By Bob Becker, RD
It was a race director’s dream: ideal course conditions, great weather, raving runners at the finish line and very fast times. The 6th Annual EVERGLADES ULTRAS saw three of six race records broken: Kati Nagy beat her own course record in the 50-mile race, completing it in 6:42:38. At 50 kilometers, David Kilgore set the new mark in 3:34:09. (David already holds the 50-mile course record of 6:02:43!) In her very first ultramarathon, Nancy Pena from Miami, FL lowered the 50-kilometer women’s record to 4:50:52.
There were lots of fine stories and extraordinary individual effort this year, as usual. Dave Krupski, who had completed the 200-mile Skydive Ultra two weeks earlier, ran with Kati Nagy for seven or eight miles before finally admitting, “I give!” (Dave finished 3rd male in the 50-mile race.) Another elite runner, Grant Maughan, who had just completed the 135-mile Arrowhead Ultra in International Falls, MN also two weeks earlier, decided late to run the 25-kilometer race and said afterwards that it was much harder for him to run “shorter” distances than any of his much longer events! (Grant finished 3rd in his race.) Also competing this year was Badwater RD Chris Kostman, who graciously presented awards to each of our EVERGLADES ULTRAS winners.
Our race through the western Everglades is run in Florida’s largest state park, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Race volunteers and park staff spend months clearing and trimming trails, mowing the route through the prairies and carefully marking trails. On race day this remote preserve is transformed into a highly supportive, yet exotic environment where runners compete at 25 kilometers, 50 kilometers or 50 miles.
This year everyone got to experience all the park’s variety, running above the swamplands on old logging “trams,” through dramatic Four Stakes and Dan House Prairies and across elevated pine forest areas. Everyone ran to picturesque Ballard’s Cabin, too—affectionately known as the Fakahatchee Hilton—and some took a moment to walk along the dock behind it to check out the gator pond. That did not disappoint; upwards of twenty alligators were on the surface smiling for cameras. The final 4.25 miles along dirt and gravel Janes Scenic Drive brought runners home to the finish line on the shore of Lake Harmon. Runners were supported throughout the venue by fully stocked aid stations, interim water and ice stops and park rangers on all the active trails monitoring race activity. At the finish was the usual festivity: runners enjoying burgers and beer and more under a huge tent, swapping yarns and waiting for the awards presentations. For those who stayed, another beautiful sunset across the lake was a Fakahatchee bonus.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is a totally unique 80,000 acre property: it incorporates the largest variety of orchids and bromeliads in North America. The Fakahatchee is the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the forest canopy. The park is a haven for wildlife. Florida panthers still pursue white-tailed deer from the uplands across the wetlands. Florida black bears and Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks and diamondback terrapins are still found here among many other species. Resident and migratory bird life is spectacular.
Here are a few runner impressions:
Jackie Deutscher: Thank you ALL for this soulful, lifetime experience.
Colin McComb: Super volunteers. Park officials helpful, friendly, encouraging… And the venue is spectacular! … I will definitely be back.
Steven Maas: I loved everything about this race! I was slow so I got to enjoy the 50 mile event longer than almost everyone!… I came from Michigan for the event and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Josey Prior: This was an amazing race! The course was beautiful and took us through open grasslands and rocky wooded areas. It was well marked and well thought out. Rugged enough to be lots of fun without being dangerous. I will definitely be back next year, only thing to decide now is what distance!
Marlin G Weekley: Ran Everglades Ultra 50k last year too. I have run two other ultras (in Illinois) and 11 marathons, and Everglades Ultra is by far the best on many levels… The setting is what you hope for when you run a trail race in Florida. I’ve already registered for next year.
The 2018 edition of EVERGLADES ULTRAS takes place next February 17. Lots of helpful information, photos and videos are found on the race website, www.evergladesultras.com. See you back in the Fakahatchee in 2018.