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USA Today expands marathon holdings

USA Today Sports AllianceUSA Today's Sports Media Group continues to pick up marathons to add to its Sports Active Alliance. Yes, this is the same technicolor national newspaper owned by Gannett.

Most recently it added seven marathons, including the Orange County OC Marathon and the Oakland Running Festival, bringing to 14 the total events in its portfolio.

Back in August, it acquired the rights to seven marathons, including the California International Marathon (CIM) and the Portland Marathon. By doing so, USA Today can now sell sponsorships and buy media for the properties.

The idea, hatched in 2013 over a San Diego coffee shop meeting, is to try to bridge the market gap between second-tier marathons and the Rock N Roll Series, which has signed big-time companies as sponsors.

By the end of 2016, the masterminds behind the Sports Active Alliance want 20 races in their stables.

Events dropping marathons, focusing on halves

To produce a marathon, race directors have to invest in 26.2-miles of traffic control, street closures for up to eight hours, lots of aid stations and loads of volunteers. You can cut that in half for the 13.1-mile distance.

Cowtown MarathonBecause of that, an increasing number of races are dropping the full marathon and instead are focusing on the half distance. With only 13.1 miles and course closures that range between three and four hours, they are a lot easier to produce.

One of the first to eliminate the full was Cowtown—now called the Urban Cow—in Sacramento. In 2014, Nike San Francisco dropped the women's full marathon and now only has a half marathon.

In September, Rock 'N' Roll announced that it would no longer hold the 10-year-old Denver RNR Marathon after October 2015 Denver RNR Marathonbecause of prolonged road closures, neighborhood and business concerns, and traffic conflicts. It still plans to continue the half-marathon, the 10K and the 5K that are part of the weekend event.

Some question why RNR is dropping the Denver marathon when the Colfax Marathon continues with the longer distance.

Could it be that the Competitor Group, parent of the Rock 'N' Roll series, is after pure profits, has overextended itself and continues to eliminate marginal events worldwide?

New race management & timing company started

Jeffrey Peneda, an assistant cross-country and track coach at Modesto Junior College, has opened his own race management and timing company, Pace Yourself Timing, based in Riverbank.

"We started our own timing company because we were dissatisfied with timing services that we used for our own races," he wrote on his website.

Among recent customers were the SOS Run, April 18, in Oakdale. 

The timing company also offers first-time discounts to new customers. For more information, visit Pace Yourself Timing.

group activities are in

Out: Individual sports
In: Anything social, including group runs

Gone are the days of the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Trending is anything social, whether it's yoga classes, boot camp fitness, themed races or group runs.

And it's not so much whether you made it to the top of the mountain at warp speed but about the journey. When you make it, odds are you'll post an image to social media.

Those are but a few of the trends that Matt Powell and Julie Day, sports industry analysts with Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, highlighted during their presentations at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016 in Salt Lake City Aug. 6.

"Social fitness remains a key driver," Powell said.

Consumers, especially Generation Y (those 18-35), also seek happiness from outside leisure-time activities.

"Happiness doesn't come from products but from experiences or a collective group of experiences," Day said.

For millenials, it's all about "me," and they share everything they do. Their favorite social medium? Instagram by far.

GU Labs shows off some new flavors

Savory flavors highlight new nutritional products

Savory and spicy appear to be the trending new flavors in nutritional products, whether it's gels or nutritional bars.

Several manufacturers showed off products they recently introduced to the market or are planning to introduce at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016 in Salt Lake City recently.

Clif Shot pizza margherita gelEmeryville-based Clif Bar & Co., for example, has four new gel flavors that are all certified organic: banana beet with ginger, pizza margherita, sweet potato with sea salt, and banana mango with coconut. (The banana mango is not savory but slightly sweet.) The question is, would you want to eat pizza-flavored gel on a run? Clif is betting you'll be suffering from palate fatigue near the end and want anything but another cloyingly sweet gel.

GU Energy Labs has rebranded its products under a new slogan: "GU for it." The Berkeley-based company has expanded its nutritional offerings to include pre-activity, during and post-activity products. The former GU20 and GU Brew drink is now GU Hydration Drink. GU Chomps have been renamed GU Energy Chews. Like many of its earlier flavors, not all will tickle the taste buds of every runner.

The chocolate GU Recovery Drink, for example, tastes more like chocolate-flavored water than smooth, rich and thick 2% chocolate milk, which research has shown is an excellent recovery beverage with the optimum 4:1 carbs:protein ratio.

Seattle-based Nuun, known for its electrolyte tablets that are dropped in water to make a quick beverage, introduced Plus, a tablet that contains 48 calories and 11 grams of carbs (dextrose and sucrose, both sugars). Users can customize the amount of carbs they want by adding one or two tablets in with their regular Nuun tablet.

Bend, Ore.-based Picky Bars also showed off its products, which are date based. The Cookie Doughpness tasted nothing like its namesake. Rather, it was a sticky, sweet mess that didn't even have a date flavor. Maybe it's an acquired taste. The other concern is dates are high in fiber. Do runners really want to worry about what fiber will do to their gut on a long run?

Kind Bars also is on the savory bandwagon, with a handful of new flavors that could be paired with a margarita: roasted jalapeņo, honey mustard, Thai sweet chili, hickory smoked BBQ and plain hickory smoked. In fact, the New York-based company conducted a Kind Bar and beer pairing one night at the OR trade show.

Fleet Feet Modesto

Fleet Feet Modesto plans a Sept. 12 opening

If you need new shoes and are debating whether to drive up to Fleet Feet in Stockton or wait until the new store opens in Modesto, here's the latest information so you can plan accordingly.

Construction and remodeling is progressing at the new Fleet Feet Modesto store, which is scheduled to open Sept. 12. Tony Vice, owner of Fleet Feet Stockton who also owns the Modesto store, made the announcement at the S.H.E. 365 5K, July 12, in Acampo.

In a conversation after the race, he said the Sept. 12 date is the plan right now. The store will front Standiford and be slightly west of Tully. It will be in the same wild West-themed shopping center as Mr. T's Donuts, but about a half block to the west.

In coming weeks, look for the front of the building to undergo a major transformation. The current brick exterior with a few windows will be knocked down. In its place will be big windows. Vice obtained the city permits for that portion of the remodel the week before the S.H.E. 365 race.

The new store also will feature floating shoe displays in the middle rather than shoe racks along the walls.

Fun Sport Bikes to build new store

Funsport Bikes logoFun Sport Bikes, which has a big store in Modesto's McHenry Village, plans to open a new store near the corner of Briggsmore and Oakdale roads sometime this year.

A post on the shop's Facebook page as well as a sign on the now-vacant lot just west of Uno's point to the project.

Wonder if they'll close the McHenry Village store once the new one opens or keep two operations?

Fleet Feet Modesto

Fleet Feet Stockton plans to open a
Fleet Feet Modesto in late summer

Fleet Feet Stockton plans to open a store in Modesto in late summer or early fall. Tony Vice, owner of the Stockton store, made the announcement just before the start of the Modesto Marathon, March 29.

Vice said he'd been looking to come into Modesto for some time and had been trying to find a good location. He plans to open up in the Frontier Village, a wooden-fronted shopping center on the corner of Standiford and Tully. Frontier Village also is home to Mr. T's Donuts.

Fleet Feet Modesto will front Standiford and occupy space that previously housed a mini-mart.

'McFarland, USA' is more than just a movie
about running

McFarland USAWith the movie "McFarland, USA," Disney has managed to not only elevate running beyond just moving legs, but it also has given most people a glimpse of hard-working farm workers they might not otherwise have.

The movie, starring Kevin Costner as Coach Jim White, follows the McFarland High School cross-country team on their path to taking their first state CIF cross-country championship in 1987.

McFarland, located about 25 miles north of Bakersfield just off Highway 99, is one of the state's poorest towns and boasts a population that is more than 90 percent of Mexican descent.

The movie is based on a 2004 Sports Illustrated article as well as a 1997 series in the Los Angeles Times.

If you're a student of running, you may find minor fault with some of the running scenes. But overall, the film gives a pretty good overview of cross-country and the sport's benefits to students as a whole.

This is a movie that's suitable for all ages and really shows that through hard work, you can attain just about anything.

Five running-related predictions for 2015

Two weeks into 2015, and it's time to look into the ole crystal ball and make some predictions for the coming running season. It will be fun to see how many of these actually come to the fruition. Good thing I'm not a betting man.

1. As the number of runs and races continues to increase, swag will grow in importance as a means of differentiation. But so will the price of these events.

Some races, such as the national Hot Chocolate series and the Nike Women's Half-Marathon, are popular for their finishers' prizes and not necessarily their fast, PR-producing courses.

Even more local runs, such as the Modesto Marathon, have increased the swag they offer entrants to try to lure them into registering. This year, the 5K, for example, offers all registrants a tech t-shirt and finisher's medal. The price rose accordingly to offset the increased costs compared with last year's cotton t-shirt and lack of finisher's medal.

2. Some extreme obstacle races will grow even more extreme. The latest is the Tough Mudder, which just announced it will be adding a tear-gas like substance to simulate what it's like to face chemical weapons.

The feature, dubbed the "Cry Baby," is expected to be incorporated into all 55 or so Tough Mudders this season.

3. Themed races are falling out of favor. The one-and-done, been there, done that, sentiments have befallen these events. The event include mud runs, color runs, neon runs, zombie runs, Santa runs, ugly sweater runs and electric runs.

In fact, some of the nationwide companies that produced these themed events have gone out of business or filed for bankruptcy.

4. Half-marathons will continue to grow in popularity, although not at the break-neck pace they have in the past. The 13.1-mile distance is a challenge but not so insurmountable that even a couch potato couldn't conquer them.

Rina's Run in Ripon, for example, converted its 10K to a half a few years ago, and the KP Women's Festival Run in Sacramento added a half last year.

But how many half-marathons can an area support? The Central Valley is pretty much saturated.

5. The true minimalistic shoes, such as Vibram FiveFingers that have zero drop and about as much support and cushion as a piece of cardboard, are history. Vibram is probably still trying to recover from the myriad lawsuits filed against the company for false advertising. And the barefoot running craze has gone the way of FiveFingers.

What these shoes did do was spur most manufacturers to look at lighter materials that reduced the overall weight of shoes. In some cases, they may have actually reduced the weight too much to the point where favorite models now lack some of the support and cushion that made them so popular.


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