theParklander

Everglades Trail Race
By David Volz / January 1, 2013

Imagine a running event where you might meet an alligator and other wildlife. Imagine being part of a wide variety of natural environments.

The athletic challenge of a lifetime is the Everglades Ultras, a trail race through the Everglades' swampland, wooded areas and grassland prairie. It will be held for the second time on February 16. Last year, the event was held in January and attracted about 85 runners. A larger field is expected this year.

There will be three races of varying lengths -- 50 miles, 31 miles and 15.6 miles, according to Bob Becker, race director for Ultra Sports, LLC, based in Fort Lauderdale. The Everglades Ultras will take place in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, an 80,000-acre park just south of Alligator Alley and about 25 miles east of Naples. It is Florida's largest state park. During the race, park rangers will be on all active trails.

"It is a totally unique opportunity to run through the natural Everglades on trails that very few people ever get to see," said Becker.
These trails are open to the public, but very few people use them because the terrain is so rugged. Trail runners will have the opportunity to see animal life, including the Florida panther, Florida mink, black bears, deer and an incredible variety of birds. The tremendous diversity of nature is also reflected in plant life. This park is considered the orchid and bromeliad capital of the U.S., besides having the largest number of native royal palm trees.

"Running this race is an exciting and unique opportunity to run on trails through the natural Everglades in a well-supported race environment," said Becker. "We have aid stations. Volunteers are there with food, water and ice. The race volunteer staff supports the runners as they run through the Everglades. February is a good time of the year, because it is cooler and drier."

It is quite an experience to run trails through the Everglades. Some consist of soft dirt and some are grassy. Other trails are muddy, while still others are rocky. And some trails are very smooth. Before the races, the trails are trimmed back and are well-prepared for the runners. There is one gravel road that runs through the park on which runners will spend part of their time.

"You meet a lot of good athletes and make a lot of friends," said Becker. "The race is a timed event. After the race, there is a party. We have a big tent for the race."

Becker said that people who are training for the races should run progressively longer distances. Prospective runners should seek outdoor trails and run under similar conditions to what they will face in the Everglades. They should practice proper hydration, nutrition and electrolyte balance, all of which are important for the body to sustain itself during long runs.

The 50-mile race starts at 6 a.m. The 31-mile race starts at 7 a.m. The 15.6-mile race starts at 8:30 a.m. To get to the start of the race, travel Alligator Alley to Mile Marker 80. Then go south to Everglades City. Travel 15 miles to the entrance to the park. There are hotels in Everglades City and campgrounds in the surrounding area.

To participate, sign up at www.evergladesultras.com. Entry prices vary, according to the race length and when someone signs up, ranging from $140 to $220. Active duty military personnel receive a 20 percent discount. To contact Becker, telephone 954-439-2800 or email him at bob@ultrasportsllc.com.

There is a charitable component to the race. According to Becker, a "substantial donation" will be made to support the preservation of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

The organization also produces the Palm 100, a race from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach and back. It will take place on March 23. Next on the schedule is the Keys 100 on May 18. This event includes a 100-mile individual run from Key Largo to Key West, a 50-mile race from Marathon to Key West, and a six-person, 100-team relay from Key Largo to Key West.




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