Thursday, March 5, 2015

EVERGLADES ULTRAS, 2/21/2015, RD Race Report

EVERGLADES ULTRAS Race Report for 2015

Record-Setting Race Day in the Everglades on February 21st: 4 of 6 Race Records Broken!

It was one of those near-perfect February Florida days: cool at the start, reaching the 70’s in the afternoon.  The course through the heart of the Everglades was mostly dry, with bridges and work-arounds built over sections that still had flowing or standing water.  And did runners ever respond to this opportunity!  235 people registered for this 4th annual EVERGLADES ULTRAS, competing in 50 mile, 50 kilometer and 25 kilometer races.  (The first two of these were also the USATF-Florida Association trail championships at those distances.)  First time 50-miler David Kilgore, 22, of Palm Bay, FL, made it look easy as he blew away the course record by an astonishing 1 hour and 10 minutes with a time of 6:02:43.  (That time is even more impressive considering the old mark was held by elite ultra-runner Katalyn Nagy, who is a member of this year’s U.S. 24 Hour Team, competing next month in Europe in the world championships.)  In addition, both 50 kilometer records were broken as was the men’s 25 kilometer mark.

50 kilometer winner Cuche Alarcon, from Veracruz, Mexico, was in South Florida for business and decided to compete in a race while here.  Compete he did, beating the field in a time of 3:49:47—and breaking the old mark by a full three minutes!  Not to be out-done, 50 kilometer female winner Natalie McLeod, Vero Beach, FL, finished in 4:53:44, beating the old record by eight minutes!  Tim Lyster’s 25 kilometer record was set in the race’s inaugural year, but Jason Clark, of Chittenango, NY, decided it was time to lower that standard, finishing in 1:42:16.  That effort took 8 ½ minutes off the old mark.  While she didn’t break the course record, 50-mile female winner, Michelle Matys, Boca Raton, FL, set a big PR as she reached the finish line in 8:30:59.  1st place 25 kilometer female victor, Natasha Yaremczuk, was thawing-out in South Florida before returning home to Ontario, Canada.  Natasha beat the second place female finisher by more than two minutes as she crossed the line in 2:00:14.  It was truly a day of amazing performances and personal bests.

Our host and partner, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, is the largest state park in Florida.  At over 80,000 acres, “The Fak” easily contains these race routes, including the single loop 50 mile course, with much of the park still to explore.  Competitors race along raised trails called “trams” above the swamp strand, then through spectacular grassland prairies and wooded “upland” areas.  The park boasts the largest variety of orchids and bromeliads on the continent and a wide array of animal life: Florida panther, black bear, bobcat, deer and Florida mink, to name a few.  There are alligators and other reptiles, to be sure, and an astounding array of bird life.  On race day in this nature preserve, you never know what you will see.  Most animals are not used to seeing or hearing runners or any other humans--and the park rangers supporting them on all-terrain vehicles--so tend to keep their distance.  Still, there are always stories of wild-turkey and deer and bear and Bard Owl sightings, and lots more.  What an exotic and unique location this is for a trail race.  Eoin Craigie, who was racing from Montreal, said: “The race and the day were both incredible and I couldn't have asked for a better event to attend.  I came down from cold Montreal to run the 50M and didn't expect such great scenery…  I'll be back to race the Everglades and let everyone know this is a great event.”  Or, in the words of 25 kilometer runner Rebecca Kinzel: “It was a thrill to run in such a remote, absolutely pristine place.”

EVERGLADES ULTRAS is particularly mindful of providing extraordinary runner support.  10 fully stocked aid stations and three un-staffed water and ice stops are scattered throughout the venue, many in very isolated locations that can only be accessed by ATVs and UTVs.  Tents and tables and chairs, coolers with ice and water, sports and soft drinks, a wide assortment of food and more are driven out and set-up by park rangers and volunteers in this exciting environment.  Much of this is jungle, folks!!  All 70 plus miles of race trails are opened or re-opened by hand, trimmed, mowed by tractor and flagged before race day.  It is this Herculean effort that affords us all the privilege of experiencing this amazing place.  On race day, all active trails are patrolled by a large staff of park rangers whose job it is to fully support runners and focus on their safety.

Fifty mile age group winner Ashley Heclo commented that, “The aid stations were amazing, the trails perfect, the rangers gracious and helpful, timing on point.” She praised the ”…fantastically helpful and cheerful volunteers”, and added: “Park rangers were active all day checking on runners on desolate parts of the course and topping off water bottles… I've drank the koolaide man, in large part because of meeting people who inspire me to reach beyond.”

Race veteran Stephen Roos, commenting on the course’s technical areas, said:  “Once you get past the first three or four miles, which are easy and cute, you are lured into thinking this race is gonna be a breeze.  The next 10 miles are due north, filled with Florida beauty you will probably not see anywhere else on foot.  Wild orange groves, wild grapefruit trees, ferns and orchids, with swamp on either side.  The next three miles are due west and are very technical.  Pay attention to where you are stepping or go splat.  During pre-race orientation race director Becker explains there are "cypress knees".  These are the root systems of cypress trees that grow horizontal just underneath the surface growing nodules above the ground that look like knees.  …These things are the devil's imps!   Imagine the arcade game "whack a mole" in reverse.  Instead of having a mallet and whacking the head of the mole when it pops its head up, cypress knees will pop up when you are not looking, grab you, and trip you. 
“After leaving the technical northbound and westbound trails, the southbound route opens up to tall grasslands and trees as far as you can see in all directions.  Eventually there will be fewer trees and the trail will open up to prairies that go on...FOREVER!
“Then there is the beauty that is found all through this event.  Whether it was my good looks or scintillating smell, butterflies flew within inches of my nose many, many times throughout the day.”

Then there are comments like these from first-timer John Flynn.  These alone are enough to make old RD’s like me come back year after year:  “I ran my first 1/2 marathon on October 26th, my first marathon on 12/7 and my first 50K ultra yesterday.  That was one of the great experiences in my life. To be doing these things at 59 is just amazing to me.  I even get a medal and a beautiful picture on top of all of that! I am walking on a cloud (softly, my feet still hurt).”

EVERGLADES ULTRAS is held each year in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park near Everglades City, FL.  2015 was a most memorable event.  See you again next February.

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