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Local Runners Set To Battle Heat at Pinellas Trail Challenge

By JOHN GREGG, TB Reporter

More than 130 runners are expected to contest the 46-mile race.

ST. PETERSBURG — This Saturday (Sept. 5), more than 130 runners will convene in downtown St. Petersburg for an ultrarunning event called the Pinellas Trail Challenge. They will not only be testing themselves by running nearly 50 miles, a robust challenge itself, but they will be testing themselves against the elements. In Florida, on Labor Day weekend, that means heat and humidity. And plenty of it.

The Pinellas Trail Challenge, or PTC, as it is known in the local running community, is a point-to-point race that starts at Demens Landing and terminates at John A. Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor, covering  the entire length of the Pinellas Trail (46 miles). It is the brainchild of local runner, Michael Stork, of Crystal Beach, who along with his wife, Sarah, serves as the race director for the event.

“I always thought it would be cool to run the entire trail.  I ran it by myself the winter before the first race (in 2013) and I thought to myself that this needs to be a race,” said Stork, speaking about how he conceived the idea for the PTC.

Scheduling an ultramarathon on Labor Day weekend seems almost sadistic, but Stork maintains that it came about in a much more organic way.

“The first year was thrown together quickly over two months. All contact was through Facebook. It was planned for early September, because the friend who was helping me wanted to run it before he had his first child.  He never ran it, but the date didn’t interfere with other races and people seemed to like the challenge of the heat.”

Indeed, the challenge of running a race in extreme heat is an attraction for Florida ultrarunners. While most running events in the South are intentionally scheduled in the fall or winter to avoid high temperatures, there are now several ultramarathons (typically any running event over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) being held in the summer months in Florida, and there seems to be no shortage of runners willing to take on the difficult challenge of completing one.

Bernadette DuBois, a 55-year old ultrarunner from Winter Park, is one of the athletes who is relishing the opportunity to run a race in hot, humid weather.

“The title has the word “Challenge” in it, and I’m an ultrarunner, so the tougher the better”, said Dubois, who is also training for a 24-hour race this October. “I’m doing the Keys 100 in May 2016, which is known for its brutal heat, and I wanted to see what I’m made of in a very hot race.”

She has been training for the PTC by running and walking mid-day and “seeking out unshaded, full sun stretches.” To help cool her body and to stay hydrated, DuBois will wear a fuel belt equipped with two 10-ounce water bottles, an ice wrap around her neck and cooling arm sleeves filled with ice. She’ll also periodically ingest capsules specially designed to replace electrolytes in the body. DuBois, who has over 20 ultramarathon finishes on her resume, has also enlisted some local help. She’ll be crewed by fellow ultrarunner, Scott Johnson, of Safety Harbor.

Johnson has designed a trailer, which he will pull by bicycle, and on it will be a cooler filled with various fluids and plenty of ice. He, too, has been training for the event all summer.

DuBois and the other 130 registered runners should have all the heat they can handle. The current forecast is calling for highs in the upper 80s and the historical average high temperature in Clearwater (the mid-point of the Pinellas Trail) for September 5th is 89.5 degrees. Last year’s race featured temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index well into the 100s.

Oliver Von Tempski, who finished in the top 10 at last year’s race, endured the harsh conditions and learned a lesson that is sure to help him this year: that ultrarunning is rarely a solo endeavor. (Von Tempski is shown in last year’s race in the accompanying photo.)

“When I ran the PTC last year as a novice ultrarunner, I did not know how much ultrarunners and crews help each other out,” Von Tempski said. “It helps a lot to know that you are not alone out there, because there is another crew at the next intersection, who can help you with ice and water.”

Von Tempski, a native of Berlin, Germany, who now lives in Palm Harbor, has been training for the PTC for more than four months and runs almost exclusively on northern sections of the trail, running as many as 65 miles a week.

Like DuBois, he has developed a plan to combat the heat and will employ several strategies, including drinking ice water to keep his core temperature down and placing zip lock bags filled with ice under his cap.

He will also be relying on the 21 water fountains stationed along the trail and the 8 aid stations, manned by local volunteers, to refill his hand-held water bottles and resupply him with ice.

“I tend to sweat a lot, so I will try to drink a lot. Eventually I will have to rest in the shade a little. My strategy relies on the wonderful volunteers who helped me a lot with ice in 2014.”

Staying hydrated and trying to moderate one’s body temperature is not the only challenge that the PTC runners will face Saturday. High temperatures and dew points mean heavy sweating. And sweating brings a whole host of other problems for runners to contend with.

“Blisters and chafing,” said Von Tempski. “So I will try to change socks, and maybe shoes, as often as possible, and will reapply Trailtoe and/or Vaseline regularly.”

But Von Tempski, who is a fixture in the local running scene, will face one additional challenge that most other runners will not have to contend with. After running over 30 miles, he will be tempted by the alluring thought of retreating to his nearby, air-conditioned home. “At mile marker 31, I will be less than half a mile away from my home. I will be exhausted, overheated and question myself, ‘what is the point of running another 15 miles for several hours, in the heat of the day, if I can be home in 10 minutes, have an ice bath, lie down and have a cold beverage?’”

Von Tempski, Dubois and the rest of PTC field will toe the line at the southern terminus of the Pinellas Trail in downtown St. Petersburg at 6:30 AM on Saturday.

For more information on the Pinellas Trail Challenge, visit Registration ends at 4 p.m. Friday (Sept. 4). For a limited time afterward, last-minute entrants can email Stork at, but there is no race day registration.

St. Petersburg | Events | Sports | Runs | Pinellas Trail | TB Reporter

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