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Flatlanders Challenge is back, and it's good for Brooksville

Here's a new twist on the once-dead, now apparently revived, almost annual Brooksville tradition, the Flatlanders Challenge road race:

This winter's edition, the 30th, will be Feb. 5, a little more than 32 years after the inaugural race and exactly one day before the Super Bowl.

Brilliant.

This is a bad dude of race, remember, a thug with a blackjack and brass knuckles. Seemingly every one of the main event's 10,000 meters is at least slightly up or down hill. And some of these slopes seem to have been hauled down directly from western North Carolina.

If you do as the race's title demands — challenge yourself — you will have more than earned the right to slump into a recliner, eat chips and slurp down beer the next day. Heck, it would be within your right to mainline it if you wanted.

Of course, you might not want anything other than ibuprofen and ice packs. You may not really be relaxing after the race, but convalescing. Lie still, stare at the screen and let those bones and tendons reknit.

I kid, of course, but Flatlanders really is tough. And for us masochists who used to look forward to it every year like Christmas or even the Super Bowl, it's great to see it return after a two-year absence.

Jay Pingley is in the business of putting on triathlons and running races as the owner of Southern Endurance Sports Services. He won't make any money off Flatlanders, at least this year, but he wants to revive the tradition that his father, Norm, helped establish as a member of the Red Mule Runners.

That group sponsored the race from December 1978, when the first one was staged, until 2007, when, after years of declining attendance and increasing competition from other races, members announced they would pull the plug.

Pingley and other sons and daughters of original Red Mule Runners stepped in to save it, and held it again in 2008, before they, too, gave up on the race.

Pingley planned for a while to revive it in the spring of 2010, but gave up after learning the Red Mule Runners had a race scheduled for the same day. This year, he has checked to make sure the racing calendar is pretty much clear. He even built a website — flatlanderschallenge.com — asking the races' essential question: "Do you have what it takes to take on Florida's toughest 5K/10K?"

And he has tentative permission from the city of Brooksville to hold the race on its streets. Maybe next year, he said, he will get the grant from the county Tourist Development Council that he asked for, unsuccessfully, this year.

And maybe that will allow him to do some marketing, build attendance and rebuild the tradition.

It's not likely this will ever grow into a huge event. Though downtown business owners should see a bump in customers on race day, it probably won't bring in many people for out-of-state, overnight visits.

But too many people know Brooksville as the seat of the county with the area's highest foreclosure and unemployment rates. They might just be aware of the name for its history of racial oppression.

Flatlanders brings other associations: active folks, a wholesome challenge. It's a way to create a new image for the city. Call it building the brand. And what, possibly, could be a better fit for the weekend of the Super Bowl?

Flatlanders Challenge is back, and it's good for Brooksville 12/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 7:50pm]
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