Local fitness studios pitch in with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

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The upside to the catastrophe in Houston? Watching the way Texas communities have come together to help out.

City Surf Fitness is collecting donations for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Know of another gym pitching in? Email pleblanc@statesman.com. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Here in Austin, the fitness community is getting involved. Not only are local paddlers (experts only, you don’t want to become part of the problem) lending a hand (or a boat), area fitness studios are collecting donations.

  • City Surf Austin, 1500 South Lamar Boulevard, Suite 130, is accepting contributions of bottled water, pet supplies, canned food, new underwear for men and women, and other dry goods to deliver to victims. For more information go here.
  • Wanderlust Yoga, 206 East Fourth Street, is donating 100 percent of sales on Friday, Sept. 1, to the American Red Cross. The shop at the studio sells T-shirts, tanks, sweatshirts, yoga mats, hats, tops, yoga pants and more. For more information go here.
  • Camp Gladiator is donating 100 percent of proceeds from a special $25 “relief” shirt to the American Red Cross. Place orders by Thursday here.
  • The Barre Code, 2300 South Lamar Boulevard, has scheduled a donation-based high intensity interval training class at 7 p.m. tonight. Donations go to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey. Sign up online at http://www.thebarrecode.com/studio/austin/.
  • Studio Mantra, 8127 Mesa Drive, is accepting donations of cash, check and unused gift cards (Target, WalMart, etc.); 100 percent of all donations will go to All Hands Volunteers and Habitat for Humanity. Also, donations of 5-gallon gas cans with gas, bottled water, non-perishable food, toilet paper, bandages, aspirin, bug spray, body wipes, tampons, diapers, batteries, work gloves, tarps and more will be delivered to help residents of Rockport. Bring items to the studio by Friday. For more information call 512-960-4660 or go to mantraaustin.com.
  • The Bar Method, 1611 West Sixth Street, shared information from its sister studio in Houston, which has put out a call for donations to be shipped to The Bar Method Houston, 503 Westheimer Road, Houston 77006. The studio has also opened a PayPal account so people from anywhere can make a donation. Funds will be used to buy supplies and gift cards for victims and make donations to organizations helping in relief efforts. For more information email rachel@barmethod.com.
  • CrossFit Central has set up a GoFundMe account to help all of the CrossFit gyms that have been damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. To donate, go here. Both Austin locations of CrossFit Central – 702 East Third Street and 6205 Burnet Road – will also hold a donation-based workout open to everyone on Monday, Sept. 4. Funds raised will be donated to the gyms in need.
  • Castle Hill Fitness, 1112 North Lamar Boulevard, is asking for donations of clothing (larger sizes are ideal), socks, baby clothes, wipes, diapers, canned food, baby formula, bottled water, new underwear, toiletries, hand sanitizer, towels and blankets. Drop off contributions by Tuesday. For more information go here.
  • Dancers Shape, 5350 Burnet Road Suite 7, will donate 25 percent of all sales on Sept. 9, the day of the studio’s cardio kickoff event, to Mayor Turner’s Hurricane Relief Fund. The studio will also collect cash donations for the fund at the studio. Studio founder Jennifer McCamish is a Houston native.
  • Love Cycling Studio, 507 Pressler Street, is donation 100 percent of proceeds from classes Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Sept. 2-4, to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. For more information go here.
  • Rogue Running, 410 Pressler Street, is collecting donations at the kick-off for this year’s Austin Marathon & Half Marathon Training at 7 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 2. Needed items include new undergarments and socks, toiletries, new bed pillows and blankets, cleanup supplies, work gloves, inflatable mattresses, box fans and more (no used clothing please.)  The items will go to the Austin Disaster Relief Network. Donations will also be accepted here.
  • Soul Cycle, 401 Congress Avenue, will hold a Houston Relief Ride at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2. All proceeds will be donated to organizations helping with hurricane disaster relief. For more information go here.
  • Treehouse Yoga, 2525 Wallingwood Drive, Building 1, is offering a free yoga class (and bagels from Wholly Bagel!) at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays during September. Charitable goods and donations will be given to those affected by the hurricane. The studio is also collecting toiletries, cleaning supplies, leather work gloves, hand sanitizer, first-aid supplies, non-perishable foods and more. For more information go here. 

If you decide to give, make sure you do it wisely. Often, cash is the best way most people can help, experts say.

RELATED: Donating to Harvey relief efforts: How, when, what to give.

Know of another fitness center, exercise group or club that’s helping out with hurricane relief efforts? Email Pam LeBlanc at pleblanc@statesman.com or post below this blog.

Castle Hill Fitness opening new location in Davenport Village

Castle Hill Fitness is opening a second location in Davenport Village. Photo courtesy Castle Hill Fitness

Longtime Austin gym Castle Hill Fitness is opening a second location in the Davenport Village Shopping Center.

The club’s first location opened at 1112 North Lamar Boulevard in 2002. The new location, next to Maudie’s Milagro at 3801 North Capitol of Texas Highway, formerly housed BB Fitness Studios.

The new location includes a swimming pool, hot tub and sauna. Photo courtesy Castle Hill Fitness

Castle Hill acquired BB Fitness Studios and will retain its employees. Owner Susan Cooper, is retiring after 34 years.

The new Castle Hill location includes a pool, hot tub, steam and sauna rooms, and will offer personal training, Pilates and yoga classes, and massage.

Membership begins in mid-September. Photo courtesy Castle Hill Fitness

Membership enrollment will begin in mid-September.

“We look forward to continuing the promotion of health and community that currently exists at this location by partnering with staff, patrons, and our new neighbors,” said Castle Hill president Clayton Aynesworth.

For more information go here. http://www.castlehillfitness.com

The gym is taking over space once occupied by BB Fitness. Photo courtesy Castle Hill Fitness

Manufacturers to unveil latest running gear, gadgets at Austin tradeshow

Zoot displays colorful shoes at The Running Event 2015 at the Austin Convention Center. The show returns to Austin this year. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


The Running Event, where gear makers unveil their latest and greatest products to sports store owners, will return to Austin this November.

And nope, unless you’re in the business, you can’t attend. We’ll be there, though, taking notes and talking to industry experts about what’s new in the running world.

The show took place in Florida last year because of a scheduling conflict at the Austin Convention Center. This year’s four-day event, the largest running specialty trade show in North America, begins Nov. 28.

RELATED: Manufacturers show off newest gear, gadgets at The Running Event

Browsing the aisles is like peeking at the gifts under the tree a month before the holidays. Shoes, clothing, wearable electronics that measure everything about your exercise routine, energy gels, lights, awards, jewelry and recovery drinks of all types are on display, and manufacturers are eager to chat about them.

Hoka One One’s Ike Alvear, left, of Richmond, California, shows off the latest running shoes to David Jackson, right, of Sarasota, Florida, during The Running Event in 2013.
Ashley Landis for American-Statesman

Walter Robb, former chief executive officer of Austin-based Whole Foods, will compare apples to running shoes in his keynote address, where he will talk about the challenge running stores face from online sellers. Robb is now a director of The Container Store.

An estimated 2,700 industry professionals and more than 250 top running and running accessory brands will attend. Exhibitors include ASICS, Balega, Brooks Running, New Balance, Nike, On and Saucony.

Pearl Izumi offered pedicures to attendees of the 2015 Running Event 2015 at the Austin Convention Center. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But it won’t be all business. Show attendees will square off at the Indie 5K on Nov. 30 to determine the fastest retailer in America. The race, which has seen times in the sub-15 minute per mile pace, is one of the fastest 5Ks in the country.

Meb Keflezighi will receive lifetime achievement award at Best Running Stores in America Awards on Nov. 30.

Retail registration is available here.

How far can you paddle a SUP? This Austin man plans to go farther


Aaron Gonzalez plans to paddle a stand-up paddleboard up the Texas coast, from Port Isabel to Port Arthur. Family photo

Forget the sharks, the 70-mile stretch of coast without so much as a dusty convenience store, and his lack of experience paddling in an ocean.

When Aaron Gonzalez straps his tent and some food to his stand-up paddleboard in October, he says he’s most worried about letting people down if he doesn’t finish his planned 367-mile journey up the Texas coast.

RELATED: Don’t have room for a regular stand-up paddleboard? Try an inflatable.

“It’s the more practical things, like mosquitoes, getting injured to the point of not completing the trip, and rip tides washing me out to sea,” he says. “I want to complete this so bad for the cause … and to show everyone that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”

The 32-year-old Austin man, who traveled to South Padre Island to log some training miles this week, plans to paddle his 14-foot board just outside the breakwater as he makes his way from Port Isabel to Port Arthur, with a goal of logging 30 miles a day.

RELATED: Eleven ways to stay cool – and active – in the heat.

“It’s long days, but the route I’m taking will take me with the ocean current. That’s going to help me a little bit,” he says.

He’ll camp along the way, but also stop at restaurants and stores to refuel and resupply as he makes his way up the Gulf Coast. And yes, he knows he’ll hit a dearth of pit stops when he paddles 70 miles along Padre Island National Seashore.

“To be honest, I’ve never done any real paddleboarding,” Gonzalez, who owns a professional detail business and makes promotional videos, told me in July. (He’s ramped up the training since then.) “That’s where most people are going to think I’m really crazy. It’s all part of the adventure, the experience of life. I would consider myself a professional adventurist. I skydive, scuba dive, overland camp, snorkel, and once did a motorcycle trip from Austin to Maine over 26 days. On my way home from that, I put together the brushstrokes of this trip.”

He expects the trip to take from 13 to 15 days. He’ll begin on Oct. 7. Along the way, he hopes to raise $15,000 for a non-profit organization in Rockwall called Patriot Paws, which helps train service dogs for military veterans. To donate go here.

“I have an amazing 6-year-old Doberman named Skyy. I truly believe she improves my quality of life. It’s the same thing for vets,” he says.


Looking for an easy paddle trip? Try the Colorado River near Webberville

Chris and Pam LeBlanc paddled the Colorado River from Little Webberville to Big Webberville Park on Sunday. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Chalk up river number six in my summer of paddling.

So far this summer, I’ve canoed the Devils River and kayaked the San Marcos River, the Llano River, the Pedernales River and Mexican Creek near Medina Lake. On Sunday, I added the Colorado River east of Austin to the list.

My husband and I dropped by Cook’s Canoes in Webberville, where we chatted with quintessential river guy Neal Cook, who wears a beat-up straw hat and looks like he might keep a pet nutria in his bathtub. (We love him!) We paid $20 to have him to shuttle us to our takeout point, where we left our truck.

Neal Cook runs Cook’s Canoes in Webberville. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

The Colorado River gets high marks if you’re looking for an easy paddle trip. It’s wide, without rapids or dams to navigate. The water is warm, and we passed a couple of big gravel beds. Alligator Island (no, we didn’t spot an alligator, but we did see a faded sign) makes a nice spot to stop and swim, as does a larger, 5-acre island a little farther downstream. (Sometimes there are old metal chairs under the shade trees there. It’s a popular spot for camping and picnicking.)

Nobody’s out there, either. This is the same river that forms Lady Bird Lake in Austin, but just 20 minutes east of town you’ll have the place to yourself. An airboat buzzed us heading upstream and one other canoe (a man, woman and black Labrador) passed us heading downstream during the two hours we spent on the river, swimming and kicking back.

We covered 5.5 leisurely river miles between Little Webberville Park and Big Webberville Park, stopping frequently to splash around and take pictures. Both points have concrete boat ramps, for easy put in and take out, and huge shady oak trees make a good resting spot at the finish.

Someone is dumping old car tires by this tree on the north side of the Colorado River, east of Little Webberville Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

We paddled past a lot of trash during the first mile of our trip. Someone’s apparently been ditching car tires on the hillside on the north side of the river, and as the bank erodes, they’re starting to tumble into the water. And all the plastic water bottles – it’s disheartening.

Now I want to paddle from Austin to Bastrop, about 50 miles. Anybody interested?

Pam LeBlanc paddles the Colorado River. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Besides offering shuttle services for paddlers with their own boats, Cook’s Canoes, 1004 Water Street in Webberville, rents tandem canoes and solo sit-on-top kayaks. Cost is $40 per day per canoe and $30 per day per kayak ($50 and $35, respectively, for overnight trips.) For more information call 512-276-7767 or go here.

Look for my story about the best places to paddle in Central Texas soon.


Two Austin swimming holes make list of Best Places to Swim

Barton Springs made musician Loudon Wainwright III’s list of Best Places to Swim. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Two Austin swimming holes made a list of the Best Places for a Swim in a New York Times article penned by touring musician Loudon Wainwright III this weekend.

RELATED: Loudon Wainwright III writes about his favorite places to swim

Barton Springs (of course!) and Deep Eddy (a little more surprising, but bravo!) get mentions alongside oceans, lakes and rivers in Ireland, Australia and Scotland. Watering holes in New York, Rhode Island and California also made the list.

Wainwright, a folk singer and songwriter who has spent much of the last 50 years traveling the globe performing, says he always packs a swimsuit and goggles along with his guitar. He likes to swim laps between shows, and says he grew up loving the water. (His father liked to swim, too, but his mother harbored a fear of swimming since she was baptised in a muddy water when she was 8.)

Wainwright, who lives in Canada, is more than just a musician. He’s played small parts in films, including “The 40-year-old Virgin” and the singing surgeon in an episode of MASH.

The sun rises over Barton Springs Pool on Saturday May 13, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

No surprise that he included Barton Springs Pool in his story. He makes note of the topless sunbathing that sometimes (though not nearly as often as it used to) takes place at the chlorine-free swimming hole.

RELATED: Zilker Park celebrates its 100th birthday this year

Somewhat surprisingly, Deep Eddy also gets a nod. (I love Deep Eddy too, but on the global scale?) Perhaps it’s the history of the place that charms. Wainwright notes that the spring-fed pool, touted as the oldest man-made swimming pool in the state, once hosted Lorena’s Diving Horse. He doesn’t mention the ferris wheel or the guy who ate bananas under water or the giant slide, which add to the appeal, too.

Deep Eddy Pool in Austin, circa 1925, featured a ferris wheel, a 50-foot diving platform and a slide. Austin History Center


RELATED: Deep Eddy Pool celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016

What are your favoirte places to swim? Besides Barton Springs, I’d put Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Madrone Lake at Bamberger Ranch near Johnson City, a secret spot on the Blanco River, Lake Michigan and the San Marcos River on my list.

Why did Fit City declare 2017 her Year of Adventure? Tune in to Grit and Dirt podcast

Kathryn Taylor, left, and Bethany Rugledge, right, have launched a podcast and blog called Grit and Dirt. Fit City is the featured guest Monday. Photo contributed by Kathryn Taylor

It takes grit to do worthwhile stuff. But how do you get started? Sometimes you need a little background dirt to help you reach goals.

Kathryn Taylor and Bethany Rutledge, two USA Triathlon-certified coaches and endurance athletes in Atlanta, want to help with that. They recently launched a blog and podcast they call Grit and Dirt.

I met Taylor last month, when I joined Austin-based Rogue Expeditions for a running trip to Bend, Oregon. Taylor and I got to talking, and I mentioned to her that I’d come on the trip as part of my declaration of 2017 as my Year of Adventure. She invited me to appear on a Grit and Dirt podcast to talk about why I’m doing it and how others can get started.

RELATED: Fit City declares 2017 her Year of Adventure.

That podcast, in which I describe a lot of crazy stuff I’ve done this year, from running a naked 5K  to jumping off a 10-meter platform into a swimming pool at the University of Texas, will air Monday. Listen to it here.

“The Grit and Dirt podcast is all about helping people make small changes that we believe can lead to bigger changes in their life,” Taylor says.

The audience isn’t just endurance athletes, either. It applies as much to someone hoping to run their first-ever 5K.

“We’re trying to help people who are looking to start their journey, looking to be inspired – maybe the mom who believes she could never be a triathlete,” she says. “The idea is anybody that’s taking some kind of physical challenge – a 5K, a Spartan race, jumping off 10-meter platform – and using that as a bridge to make bigger changes in their life.”

Tune in and get inspired.

Austin runners Macsas and Brooks set new Wonderland Trail record – by 2 hours

Allison Macsas, left, and Mallory Brooks, right, set a new women’s record for an unsupported trail run around Mount Rainier. Photo by Gabe Steger

Two Austin runners set a new women’s time record on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail today, cutting nearly 2 hours off the previous record set in 2012.

Allison Macsas and Mallory Brooks started their run early Monday and completed the loop around Mount Rainier together, without any outside support.

They aimed to break the 30-hour barrier. They did much more than that, finishing in 29 hours, 12 minutes and 25 seconds, just before noon today.

RELATED: Austin women take aim at Wonderland Trail record.

The women knocked nearly two hours off the existing record. Photo by Gabe Steger

“The things we thought would be the biggest challenges – snow fields and washed out bridges – turned out to be no big deal. At the last minute, we decided to run the loop opposite from last year, which means most of the elevation gain was in the second half of the run,” Macsas said after completing the run. “The last few miles were definitely the most challenging, both physically and mentally. We knew we had the fastest known time, which made it easy to keep pushing forward. “

The women ran the opposite direction so they could navigate snow fields in the daylight, and also because they were familiar with the last half of the trail, making it easier to run through the night.

Allison Macsas rests after completing a 93-mile run on the Wonderland Trail. Photo by Gabe Steger

When they finished, they ate Nepali food and drank a beer, according to Gabe Steger, Macsas‘ fiance. They plan to shower, then lay down flat, he added. Sleeping is sometimes difficult after such a long run, he said.

Time records are kept in three divisions – supported, in which crew members can help a runner by providing food or shoes or anything they need; self-supported, in which a runner can cache food or mail packages to him or herself; and unsupported, in which a runner can only carry his or her own supplies or eat and drink what they find in the wild.

Until today, Candice Burt held the women’s unsupported “fastest known time” of 31 hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds, set in 2012. That’s just over a 20-minute pace, on a rugged, single-track trail with 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. (She also encountered two mountain lions along the way, and has some cool tattoos on her legs.)

What happens when live power lines come down in a campground? Now I know …

A high-voltage power line came down in the midst of our camp site last weekend near Cloud Croft, New Mexico. We evacuated to the highway for most of the night. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


Forget bears, widow maker trees and lightning storms. After last weekend, I’m moving power lines to the top of my list of things to pay attention to while camping.

During a (culinary) mushroom-foraging trip to the Lincoln National Forest, a small group of us convened at a group camp site not far from Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Some of us pitched tents on designated gravel tent pads; our leader wheeled up a travel trailer.

We didn’t give much thought to the power lines that cut through the small campground. We were camping on prepared sites, so we assumed they’d be safely positioned.

It had rained all afternoon, and as we zipped up our tent flaps and tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags to go to bed, light showers were still falling. I fell asleep right away, but woke up at about 1 a.m. to a bright flash and a weird buzzy, surging noise that sounded straight out of “Poltergeist.”

I sat up and blinked, but didn’t notice anything else, so after a minute or two I snuggled back down under the covers and shut my eyes. After a few minutes, though, something didn’t seem right. I heard voices. I unzipped my tent flaps, poked my head out and noticed a string of what looked like (without my contacts in) twinkling lights on the ground.

Scorch lines where the power line fell cut through the middle of camp. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Weird. It didn’t make sense, especially since I was still half asleep.

I jabbed my husband in the ribs. “What’s that?” I said, trying to wake him up.

He rolled over. I jabbed him again, and held the tent flaps open so he could see the sizzling line of fire.

About that time, Don, our trip leader, started hollering. We yanked on clothes, leaped out of our tent and saw a downed power line about 20 feet from our tent, 3 feet from one of the other campers and 4 inches from the edge of the travel trailer.

Looking back, I should have run through the woods, away from the power line, but that’s not what I did. We ran toward the downed line, jumped across it and met our group in the parking lot on the other side. When everyone had made it safely across, we piled into vehicles, drove out of the campground, parked on the road a few hundred feet away and called 911.

It took an hour for emergency fire crews to arrive, and the power lines crackled and snapped on the ground for another hour after that, while we waited for power company crews to show up and turn off the current.

At about 5:30 a.m., the emergency crews finished up and we rolled back into our campground, filed back into our tents in the rain and slept a few more soggy hours.

When we finally got up, scorched burn lines in the grass and tire tracks sunk in the mud were the only signs of what had happened.

We joked a lot about the incident, but the truth is we’d come very close to tragedy. If the wire had fallen a few feet over, the line would have landed on one of our tents. If anyone had touched the live wire, they’d have been electrocuted. If the wire had fallen on the trailer, the trailer might have caught fire – or the people inside could have been shocked as they exited it. If the line had hit the propane tank, who knows. And if the grass had been dry, it may have started a forest fire.

So many things could have gone wrong. We were lucky.

I’m never sleeping anywhere near a power line again. I’m taking my chances in the back country with the bears, the lightning storms, the funky water and anything else Mother Nature could throw at us.

Forget nightclubs – toss hatchets instead at Austin’s newest club

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The end-over-end whirl of an axe soaring through the air, followed by a heavy thunk as it embeds in a slab of wood.

Nothing provides the satisfaction of a little axe slinging, and starting Sept. 15, Central Texans can throw all the hatchets they want inside an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in East Austin.

Urban Axes, a competitive hatchet-throwing venue, will open Sept. 15 in Austin. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

Urban Axes Austin is scheduled to open Sept. 15 at 812 Airport Boulevard. League play will begin the following week.

Guests get one-on-one instruction from a coach. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

“It’s like darts, only bigger and more satisfying,” says Krista Poll, one of the owners of Urban Axes, which already operates an axe-throwing facility in Philadelphia.

RELATED: Guests at Austin-area resort hone hatchet throwing skills

The venue will host groups ranging in size from 6 to 100 people, including parties, corporate team building events or friends looking for something different to do. Group events last about two and a half hours and must be booked in advance.

The venue will host groups of six to 100. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

And because axe throwing is apparently better with a little booze and food under the belt, guests can bring their own beer, wine and food. Hard liquor is not permitted. (Technically, customers can’t toss hatchets with one hand and drink beer with the other, since drinks aren’t allowed in the throwing arena. Besides, a coach will shut things down if a participant is drunk or acting inappropriately.)

RELATED: Austin’s first-ever axe-throwing venue set to open this summer.

“It’s more of a have-a-casual-beer place and less of a nightclub thing,” says Earl Ball, who is opening the Austin location. “You come, hang out, have a few beers, throw a few axes and move on to the next thing.”

The venue features five arenas, each of which can handle up to 25 people at a time. Sessions begin with safety briefings and one-on-one throwing practice with coaches, using 14-inch, 1.5-pound hatchets in a fenced-in area. Participants throw at wooden targets, aiming for a bull’s eye and trying to score the most points. Competitors use their own lane and compete side-by-side with another opponent, always under a coach’s supervision, as they compete in a single-elimination tournament.

Guests throw 14-inch hatchets that weigh a pound and a half. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

Urban Axes was founded in 2016 in Philadelphia by a group of Australian and American friends inspired by the popularity of axe throwing in Toronto, where more than a dozen hatchet-throwing clubs operate.

Urban Axes Austin will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; walk-in sessions will be offered a few days each week. Participants must be 21 or older and must wear closed-toe shoes. Cost is $35 per person, and includes all equipment and instruction.

For more information call (512) 887-2937 or go here.