By Pete Williams
The world of endurance sports is an ever changing place. These days, it’s even difficult to pinpoint the definition. It wasn’t that long ago that endurance sports was running, cycling, and triathlon. In recent years, the category has added obstacle course racing and stand-up paddleboarding.
CrossFit, though mostly an anaerobic endeavor, seemed to belong in there somewhere. After all, obstacle course events such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder aligned themselves closely with CrossFit, though it often seemed like more of a marketing ploy than common ground. CrossFit, after all, usually involves little running.
Everyone, it seems, is looking to create the best test of speed and power. Some point to American Ninja Warrior, though even that seems more like a contest of power and gymnastics ability. CrossFit WODs have inspired all manner of related competitions. And while such events are grueling, they lack any sort of running/aerobic component.
Which brings us to two events that took place under the radar in Central Florida over the weekend – the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K.
The Mile of Pain/Battle Dash is the creation of Jonny Simpkins, who in 2011 launched Rock On Adventures after watching the Warrior Dash debut in Florida. Simpkins, who owns an irrigation company, figured he could create something better.
His Highlander Adventure Run has proven to be just that, and he’s also come up with other unique events at his permanent home at the YMCA Roper Ranch near Orlando such as the “Yak-a-Thon” a run-kayak-mountain bike-run competition.
The Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, which debuted earlier this year and returned on Saturday, blends the best of American Ninja Warrior and obstacle course racing. The Mile of Pain consists of a whopping 32 obstacles. Athletes leave in 10-minute waves, 10 people at a time, and tackle roughly 3/4 of a mile of walls, climbs, crawls, and obstacles before arriving at the “Battle Dash,” sort of an outdoors version of American Ninja Warrior. There athletes must complete a U-shaped course of climbs, tire flips, rope climbs, and balance beams before staggering to the finish.
The top time Saturday for the Mile of Pain was 12:30, though most competitors took around 20 minutes. Many did not finish officially since failure to complete an obstacle, as on American Ninja Warrior, removed the athlete from the competition. (Simpkins offered $1,700 in prize money, split among the male and female winners of the Mile of Pain and Battle Dash.)
For the Battle Dash, competitors lined up nine at a time and tackled the event together. The obstacles were wide enough to allow such maneuvering and the U-shaped course allowed spectators to walk the course as the athletes progressed, with most taking between 2 and 5 minutes. Simpkins, who has a background in Supercross racing, envisions a stadium set-up complete with bleachers and lights, perhaps even television coverage. He seems well on his way at Rock On Adventures.
In Tampa on Sunday, trainer Whit Lasseter debuted the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K, a version of similar events that have sprung up recently in the Northeast. For the Tampa Bay event, athletes bench pressed some portion of their weight depending on age and gender. Men benched between 70 percent and 100 percent of their weight depending on age and women between 40 and 70 percent. For each rep, athletes subtracted 30 seconds off their 5K, which took place a half hour later.
After athletes weighed in, they proceeded to one of six benches, where referees/spotters judged their repetitions. Of the 150 or so athletes competing, seven completed 30 reps, the maximum allowed. The event seemed to favor wiry little guys in their 40s, who were required to bench 90 percent of their weight. A 150-pounder for instance, could bench 135 – a bar with a pair of 45-pound disks, a familiar set-up for anyone who has spent time in the gym. (Though I fit the profile, I had to sit out with a pec tear suffered while training.)
With about 15 runners finishing the 5K under 19 minutes, there were adjusted “times” as low as 2:30. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the same athletes finished high on the leader boards at both the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K.
It was an impressive showing all around. Consider that at the NFL combine, young football players bench press 225 pounds. Very few can bench 225 for 30 reps, even though most players weigh more than 225. Some of the Pump N Run crowd has more relative power.
In the end, isn’t that what all athletes are trying to obtain – the most speed and strength relative to body weight? If so, don’t be surprised if events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K become one of the popular fitness trends of 2014.