6 Tips For Quality Run Training

6 Tips For Quality Run Training

Tips for Quality Run Training Train no faster than one pace quicker than the race you are training for. For example, 5k pace is good for an Olympic-distance race, while half-marathon pace suffices...

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Ironman Florida – Race Recap

Ironman Florida – Race Recap

For a long time, it has been called the Granddaddy of all endurance events, the Ironman triathlon. A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run done consecutively in the same day. Of course, nowadays, double, triple, and even deca Ironman distance triathlons are becoming more and more popular, as well as 24, 48 and even 72-hour mud and obstacle run challenges. If you are calling me crazy for doing my second Ironman, I can introduce you to at least a few people who do challenges that make Ironman look like a game of hopscotch. (Yes, Matt “UltraIronBeast” Dolitsky, you are one of those.)

This competition for me was a learning experience in overcoming obstacles, most of them mental. I did not PR, or even come close, but I now understand completely the quote, “The mind will quite 100 times before the body does.”

Pre-Race

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Pete Amedure, Kari Eichen, Kat Ward, Jamie Breibart and myself all decided to drive up Wednesday morning in order to get acclimated to the environment and eliminate and reasons for not being prepared for Saturday’s race.  Pete, Kari and I were in my car and had a great time on the way up.  Of course, there was a stop at the Huddle House in Perry Florida where we ate and laughed to a point where I spaced out and left my phone, and didn’t realize it until we were half-an-hour from Panama City Beach.  It didn’t help that I was in the middle of contracts and had all my recruiters contacting me about interviews and new opportunities.   (I ended up remedying this by sending FedEx to the restaurant and delivering it to our hotel.  In the meantime, Google Voice was a tremendous help.)

We arrived at the Laketown Wharf complex where we stayed in a luxurious three bedroom, three bath condominium, with a beautiful view of the gulf.  I give this hotel/condo complex four stars.  It had everything needed including a nightly water and light show that rivals the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  Well, not really, but it was a fun amenity.  The condos all have a full kitchen, with dishes, glasses, silverware, pots and pans, coffee maker, and a full-size refrigerator.  Everything needed for the athlete, and spectathletes, to remove all those pressures of nutrition, and early morning breakfasts.  The area also has plenty of great restaurants for good eating as well.

Afterward, we walked the quarter mile to athlete check-in to receive our chip, bibs, bags, and swag.  I was a little disappointed in the swag this year.  Last year they gave out beautiful TYR transition backpacks, but this year it was a very inferior white backpack that looks like it will fall apart.  Jamie’s actually did, so they gave her a replacement immediately.  The expo was about twice the size that it was last year, with a host of new vendors.  Verizon was displaying their goods, as they were the tracking sponsor this year, along with Newton, Fit2Run, a local bike shop and a bunch of the regulars.  Refuel was there, talking about Chocolate Milk, so I did create a video with them talking about the benefits of it.  I will share that link on Twitter when I receive it.  It should be good for a couple of laughs.

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After that, we spent the next couple of days, taking in the aura of Ironman, preparing and eating.  Eating was a non-stop event for us.  I knew from experience that immense calories were going to be needed in order to be comfortable on the course, so I encouraged our team to keep eating as I did myself.

_MG_2276Thursday night was the athlete welcome dinner, and I was almost embarrassed.  My recollection of the 2011 athlete dinner was so wonderful, that I really talked it up and encouraged Pete, Jamie, and Kari to come.  Jamie decided not to go, but I was so excited for Pete and Kari to be there I couldn’t contain my emotions.  Unfortunately, I was sort of let down.  It seemed unorganized and hurried.  Yes, my favorite pro-triathlete and world champion Mirinda Carfrae was interviewed on stage, so that was great, but the rest of it was about charities and a couple of athletes overcoming their own obstacles.  There were video presentations about a woman who was competing for her husband who died the year earlier while training, and a quadriplegic who was competing to show the world that anyone could do anything if they just challenged themselves.

1394432_10102251072868771_978366175_nYes, their stories were inspiring but I just felt like it was too much and way too long.  In 2011 the presentations were balanced between the negative and the positive inspiring stories and we even had an athlete briefing by the race director all in the span of 90 minutes.  It held the attention of every athlete to a point where the announcer almost didn’t need the microphone.  This time, a good portion of the athletes conversed right through all the presentations to a point where it was hard to hear the MC with a microphone.  I felt like I let my friend Pete down to a point where I was apologizing so much on the walk back I became annoying.  Sorry, Pete and Kari.

_MG_2265Friday, the anxiety hit like a ton of bricks.  You couldn’t cut the tension in the condo with a Ginsu, serrated edge knife.  We ate breakfast and then headed down to the beach to get in the water with our wetsuits.  The waves sets were barreling to the shore with such force that the red, “no-swimming”, flag was flown, but we knew we needed to at least get in the water for a few minutes just to test out our goggles and our wetsuits.  Surprising enough, even with the force of the waves, I thought I became a little more confident.  I was able to stay on the surface of the water, and I practiced duck diving through the waves instead of trying to swim over them.  I really thought I may have a chance of being faster out of the water than I thought.

Afterward, we talked through our transition plans to double check our gear, 1383330801836checked to make sure our bikes were ready to go and proceeded to transition to check-in everything.  We had decided to try and wait out the rain, but unfortunately, I had a phone interview which had the chance of exceeding beyond the time check-in would close, so we walked down in the rain.  The line was so long, I was going to be cutting it very close, so afterward, I ran back to the hotel.  On the way back, I dropped my phone and cracked the screen.  Yes, I had the phone back in my hands all of two hours and I dropped it.  I have never broken a phone before,  ever,  and here I had two phone interviews and I cracked the screen.  I was lucky enough that the phone still worked with voice recognition and a little effort, so the two interviews scheduled went off without any problems and I confirmed them both for second interviews as well.

That night we had a good dinner at the Wicked Wheel and we were all in bed around 9 pm ready to take on the Ironman.

Race Day

As predicted, the night before was restless but I did end up sleeping a good 4-5 hours before the alarm went off.  As planned we dressed in sweats, grabbed our “Special Needs” bags,  nutrition for the bike, and headed to transition around 4:30 am.  We were body marked, checked our bikes, dropped our bags, and then headed back to try and leisurely eat breakfast, and dress for the race.  Kari cooked eggs and turkey bacon, I cooked oatmeal and we all hung out for a while and tried to prepare ourselves with our loved ones.  It was kind of surreal.  I remembered these moments from the first time I competed in this race, but it still seemed like it was all new again.

We dressed, pulled on our wetsuits halfway, hugged and headed for the start line.  We walked 1393113_10202369776593562_1301605987_nwith Kari, Kim, and Danny down to the start, but athletes had to enter separately than spectators, so when we finally hit the beach we couldn’t find them.  I really wanted to see them all before the start, but I knew I would be ok if I didn’t, but Kari had Pete’s goggles in her bag, so now it became imperative that we find them.  We walked over trying to find them, so when it came to a point where we had no time left, we dropped our stuff and proceeded to button up our wetsuits and prepare to go under the arch.  It was at that moment, our party found us.  Talk about cutting it close.  We hugged, gut our well wishes, wished each other luck and headed into the mass of athletes preparing for the start.

This year was a little different as signs were being held up with expected times for the swim.  It could be compared to pace groups commonly found in road races except instead of going deep from a start line this went wide along the shore with the idea that if the slower swimmers would be the widest from the buoys and would fall in behind the faster ones.   This was thought to bring down the chaos of a mass swim start, but for me, it was worse.   I have been in comparable rough water,  hit, kicked and swam over before and I always kept on swimming no matter what, but this time I was kicked so many times with the last time throwing my goggles from my face.  It took me a few minutes to find them floating away from me, but I was able to put them back without too much trouble.

When I finished my first loop, the clock said 1:11 which was very slow.  I thought I should be able to make up at least three minutes on the second loop, so I shouldn’t be in any danger of not making the 2:20 cutoff.  I found a rhythm and just kept swimming, but I veered to the left of buoys and to keep correcting my course.  When I made the turn for the straightaway to the swim finish,  I glanced at my wrist to check my Garmin to see how much time I had left, and it was gone.  Not only could I not find out what I needed to cross the swim finish, I wasn’t going to know how fast I would bike, or run.  I wouldn’t know when to take my nutrition or even what time it was.

0477_16758Three buoys from the end I ended up with a paddle boarder on the left of me and jet ski on the right.  The paddleboarder kept yelling the time I had left.  “You have 8 minutes. You got this just keep going.”  I have to admit, the idea of a DNF crossed my mind and it did not scare me.  I thought to myself “would it really be the end o the world.”  I would be able to support Pete, Jamie, and Kat and I wouldn’t have to worry about biking 112 miles, chafing, nutrition, none of it.  Of course, I wouldn’t get to cross that finish line and I would feel like a failure and that is what really scared me.  It wasn’t the disappointment of my friends or even my family, it was the disappointment I would have in myself.  That never-ending coulda, woulda, shoulda would really haunt me, so I sped up and went as hard as I could.  The waves after the sandbar helped and even though I got caught up in the rope tied to one of the lifeguard’s flotation device I was able to hit the beach at exactly 2:20 getting me over the timing mat at 2:20:08.

I don’t mind stating that I was exhausted.  I have stated it time and time again, that I am not even a good swimmer, but this really put it in perspective.

I ran into transition and the volunteers stated I had eight minutes to cross the bike mat, so they hurried me into my bib and jersey I was using for the bike, put on my helmet and shoes and rushed me out into transition to grab my bike.  I crossed and headed out on my 112-mile journey.

My lungs were screaming and my stomach was churning, but I just kept going.  I0477_15604 passed the mile 10 marker and about, what I estimate was around the 12-13 mile mark, nausea started.  I pulled over to the side of the road and vomited sea water over the guardrail.  Unfortunately, I have what is called a vasovagal response to vomiting, which basically means I pass out cold.  I woke up, splayed out on the side of the road with the sun shining in my eyes.  It took a while to get my wits and balance in order to get back on my bike.  I continued slowly with the thoughts of turning around and just ending it.  Who would blame me?  I became sick on the bike, no one would care.  With my stomach still churning and my head spinning I decided I would go to the twenty-mile marker and if I didn’t feel better I would turn around.  The earlier thoughts I had of a DNF plagued me again and when I saw the 20-mile sign, I was still feeling sick, but better than I did.  I took in some of the Isagenix mix I had in my bottles and decided to go on to the next marker, but it wasn’t more than a mile later I realized that if I turned around at the 30 mile mark, I would have biked 60 miles by the time I got back to the start.  That’s when I knew I had it in me.  It no longer was about time now it was about finishing.

From that point on the bike ended up being uneventful.  Sure, there were minor challenges.  For instance, the wind picked up quite a bit, and of course, I still had no perception of time, except for when I asked, but I just put my head down and kept going.

Here is a little lesson learned while I was on the bike.  As I mentioned the wind became a challenge during the bike, but I decided to wear an aero helmet and while I was in aero position and looked down, the wind became a little less a factor.  I found myself being able to pick up a higher cadence.  The minute I looked straight I could not only hear the wind, but I felt like someone had hit the breaks on my bike.  Every article and person always said, one way and the cheapest way to become more aero was a helmet.  They were right.

Being the last one out of the water did have one advantage.  I wasn’t going to get passed.  I was doing all the passing, and with each rider I passed, I felt a little bit of mental boost which helped a great deal.  I rolled into transition in a little over 7 hours, which, in my estimation, had me on the side of the road for a little over 30 minutes.  All-in-all it wasn’t actually that bad.

A volunteer grabbed my bike, I snatched my run gear bag and was greeted in the changing room by my friend, and client, Hugo Scavino.  He helped me rid myself of the bib and bike jersey and don my shoes and hat.  After a huge hug, I headed off onto the run course.  I stopped briefly for words of encouragement, hugs and kisses from Kim, Kari, Maria and Anne, and off onto the course I went.  I walked for about a quarter mile before I started running.  I was kind of amazed.  I felt like I was able to transition to my running legs a little easier than the Augusta 70.3 I competed in six weeks earlier.  I hit the first aid station in about 1.5 miles and I was feeling pretty good.  I formulated my plan of running from aid station to aid station and just walking while I was getting water and nutrition.  This worked for the first loop.

0477_16910Pete and Jaime passed me at my mile 3 and their mile 10 and we shook hands and I motivated Pete with warning him I should not be able to catch him.  Of course in the back of my mind, I was questioning if I could somehow make up 7 miles on him.  Dave Nardoski caught up with me on his second loop, so I walked and chatted with him for a few minutes before I picked up the pace again.  At mile 6 I saw Kat looking really strong and I yelled some encouragement to her as I passed.  The halfway point for the first loop is in a park and I was feeling pretty good.  I started doing the math in my head for what it would take to catch up to Pete and Jamie.  The idea of the three of crossing together seemed surreal but possibly realistic.  At mile 10 I saw Jamie and she had picked up the pace from Pete, and she looked really good.  Obviously, the three of us crossing was most likely not going to happen unless I could really pick up some speed and Pete and I could catch her.  A little while later I saw Pete again walking.  We stopped for a minute and he told me that everything hurt.  I gave him some encouragement and we parted.  Just prior to the turnaround I found myself running next to Lew Hollander.  Lew, is an 83-year-old, twenty-time Kona qualifier and finisher.  He is extremely inspiring and is the epitome of the idea that age doesn’t have to be an excuse.  We chatted briefly, he gave me some motivation, I congratulated him, he ran into the finisher chute and I made the turn.  Kim and Danny were on the other side of the turn, so I was able to see them and get some love and hugs from Kim.  She actually ran a little bit with me before I headed off.

I was hurting now.  At mile 14 I slowed to a walk.  My feet were screaming in agony, my hips, quads, hamstrings and IT bands were in a lot of pain and I started getting a twinge in my back.  I didn’t want to walk, but my legs were not letting me run either.  I decided I would walk to the aid station of after mile 15 and continue from there.  It didn’t happen the way I wanted.   I ended up doing a series of run/walk intervals all the way to mile 18 where Pete and I crossed for the last time.  We high-fived each other and continued on.  Not too far ahead I stopped to use a portlet, but when I exited I became turned around and stupidly started running in the wrong direction.  I caught myself about a half mile before I realized what I was doing and quickly did a one-eighty.  I guess I was meant to run even more than a marathon this time.

I did meet Susan, a member of the Sarasota Storm Tri Club, which I have participated in races and training with.  We chatted and played cat and mouse for a while.  Susan had a very steady pace, so I would catch her and then when I would walk she would pass me.  This happened about 3 or 4 times throughout the marathon portion.  After getting completing the out-and-back in the park to head to the finish I started to feel like I just was about done with this whole thing.  I was walking more than running, I was in pain and I was just ready for this experience to end.  When I saw mile 20, I thought I only have a 10k left.  I could do a 10k in my sleep.  I started to pick up the pace just a bit.  I walked through the aid station in between 20 and 21 and started talking to myself.  “C’mon legs.  Just one more training run.  I need ya.  Relax.  Use gravity as momentum.  We can do this.”

Ahead was mile marker 21, and it was then when I decided, there will be no more stops at aid stations, there will be no more walking.  It was time to get this done.  I picked up the pace and never looked back.  I caught up with Susan at mile 22 and I told her to come with me.  This was just a 5k with a one-mile warm-up.  She said something that really motivated me.  “You are really strong, Brad.”  Who was she trying to kid?  It wasn’t 12 hours ago I had thoughts of quitting.  I didn’t quit though and here I was 4 miles from the finish of my second Ironman.  I picked up the pace even more to a point where I was running at a sub 8:30 pace for a bit.  I was in a lot of pain, but it was going to be worse if I stopped.  Every time I passed another athlete or spectator they would say “Good job” and that just fueled me.  A couple of the spectators would yell, “Awesome pace keep it up!”  I ran through the Tri Club village at 25 when someone yelled “Go Goof GO!”, so I even picked up the pace even more.  When I finally reached the chute there were two people running together in front of me and I didn’t know whether to let them go ahead or pass them.  I passed them and sped up even more in order to make sure I was alone at the finish line.

I saw the finish line and didn’t even look at the clock.  After all, I hadn’t known what time it was up to that point, so what did it matter now.  The announcer bellowed, “Brad Minus from Tampa Bay, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”  Oh, how sweet that sounded.  Especially after being kicked, and hit in the water, losing my goggles and Garmin, vomiting and blacking out on the side of the road, and running through all that pain.  I finally reached the finish.

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A volunteer escorted me to Yvonne Van Vlerken, the women’s first-place finisher, who placed the medal around my neck.  We congratulated each other and she gave me a hug, and then I continued with my handler to get a shiny warming sheath, and a finish photo before she handed me off to Kim, Maria, Jamie and the Dannys.  I saw Pete sitting down and we just looked at each other with pain on our faces but pride in our eyes.

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The rest of the night consisted of pizza and hard cider and regaling stories of the race.  PB&J had accomplished what we set out to do a year earlier.

578495_10102260791193171_715325386_nJamie was the heroine of the night.  When she decided to run she end up fast enough to finish with a 13:50.  I am still so proud of her.  Pete ended up a little under 15 and I ended up with a 15:09.  I am not happy with it.  It is significantly longer than 2011, but I finished and everything considered, I did have fun.  That is what matters most.

Thank you to all who tracked and reported on Facebook, for all the prayers, thoughts, motivation and kudos, Anne, Kari, Maria, Hugo and all the other voluneteers, Kim for supporting me and especially to Pete, Jamie, & Kat for being my training buddies through this journey.

Carpe Viam!

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Clearwater Halfathon: Race Report

The windows were open in my Mini Cooper Clubman as I drove down Rte 60 in order to take part in the Clearwater Running Festival’s Half Marathon. The cloudy and sixty-one degree temperature was preferable for me, but for some as the temperature was known to rise, it may have felt even a little warm. I was not sure about this race. I hadn’t run anything over four miles since Ragnar, and even the ten mile leg I did run was a little more difficult than I thought it would be. This race would turn out to be no different.

Interesting enough, if it was possible to rewind as little as two months, and I was asked about doing a race of 13.1 miles, I would have said, “A half marathon? No problem.” As the duration of my running workouts continued to be reduced due to my self-prescribed “off season”, I didn’t realize how fast my endurance would decrease as well. All the research I have read has indicated if endurance training is halted completely, only 10% of the capacity is lost at the end of the first week, but up to 35-45% is lost by the end of the second week. By the end of this race I could prove this theory personally.

Arriving at Coachman Park was easy, and parking was abundant. There was plenty of parking, packet and chip pick-up were well organized, and the announcements were clear and informative, not unlike every other event that race director Chris Lauber is involved with. The only drawback, as with every race, was the line at the porto-lets prior to the race. The irony is that it does seem to the best place to find runner friends also taking part.

Cheryl & I at the Start

The start line was filled with hugs and handshakes from friends, clients and acquaintances sharing the nervous energy common to most long endurance races. I was lucky to find my friend Cheryl who was attempting her first marathon, in order to wish her good luck and to enjoy the race. The Clearwater Running Festival included a total of four different races. A 5k, a 5-miler, a half marathon and a marathon, all of which started at the same time with the turn-around points specifically marked for each race. After a beautiful, operatic version of the Star Spangled banner, a cannon boomed signaling the start of all four races.

The first mile was light and easy and took the athletes through downtown Clearwater before making the way up and over the Clearwater Bridge. The advantage toward heading toward the beach was the grade on the bridge was slight, but long. As long as the runner bends from the ankles it is possible to push the hips into the bridge causing their momentum to be provided by gravity which is much more efficent. I coach what I personally do, so as I as fresh and pushing my hips into the bridge, it was very easy for me. The second and third mile led us through downtown Clearwater Beach which was gorgeous. It was slightly overcast, there was just a slight breeze coming over the water, the air was crisp and it was, well…perfect. Nothing changed as we trotted over the Sand key Bridge, which again, while running South the grade was slight and long. The aid station at mile 4 was my strategic walk station, so I grabbed a Honey Stinger Gel, from my belt, washed it down with a little Gatorade and kept going. Up to this point I was running right around 7:55 minute/miles and I was feeling really good.  Ahead of me was a friend of mine, and amazing runner, Pila Cadena and while I knew she had put in a lot more miles than I did running over the last couple of months, she turned out to be the mouse to my cat. We exchanged leads around Sand Key Park and then back south on Gulf Boulevard.

As we approached mile 7 which was the turn-around point, I started to worry about Cheryl and how she was doing, so while running north on Gulf Boulevard, I started looking at the runners traveling the opposite direction. The breeze had picked up a little but I didn’t really notice it because I was concentrating on finding Cheryl. I ended up noticing a bunch of other friends though, Teresa, Holly, Hugo, Nicole, and Bjorn, but I didn’t see Cheryl. Finally, as I was coming upon the 8 mile mark I noticed her running and chatting with a friend and she looked strong, so with that out of my mind I focused on the music in my ears and the last five miles. That was short lived when Parks came up behind me and struck up a conversation. To be totally honest, it kind of irked me a little. Parks is an amazing athlete, but he is a little older,  so of course my ego took a beating when he decided to pickup the pace. I already felt I was at max speed if I was going to finish the race with a little bit of energy left, so I let him go, even though my ego was saying the opposite. Pila was in front again, and as I was determined not to get “chicked”, by this four-foot-eleven, wonderful woman, whom also has a couple of years on me, I picked up the pace. First, the opposite side of the Sand Key Bridge, which graded much steeper than the front side. I increased the angle of my body and pushed my hips into the hill and my speed increased on my way up, however, for some reason the spring was gone in my step. I realigned myself, but it felt more like I was super speed walking than running. I was passing runners, which was fine, but I had no bound whatsoever. As momentum carried me over the top of the bridge, I tightened my core and let me legs go, which opened up my stride and on the way down my speed increased and it felt like my spring was back.

Pila was in my sights and started to close the gap. At mile 11 we could see the Clearwater Bridge coming up which meant the end of the race was just over the bridge, down the twisted ramp and across the finish. Prior to the beginning of the bridge two younger runners overtook me, and as I tried to keep up with them, I noticed for the first time, my legs were not cooperating. I wasn’t in pain, but my legs would just not take the messages I was giving them from my brain to pick up the cadence and move faster. The two gentlemen kept moving past me, but I had a weapon per say. The bridge was steep and no one is better on hills than me either running or biking. My legs while continuing to defy me still were consistent so again, all I had to do was tighten my core and my legs would continue in the consistent pace they were moving. I did just that and whizzed by both of the runners with the thought of putting enough distance between us in order for them not to catch me on the other side of the bridge. At the top I realigned myself, squeezed every last bit of strength I had left in my core and let my legs take me to the twisted ramp in order to finish the course. I hesitantly looked back and noticed both of them slowing on the backside, because the were putting on the brakes, while I was letting gravity take my legs to whatever stride they wanted. There was only Pila now in my sights.  As we hit the twisted ramp and I looked over the banister I saw her just below me, with Dawn just in front of her. Now I wanted Dawn too. I increased the angle and started to pick up speed, but of course just like most other runners, they saw the finish line too and increased their pace as well. The three of us hit the last tenth of mile, 1–2–3, but I could not make up the distance, and I saw Dawn cross, then Pila before I finally came to a halt across the finish line.

After crossing

I was officially “chicked” by about 20 seconds which is not necessarily a bad thing. While I could rationalize that our strategies were different as I walked through aid stations four, seven and nine, strategically, and Pila never even grabbed water, there is still no denying the results. Obviously, as Dawn and Pila were in different age groups, they both ended up on the podium, which made me feel a little better. I, on the other hand, ended up 14 out of 38, which left me at least in the top 50% which is normal for me. It wasn’t a PR, by a long shot, but it was a fun race.
Afterwards, I decided to hang out to see the awards for the Half Marathon because so many of my friends and acquaintances ended up on the podium. The presentations were nice with Suzanne Henslee on the microphone and Chris Lauber presenting the awards. It was great to see people I have trained with up on the podium.

Pila on the Podium

As the wind blew through the car on my way home, I recollected the race and how I felt. My body felt beat, but not in pain and my mind was racing on what the future would hold. There is a lot of training ahead of me with plenty of testing along the way with different races. There was one thing that was bothering me. Two years ago I decided to do a couple of races where I just didn’t care about my times or performance and those races were a lot of fun. I am obsessing more about my times lately which is a different kind of fun, but I wonder if that will be a means to an end. I have the knowledge and the experience to complete all of my training without, (or at least with minimal) injury, but will I sacrifice that to increase performance? At this point I would say no, but when push comes to shove, and I am participating in a race, will I let my ego takeover and increase my chances to DNF a future race? Only time will tell.

Whit and I 
Carpe Viam!

Bjorn and I after the race


Goof Review: Elf The Musical

The Tampa Bay Bloggers had an opportunity to see Elf the Musical on opening night and as a new member I was thrilled at the chance to take part.  Now as I am a new member I am not sure of the background of my fellow bloggers, but I do have a modest amount of training and experience in theater (www.bradminus.com), so I may be just a tad more specific especially on the acting, but nevertheless I hope my review will be informative enough to help you decide whether to see it or not.  Just a little foreshadowing….go see it.

Elf the Musical is based on the 2003 holiday movie Elf starring Will Farrell about a human baby who found his way into Santa’s bag during his Christmas visit to a local orphanage.  Since the boy was already an orphan, Santa and his elves decided to raise the child at the north pole just as they would any elf child.  The problem was Buddy, the human boy, grew to be over six feet tall.  After a small slip of the tongue by one of the other elves, Buddy learns that he is indeed human and asks Santa about his parents.  It is then that Buddy decides to go and find his father in the big city of New York.

NETwork Presentations LLC’s production of this family Christmas musical was alive with high energy musical numbers, colorful set pieces and smooth transitions from scene to scene.  In the past decade or two, Broadway and national tours have started to move toward high tech sets and stage work which include hgh intensive set changes, creative light and sound effects, and even some pyrotechnics.  Very recently I have noticed a small shift back to a more classical route where the set pieces are simple but painted well, the lighting is simple and the music and sound are achieved by a live orchestra instead of musical tracks.  This musical is a perfect example.  This simpler style has shifted the responsibility of the quality of productions back to the performers and less to the designers of sets, sound and lighting.  In my opinion it makes for a better show, but I may be a little biased.

The play opens up with Santa (Gordon Gray) sitting in his living room fighting with his television set.  He opens the fourth wall and greets the audience as if we were sitting on the floor right in his living room.  After subtly turning off his cell phone, he opens a book and prepares to tell us the story of Buddy the Elf.  At the point the living room is whisked away to Santa’s workshop where the elves are preparing for Christmas.   Gordon’s depiction of Santa throughout the play is wonderful.  His energy and boastfulness helped me to get lost in the show and actually believe I was at the north pole.

Matt Kopec’s characterization of Buddy is spot on as his high energy, child like characterization makes the audience believe this six-foot boy really does believe he is an elf and is horrified when he finds out he is actually human.  Matt’s singing voice is pure musical theater and was a joy to hear every time he opened his mouth.  I found myself waiting impatiently for his next number.

The real treat came from the character of Jovie (Kae Hennies), who captures Buddy’s heart the moment he sees her in the office of his biological father, Walter Hobbs (Drew Culver).  Jovie has to be coaxed in to singing during the number “A Christmas Song”, but when she finally decides to sing out, her voice beautifully resonates throughout the theatre and when paired with Buddy’s the duo create pure musical brilliance for any ear.

Other notable performances were by Michael, Buddy’s half brother played by Connor Barth who even as a young actor, had a mature voice for his age.  He tended to get a little pitchy in the upper registers, but because of his characterization was easily missed and forgivable.  Julia Louise Hosack played Emily Hobbs, Buddy’s step mother, also had a fantastic musical voice and she was able to lead Michael into musical duets that gave me the “warm fuzzies”.  The connection and chemistry between these two well trained actors allowed me to believe they were really mother and son.

The only drawback of this production that tugged me out of my holiday nirvana, was the voice of Drew Pulver whom played Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s father.  His performance was not inferior, it just did not mix well the rest of the ensemble in my humble opinion.  It was obvious to the audience that most of the ensemble were trained in contemporary music or musical theater   When Walter sang it was clearly operatic, to a point where the words were garbled and I couldn’t make out the lyrics.  Unfortunately, every time he sang it was distracting and his voice did not meld with the rest of the ensemble.

This show is classical musical theatre with simply painted sets, wonderful acting, and is sure to bring a smile to you and your family should you decide to see it.  It is a true Holiday treat.

Elf the Musical is playing at
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
1010 North W.C. MacInnes Place
Tampa, Florida 33602
November 20-25
Wed. 7:30 p.m.
Fri. 2 and 8 p.m.
Sat. 2 and 8 p.m.
Sun. 1 and 6:30 p.m.