Tag Archives: University of Tampa

This Race is No Picnic

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other endurance regimens to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’ll write about his progress.

By David Adams

Navigating the Picnic Island water obstacle

TAMPA – This time, I felt fresh and ready to compete. It was my third crack at the Picnic Island adventure run, the off-road summer series at a waterfront park in South Tampa.

The event Friday evening, like the previous two, was a 3.6 mile trek that included man-made obstacles and natural barriers. Competitors must be prepared to run over logs and mounds of dirt and gravel, crawl under nets and jump over tires and hurdles along the course. The route also takes athletes through water, which is always challenging.

A field of more than 500 showed up to compete in the final contest. As always, the race started at 6:45 p.m., which brought the temperature down slightly from the afternoon highs. The weather was less humid than at the start of race two, and I was thankful for the breeze the storm over Tampa had brought in. The competition almost was postponed because of lightning, but luckily the storm passed, allowing the race to start on time.

I started near the middle of the group, using the same strategy I had in the second run. Running along the beach, I began to pass competitors and reached the part of the pack I felt matched my fitness level. The trail wove around the park and doubled back several times.

The cargo net obstacle early in the race

I find when I run past a part of the course multiple times it tends to play mind games with me.  The psychological tactic of weaving the course around on itself was one of the most challenging aspects of the race from my perspective.

Like the first two races, there were three obstacles just after the halfway point. The first is a short crawl under cargo netting, followed by tires, and finished up with a small hurdle to leap over. After the obstacles are completed the back part of the course forces runners into shallow water, then through marsh and muddy areas before coming out onto asphalt road. After a short stint on the asphalt, contestants are brought back into the grass, and double back on yet another part of the track they already have run.

The race ends with a run through sand, heading into waist deep water where participants must wade out to a buoy and circle it before heading for the finish.  Once I reached the buoy, I summoned what was left of my endurance and ran as hard as I could through the water and to the finish line.

Crossing the finish line, I looked at the clock: 34:07. It was displayed in large bright green numbers, and I’m sure onlookers could have read the disappointment on my face.

The author post-race

Over the last three months, I have been tailoring my training in an attempt to improve my time each race. The first run I completed in 35:35, which left room for plenty of improvement.  During the first race, the tide was high and the back part of the course went through waist deep water. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the final two adventure runs, and I am forced to own my finishing times with no “high tide” excuses.

I completed the second race in 34:17, and while the time was more than one minute faster than the first heat, the lack of high water left me disappointed with my result.  As well as finishing in what I felt was a slow time, my overall place dropped between the first and second races.  I finished 101st overall in the first race, 117th in the second.  Much to my dismay, I only rose to 114th overall at the end of the third race, with a finishing time of 34:07.

This three-race series has taught me a lot about where my cardio fitness level is and has given me the motivation to improve my endurance. Although I am pleased with progressive improvement after each run, I realize that I can do better. During the final event, I had to slow to a “jog” twice, and was out of breath just after the halfway point. I felt like I was in better shape at the start of the first run than I am now.

A foot injury in June forced me to stop running for nearly three weeks, and afterwards I did not train with the same intensity I had earlier in the summer. Like the drill sergeants said in basic training, “The only person you’re cheating is yourself when you slack during workouts.”

My foot injury caused a drop in my self-confidence, and I ended up cheating myself out of a great finishing time at the end of the final two Picnic Island runs. I don’t intend to let that happen again.

Now that I have fully recovered, I plan to hit the road harder than ever. My goal is to compete in my first triathlon by the end of my time writing for Endurance Sports Florida. Athletes spend months getting ready to compete in these events, and I believe that triathlons are one of the most physically demanding competitions that anyone can take part in. I have serious respect for triathletes, and am amazed at the men and women who are strong enough to regularly compete in them. I hope that by the end of the summer I will be physically and mentally ready to compete in my first triathlon.

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A Cardio Wake-up Call

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other endurance regimens to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’ll write about his progress.

By David Adams

Off road at Picnic Island

On Friday evening I participated in my first obstacle course since leaving the Army, the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa.

Hundreds of competitors showed up, and the starting line was crowded. The course design was challenging, and many elements of the race were similar to obstacle runs and competitions I took part in while in the military. I finished the 3.6-mile course in 101st place overall (out of 274 men) with a time of 35:35.

My conditioning (or lack thereof) played a major role in my finish and although I am in good physical condition, Picnic Island was a cardio wake-up call.

Picnic Island is a beach park offering amazing views of Tampa Bay, nestled behind a small industrial district at the very end of Westshore Boulevard. The course was designed with endurance running in mind as right from the start we were running in sand. After a short distance, the route led us into shin-deep water, soaking my shoes and ensuring the rest of my run would be completed in wet footwear.

From there, the race took an uphill turn and led us from the beach into the park. Other obstacles were set up throughout the race in addition to several areas where runners were forced to wade through waist-deep water. The obstacles included a small area of dirt hills, a low crawl underneath cargo netting, a tire run, and a small “wall” jump. At the very end of the race we were required to swim out into the bay around a floating buoy and back to shore.

Compared to the obstacle courses and competitive runs I took part in while in the military, Picnic Island was very challenging. The major difference was the obstacles. Those in military competition were usually more physically demanding. For example, instead of crawling in sand under a cargo net, during my training in Air Assault School we conducted an obstacle course that required trainees to low crawl through mud underneath barbed wire.

Other than the difference in obstacle construction, there were no other glaring differences. If anything, the course design of Picnic Island took runners on a more demanding route than any of my Army runs.

Runners must wade around a buoy

My conditioning at the start of this race was not what I was hoping. I twice had to stop for ten-second breathers, which was very disappointing. Although I run regularly during my training schedule, I never thought to run off-road. I paid the price as I was gassed by the end of the run. I have made the decision to change my training regimen and tailor it more towards endurance and cardio training over the summer in hopes of improving my run times over the summer.

I had a great time at Picnic Island, and I view it as a valuable learning experience.  I am going to strive for improvement on my run times, and am planning to start off-road running on a regular basis in an attempt to improve my endurance.  While 35:35 might not be the fastest time, I am happy with the results of my first adventure run, and look forward to seeing marked improvement after my next race.

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How Do CrossFit, Boot Camps and Obstacle Races Compare to Military Training?

Editor’s Note: How do popular fitness regimens such as boot camps, CrossFit, and obstacle race preparation compare to actual military training? We’ve assigned David Adams to find out. A U.S. Army veteran who was twice deployed to Iraq, David now is a University of Tampa student and avid fitness enthusiast. For the next three months, he’ll train via every popular fitness routine and enter Central Florida obstacle races to see which is the best preparation – and if any of them measure up to actual military PT. David will compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa Friday night (May 11) and write periodically on his findings. He’ll also report on endurance sports news and trends. Here’s his preview of the next three months.

By David Adams

I joined the Army in the spring of 2004 and left for basic training that September. While I always considered myself athletic oriented, once I arrived at boot camp I was introduced into a new world of fitness.

My fellow trainees and I were subjected to a full range of physically demanding activities during 16 weeks of training. Long-distance running and road marches left me nursing large blisters, shin splints, and other lower body injuries.

The first few weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia were hell. Never had I trained at such an intense level. The intensity had its payoffs, though, and when I graduated basic training in December I was in better shape than during any of my athletic seasons in high school. Being in shape took on a whole new meaning. Instead of hitting the gym and throwing iron around, my world became cardio oriented as I hit the roads and fields running, ruck-marching, and sprinting.

After basic training, I was permanently stationed with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Although I had received an Army Physical Fitness Training award for my scores on the fitness tests, training at my unit was more intense than basic. CrossFit-like routines and long distance runs occurred daily. Our company held regular competitions, pitting platoons against one another. Obstacle courses, forced march-and-shoots, Humvee pushes or pulls, tire flips, and water drum sprints were the more elaborate innovations and, as always, no competition would be complete without pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and lots of running.

I developed a love-hate relationship with these events. I hated them because they were physically demanding. It was a common sight to see soldiers running to the bushes or hunching by the side of the road to deposit their breakfasts, and it happened to me more than a few times over the course of my 5 ½-year Army career.

Although the workouts took the word intensity to a whole new level, nothing was more rewarding than finishing, unless of course your platoon finished on top. After the competitions we felt as though we had accomplished something great. Those are the moments I will always remember, celebrating with my fellow platoon mates after we finished at the top of our company, going out for a victory meal with the guys.

The Army opened my eyes to a different kind of fitness, one that has more real world applications than any other type of training. After two Iraq deployments, hundreds of physical training competitions, thousands of “fun” runs, and what felt like millions of pushups and sit-ups, I was released from active duty.

In January 2010, just two days after my release, I enrolled full-time at the University of Tampa.  I try to go to the firing range on a regular basis to keep up with my shooting skills, but I would be lying if I said I was anywhere near the same level as when I was a full-time soldier.

One facet of the military is so engrained in my head I doubt I will ever lose it: the need to be in the best physical shape possible. The Army educated me on the importance of living healthy, and although I am no longer a soldier, I always try to keep myself in constant “fighting” shape.  Physical training is important, not just for the body, but for the mind as well. Intense training helps with focus, mood, and concentration. Completing rigorous training gives an athlete a feeling of accomplishment unlike any other.

Over the summer, I will be competing in various athletic events in and around Tampa. Since my enlistment ended, I have not competed in an obstacle course, CrossFit competition, or adventure run of any kind.  I am curious to see how these civilian-designed events match up with the intense training I handled during my time as an infantry soldier. My first run will be on Friday, May 11th, when I compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run.

I’m looking forward to pushing myself and chronicling my latest training journeys here at EnduranceSportsFlorida.com.

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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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