Sunday, December 22, 2013

Snow sighted in Sarasota at the Frosty 5K

While a cold weather front blankets the north with snowy skies we Floridians have found a different way to celebrate the season, it involves costumes, fake snow, a beer truck and 700 runners. That's right, the Frosty 5K took place this past weekend in Sarasota and it attracted a monster crowd of endurance junkies who were warmly wrapped in the Christmas spirit.

The event brought in running groups from all over southwest Florida as well as visitors from as far away as Canada. Attendees added flair to the occasion wearing reindeer antlers, sparkly red Christmas shorts or simply dressing as Frosty the snowman. However, Frosty himself showed up wearing his running shoes. He was made of snow but the children know that he ran the Frosty 5K and boy did he run fast. Well, who could blame him? With the morning temperature reaching 80 degrees, Frosty had to finish the race before he melted.

The Frosty 5K is organized by the Active Suncoast Foundation and is one of the most scenic runs in the area. It starts on a road inside Twin Lakes park, a gathering point that can comfortably hold 665 runners before the arch. There would have been more runners if not for a car fire on I-75 North that caused some to miss the race. After the obligatory announcements, playing of the national anthem and early start of the Care2Tri duo, the race began.

The fleet of feet banked right through the parking lot then right again down towards the entrance. Before reaching the street they veered onto a grass section which took them into the adjacent neighborhood. Almost immediately 16 year old Tyler Fisher took a phenomenal lead followed by a strong pack which included Heather Butcher, Rachael Chambers, Michael Giampino and Alvin Duere.

While the challengers were formidable, there was no catching Tyler Fisher who went on to win the race with a time of 16:45. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Tyler has become a rising star in the local running scene. As a cross country runner for the Port Charlotte High School Pirates, he is a top competitor who is comfortable at speeds that most of us will never reach. As for big races, Tyler won last year's Turkey Trot at Edison College with a similarly fast time. Keep an eye out for him in the future.

Rounding out the top few on the men's side was Alvin Duere who took 1st in class (Male 20-24) and 3rd overall with a time of 19:31. Only 2 seconds behind him was 24 year old Brian Sullivan who took 2nd in class (Male 20-24) and 4th overall.

On the ladies side we saw another sparkling victory from well known favorite Heather Butcher. As the Female Overall Winner and 2nd fastest time overall, Heather showed top form coming in at a blazing finish of 18:57. The Female Masters Winner was Sarasota's very own Rachael Chambers coming in with the 6th fastest time at 19:45.

The Female Grand Master Winner was Marti Stetter who, having just completed her first 50K ultra only a week before, took the win with a time of 23:29. We also saw a dazzling pace set by the Senior Grand Master Winner Sandy Meneley. Sandy traveled down from Holmes Beach, Florida to slay the competition with a time of 23:55.

Not to be discounted was the number of young participants at this year's event. There were 85 runners under the age of 14 years old. Each brought a delightful enthusiasm to the holiday festivities. The youngest was 4 year old Jayden Zayas who finished the race in a little over an hour.

The fastest of the youth girl runners was Darielle Costa (Winner ages 13-14) with a time of 22:24, Isabella Busi (Winner ages 8-10) with 26:00 and Chloe Lear (Winner ages 11-12) with 26:44. On the boys side it was Ben Sweiderk (Winner ages 11-12) with a time of 21:03, followed by Zachary Jones (Winner ages 8-10) with 21:07 and Noah Brindley (Winner ages 13-14) with 22:40.

This year's event was boosted by two changes that appeared to have spurred greater interest than in years past. The 750 runner registration cut off caused a rush to sign up and fill that quota which it did way ahead of time. The shiny new finishers medals are some of the most eye catching and well made bling out there. They are also cleverly disguised bottle openers, very sneaky.

The finishing area was one of smiles and sunshine. Under a canopy of oak trees and spanish moss, runners enjoyed bowls of Geckos Bar & Grill's famous chili alongside nuggets from Chik-fil-A, coffee from Dunkin Donuts and the glorious beer truck. If the turn out was any indicator we can expect the Frosty to solidify itself as one of the area's premier 5K races. Don't be surprised if it sells out next year as well.

Photos and results are listed at the links below.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

6 Events to Kick Off Your New Year

At the beginning of each year we resolve to start a new. We make promises to ourselves that we will eat healthier, spend more time with friends and family and we will exercise more. It's often that last one that kicks us in the butt. However, if you are going to suffer for better health, you don't need to do it alone.

Listed below are six fun filled activities based here in southwest Florida to kick off your New Year. Peruse the list at your leisure. With walking, running (Fun runs to a half marathon), biking (On and off road) and even longboarding there is something for everyone.

1. Mimosa Fun Run - On Jan 1st in Punta Gorda the Foot Landing Running Shoe Store is holding their Annual Mimosa Fun Run. Think you had enough to drink the night before? Nonsense! Meet up at the Foot Landing at 7:15am and take a nice relaxed jog, walk or stroll around the city. The volunteers at the finish will greet you with a delicious Mimosa and a smile. Registration is FREE but arrive early. For more details visit their Facebook Event Page.

2. Resolution Run 5K - On Jan 4th in Venice you can get started on those promises you made a few days before by taking part in the Resolution Run 5K. Organized by the South County Family YMCA, this run starts and ends at Maxine Barritt Park near Sharky's on the Pier Restaurant. The course has beautiful views of the ocean and plenty of snacks to eat afterwards. I attended this race last year (Read the story here) and scored a personal record in part thanks to the January morning cold so dress appropriately. You can register on

3. Piggy's Revenge Mountain Bike Race - On Jan 12th in Venice the good people at SCORR (Sarasota County Off Road Riders) will be hosting a Mountain Bike endurance race/ride known as Piggy's Revenge. This race/ride takes place in the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve park where riders can choose their distance: either 20, 40 or 60 miles. Finishers will receive a T-Shirt and they get to enjoy some delicious homemade sausage hot off the grill. You can register on

4. The Ringling Bridge Run - On Jan 18th in Sarasota the Wilde Automotive Family is holding their Annual Ringling Bridge Run. This 4 mile race starts at 7:30am at the Van Wezel parking lot. It sends runners over and back across the Ringling Bridge with amazing views of the city. All proceeds go to the Sarasota YMCA. You can register on

5. Hands Across the Harbor - On Jan 25th in Punta Gorda the various agencies of Charlotte County assemble to bring you the Hands Across the Harbor run/bike/longboard/walk event. There is something for everyone here. The fun starts at Bayshore Live Oak Park at 6:45am. You can do a 5K walk, an 8K run, a 10 or 20 mile ride and the newest addition is an 8K longboard race. There is a pancake breakfast served by Charlotte County Fire/EMS plus there will be spectacular prizes including two round trip tickets to Key West. For more details check out their website at

6. The Suncoast Half Marathon - On Jan 26th in Lakewood Ranch the Active Suncoast Foundation hosts their popular Suncoast Half Marathon. Arrive a day early and you can enjoy the Health & Fitness Expo held at the Gold Coast Eagle Conference Center. The 13.1 mile race begins at 7am with the start and finish on Lakewood Ranch's picturesque main street. For more info visit

Make 2014 your year to shine. Don't make empty promises to yourself, make promises to run with someone, to ride with someone, to make this year the one that changes the happiness level of your life. Remember that all of these events contribute to some non-profit or charity group that is doing good work. Just by taking part you are helping your community but above all, remember to enjoy your journey.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can Running Shoe Stores Succeed in Today's Economy?

This is a question I would have been afraid to ask a year ago. With store fronts being crushed by low prices from mega-corporations it has become hard to imagine how a small business with a sport specific product could make a profit. I recently made a trip to the Foot Landing in Punta Gorda, Florida where after only one year in business, something outstanding has happened.

Before I reveal their story, I should probably explain where my pessimism originated. Eight months ago I was suffering from foot pain and decided to buy some new running shoes. I knew that the Foot Landing was a supporter of Zoomer's Run & Tri Club, of which I'm a member, so I decided to check out their store.

The Foot Landing is forty-five minutes away from my home so I had to make a special trip. The owner Sherri Kemp Lennon was courteous and helpful. She had me stand on a computer pad that shows the weight distribution on each leg and the arch of my feet. This can help a person pick the proper shoes related to their foot type. Next she measured my feet, apparently one is slightly longer than the other. I'm told this is a common occurrence but it does make a difference when trying on shoes because you always want to use your larger foot for proper fit.

I tend to be the exception to every rule so I wasn't surprised when they couldn't find shoes to fit my tiny feet. Also as a full time writer I can't afford retail prices. While they have a range of respected brands, all of them were beyond my meager budget. In the end all I could afford was a new pair of insoles to put in my current shoes. I drove away from the store that day worried that they would have real trouble competing in today's world of internet bargains. It turns out that I was wrong.

At around the same time I had visited, the Foot Landing began hosting Wednesday night pub runs that start right at their front door at 117 Herald Court. It was a good way for the owner and staff to get to meet the local runners. They started with anywhere from 30 to 50 participants while posting the weekly event on Facebook so more could join in. The crowd was steady with some people driving from as far away as Sarasota to be a part of it.

Over the summer and despite constant rainstorms, the weekly pub runs continued to grow in numbers. In order to accommodate such demands they have organized four routes through the city each ending at a different pub or restaurant. The routes are named after the restaurant theme, for example: Tiki run, Irish pub run or Salsa run. These meet ups have surpassed 100 runners with one in particular gathering more than 200. That is an astonishing number of people for a weekly event.

The pub runs were just the start. The Foot Landing continued their community outreach with movie nights, Sunday morning wake-up runs and various parties. In addition, the store has also assembled a superb race team. It includes more than 15 athletes like Team USA Duathletes Scott & Krissy Varner and USAT National Triathlete Sherri LaBree (Who also works at the Foot Landing). Podium regulars at the local races include Kathy Hendricks, Ian Vincent, Manny Masony and Stephanie Powers.

What does all of this mean for the company? As it celebrated its one year anniversary the Foot Landing has become the premiere running shoe store in Charlotte County. It is supported by the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) and the IRRA (Independent Running Retailer Association). It even won the designation of being the 2013 Punta Gorda Business of the Year.

The secret to their success? Timing was a big part of it. Punta Gorda has been considered a sleepy ocean side city full of senior citizens but the demographics are changing. The Foot Landing tapped into a core of fitness enthusiasts of all ages, many of whom had only recently moved to southwest Florida. The outreach of the store gathered these active residents and gave them a community to be a part of.

So what's next on the agenda for this amazing little store? The Foot Landing is working in association with The Yoga Sanctuary to combine running groups with yoga classes. As for events, the weekly pub runs continue and there will be a special one on Valentines Day known as the Red Dress Run. Information about all of these events can be found on their website or Facebook page. While this is only one example of what is possible in today's economy, it is the kind of success story that breeds hope in these uncertain times.

The Foot Landing Facebook Page

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The 3rd Annual Achieva Reindeer Trot

While the big events get all the press and attention, I decided it might be nice to check out one of the smaller races that flies under the radar. The 3rd Annual Achieva Reindeer Trot takes place not far from main street in Sarasota. The Reindeer Trot is actually three events in one. They have a 5k race, a 10k race and a holiday dog walk followed by a doggy costume contest.

Why did I pick this race? First of all, it's held at Payne Park. This beautiful little stretch of city property is decked out with meticulously groomed grass, a central jogging track, a playground and a skate park. I filmed part of a Strider Sports video here only a few months ago. Secondly, the race is sponsored by Achieva which is a credit union based in Southwest Florida. In the past I've bought two cars through Credit Unions. They are an excellent alternative to the traditional bank because the members/account holders are also part owners.

In addition to my personal reasons, small races possess a charm and warmth all their own. You get to meet people quickly and easily because there are so few of you. I spoke with fellow runners, race volunteers and even people who worked for Achieva. All of them took the event as a lighthearted Christmas get together to raise funds for a good cause.

All the money raised went to the Sarasota County Classrooms, with 14 grants handed out to individuals at the opening ceremonies. A local school band played for the crowd and was followed a live performance of the National Anthem. Shortly afterwards the runners gathered on the sidewalk lining School Avenue and found their mark. A volunteer got on the microphone to explain the start procedure but some younger kids thought she was starting the race so they took off. Most everyone got a chuckle out of the false start and regathered for the actual beginning.

The race course was the same for both 5K and 10K runners. The difference was that you completed 2 laps for 5k and four laps for 10k. A well colored map shows where the route takes you but that didn't stop me from getting a little confused in some places, including the finish line. My bad for not doing recon.

The pace for the first mile was fast, I started in fifth place but couldn't hold position. Slowly a hand full of competitors made their way past me but only a handful. I managed to keep the rest at bay finishing in 10th overall. The top spot went to a determined teenager who aced the course in 19 minutes. You can find his photo at the top of this story but his name and all of the results will be posted on their event page.

The event was chip timed by Elite Timing and Event Management and while they were easy to work with, they did fumble up some people's times. In the end all the issues were resolved and everyone got the right trophies and medals.

The event was a lot of fun. Many people wore reindeer antlers, some came in full costumes including this guy with a red suit and white beard who sat next to a Christmas tree and accepted wishes from all the kids. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, the Reindeer Trot is an excellent alternative to the big, crowded races that happen elsewhere in town on the same day. The terrain is pleasing to the eye and varied enough to be challenging. The competition is a little lighter giving you a good chance to land on the podium even if your not the fastest runner. It worked for me.

Make sure to check out our photo gallery of the event and check the Achieva website for more photos and a full list of results.