some reason they decided to put it in the heel. The heel is very unstable when you’re moving quickly. Walking, that’s fine at that speed. If you’re in a running mode, think of an athletic position like basketball. The ankles and knees are flexed. If the shoe starts to alter that, your balance will be less than 100 percent. It would be great to adjust all footwear across all sports. At Newton, since we’re so tiny, we’re focused on running, which is our passion.

Q: How do you get back to a natural running gait?

A: You can do some drills that are easy to understand. If you march in place, you’ll notice that you’re lifting from the core. We have to lift our leg off the ground. It’s very stable and the ball of your foot touches, the heel settles and you lift again. That’s how you want to run. How do we go forward? March in place and then fall forward like a tree being cut at a lower level. Take short quick steps, lifting from the core. Now you’re just balancing instead of braking and pushing. Every track drill – high knees, butt kicks, skipping – is intended to have you land underneath your mass and quicken your cadence. Run like you’re running on hot coals. Lift quickly off the ground and touch quickly. Less impact, quicker speed. We’re trying to go back to one-legged balance as opposed to braking and pushing.

Q: In your book you talk about making this transition back to natural running as an eight-week process. Why eight weeks?

A: We throw that out as a worse case scenario for those really starting from scratch and having a hard time transitioning. Some athletes who are cognizant of what’s going on can transition rapidly. Others should take their time. If you’ve been running this way for years, you have to break down some of these muscle firing patterns and change them. People go from heel striking and they think it’s about running on your toes and that’s not it. We have to think of it as marching, feeling the core, and falling forward. You don’t have to take eight weeks, but if you do it right and gradually progress and think of using less power rather than more, your transition will be smoother. It’s an ongoing process of learning how we move from a strength and balance standpoint. We don’t have to heel strike. It’s simply lifting off the ground with the core and falling forward.

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