By Pete Williams
WINTER GARDEN – The inaugural TGIF Twilight 5K here Friday night was a preview of what will be a four-race, Friday night summer series next summer, sort of Orlando’s answer to the longstanding Picnic Island trilogy in Tampa.
The TGIF was a tweak on the same obstacle-laden course used by Rock On Adventures for its Monster Bash Dash in May (minus the zombies) and part of the Yak-a-Thon race in July. That’s a good thing. Rock On’s Jonny Simpkins created the popular Highlander Run last year, staging it twice in Bartow, but has moved it to the sprawling Roper Ranch, which has become the home of a year-long series of endurance challenges.
Events such as the Monster Bash, which returns in October for Halloween, along with the paddle-bike-run Yak-a-Thon and TGIF, have served as tuneups of sorts for The Highlander. Simpkins, who has a background in motocross and as the owner of an irrigation company, has been able to spend months building obstacles, which will remain in place indefinitely. That gives him a bit of an advantage over some races that switch locations or, at the very least, must construct their courses in a matter of weeks.
Athletes who ran TGIF got to test a few Highlander obstacles after the race. Those included a 12-foot platform and plunge into water and a zipline. They also got a look at some monstrous tire and wall obstacles.
It’s hard to believe, given the number of obstacle races that have debuted in Florida this year, that it’s been only 10 months since the last Highlander race. It seems much longer. Remarkably, nobody has tried to duplicate Rock On’s winning formula that includes not charging for parking and providing soft, fitted, Tultex T-shirts that athletes actually will want to wear. (They gave out another for the TGIF).
Like Picnic Island, the TGIF provided custom awards to the top 30 male and top 30 female finishers – glasses featuring the race logo. Also like Picnic Island, the race attracted a younger demographic that seemed to enjoy hanging out after the race ended. We’re guessing more than a few will return for Highlander III, which takes place on Saturday, Sept. 22.