For its third year, The Great American Fitness Challenge (GAFC) is returning to Lexington on June 3, bringing its 5K run along with a full schedule of fitness competitions and experiences for novice exercisers and adrenalin addicts alike to the University of Kentucky campus.
While the event itself and its focal 5K are geared toward encouraging and inspiring community fitness at any and all levels, this year will bring two new opportunities for the region’s most dedicated fitness enthusiasts to see how their strength and endurance measure up against the U.S. military’s Special Operations elite.
The GAFC Sea Challenge, which will include a 500-yard swim followed by sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and a 1.5-mile run, is modeled after the physical standards set for the United States Navy Seals. The Land Challenge, based on the tests used to measure the mettle of United States Army Rangers, adds a longer 3.1-mile run with a weighted vest in lieu of any swimming requirement.
GAFC’s organizer, Lexington-based marketing group BrainBox, has managed hundreds of fitness events and competitions nationwide, including nine similar Navy Seals challenge events in cities across the country, said Rick Ford, BrainBox president and CEO. Participants at those events have been energized by the opportunity to score and compare their abilities to those who make a career out of the most physically demanding professions, he said.
“If you are into fitness, it can become a little bit routine,” Ford said. “We try to throw something in there that will let people change it up a bit, but also give them a way to measure how truly fit they are.”
Both land and sea competitors will receive scores assessing their performance in each aspect of their respective Challenges, and those scores will be posted on a leaderboard throughout the day, Ford said. The top three scores for males and females in up to five age groups for each Challenge will earn medals for their accomplishments.
The top three male and female 5K finishers in each of up to five age groups will take home medals as well, Ford said.
Although the Challenges use the fitness parameters set by U.S. military groups, the event isn’t aimed at any kind of recruitment, Ford said, and the day’s schedule will provide plenty of opportunities for those who don’t aspire to be military-caliber trainees. In addition to the 5K and the Land and Sea Challenges, free yoga and Zumba classes will also be offered throughout the day, to entertain and invigorate spectators and families who come out to take part in the fitness celebration.
“You get to choose where you jump in,” Ford said. “We love that there are so many road races, and bike races and walks, because those serve as the core for our fitness community. … We just want to keep throwing things out there for this community to participate in that are a little out of the norm.”
GAFC’s partnership with the University of Kentucky this year to provide a new venue for the event will bring added convenience for racegoers and readily available parking at Commonwealth Stadium, Ford said. The swimming portion of the Sea Challenge will be held at the nearby Lancaster Aquatic Center.
Despite poor weather at last year’s event, which was held at the Kentucky Horse Park, Ford said participation increased by more than 30 percent over the previous year, to include roughly 550 5K runners and walkers. Race participants traveled from as far as Ashland, Kentucky, and Huntington, West Virginia, to take part.
“We are hoping as we gain momentum that we will continue to expand that,” Ford said.
The 2016 Great American Fitness Challenge also featured a daunting obstacle course of 38 existing or improvised jumps over three miles of terrain, Ford said. This year’s challenges are designed to center more on the athlete over the environment.
“The Challenge really is about the person rather than the course,” Ford said. “It’s about your fitness capabilities and not the obstacles. It’s a way to figure out where you are and what you do well, and maybe give you some insight on how you can do more.”
To register for this year's 5K or the new Land Challenge or Sea Challenge, or to find more information about the Great American Fitness Challenge event, check online at gafitnesschallenge.com.