Who would want to run as far as 50 miles through a sawgrass prairie or muddy swamp where they might encounter alligators, venomous snakes and black bears?
Lots of people, as it turns out — maybe as many as 250 men and women.
More than 100 runners have already signed up to compete in the second Everglades Ultras — 50-mile, 50- and 25-kilometer races Feb. 16 through the rugged Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in southwest Florida. Last year’s inaugural race drew 86 competitors with 72 finishers in the three categories. This year, the 50-mile and 50-K races are sanctioned as state championships by USA Track & Field.
“It’s getting exciting,” race director Bob Becker said. “We’ll be double the size of last year, at least.”
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Becker expects the course to be drier than last year because the race has been moved from January to February, taking advantage of seasonally low rainfall. The event will be based near the Fakahatchee ranger station in tiny Copeland and runs from before daylight until dark. More than 40 volunteers will staff aid stations scattered throughout the course and park rangers will patrol in all-terrain vehicles to help anyone who gets in trouble.
The park’s wild denizens caused no trouble last year, according to Becker.
“I don’t think anyone ever saw a snake or a gator last year,” he said. “We didn’t see many animals with so many people out there.”
The Fakahatchee, at 20 miles long and five miles wide, is the largest of all Florida state parks, but perhaps the least known. Becker, of Fort Lauderdale, said he didn’t know much about it until he began organizing the 2012 Everglades Ultras.
“It’s not all swampland,” he said. “When you open up into some of the prairies, it’s breathtaking. It’s an exciting and very different venue for people in South Florida. The park is wonderfully supportive.”
Runners may scatter the wildlife but they’ll have an excellent chance of seeing native orchids and bromeliads since the swamp and prairie harbor more of those species than any place in the United States. The swamp forest is also the only place on earth where royal palms and cypress stand next to one another.
Michele Graglia, 28, of Miami won the inaugural 50-mile race in 8:18:27. The top finisher in the 50-K was LeRand Dixon, 27, of Key West in 6:57:42. Andy Nesheim, 30, of Mequon, Wisc., topped the 25-K in 2:02:03.
There may be a few spots left in the race. Visit evergladesultras.com for more information.