Yes, I'm very late in writing about this race, so punish me and make me run it again next year! :)
In December I ran the Caloosahatchee 50k, I registered for this race without knowing anything about it. I just knew that I wanted/needed to run an ultra in early December. Just so happens, while volunteering at the John Holmes race in October, I met the RD of this race and instantly knew this was going to be awesome. The first two sentences on Ultrasignup.com states, "Some runners will tell you it's the toughest 50k in the Sunshine State! Who is up for the challenge?" So, that sounds a little scary, but so exciting at the same time. My husband and daughter decide to stay home and a friend of mine, who hasn't run an ultra yet, decides to come with me and make this her first ultra. I'm honored that she choose to run her first ultra with me.
In order to get a good parking spot, we arrive at the race site early on race day. I'm pretty stoked to run this race. It's pretty humid and I have no real idea what the course is like. We meet some awesome folks at the beginning of the race and we are off. The trail starts in what looks like a prairie dog field...field of beautiful long grass and many mounds to run up and down. I was given the advice to hike up and down the mounds and not try to run them. This section of the trail was fun and it reminded me of running through fields when I was a kid. As the race dragged on, it became known as the "safari' but is really called "Sunburn Meadow". No cover, beautiful long grass, few palms and beautiful mounds. We exit the safari section and enter the MBT. Someone told me they were black diamond MBTs and I had no idea what to expect. I only knew what black diamond ski trails looked like so in my mind, I think I knew what was expected. My friend and I started running with an awesome runner, who has obviously run these trails before. He was funny, enlightening and very, very helpful for the first few miles. We ran up, down, up, down, around, under, between, beside, etc. It was freaking awesome. I find that when I run looped trails (this one is a little more than a 10 mile loop), the first loop is one of discovery. I am always in awe of its beauty and can't wait to see what I find on the second loop. For me, there is nothing, I mean nothing, like running on the trails and pushing myself. As we move out and enter Wrots O' Ruts section, we kind of knew what to expect...awesome stuff. After that section we make it to the fantastic Aid Station. It's December, it's hot in Florida and we see signs that say "Let It Snow", etc., beautiful and ironic. We come to love seeing these signs because we knew that when we see them, the AS was close by.
Have I told you how beautiful this trail is? It's gorgeous! The AS volunteers are wonderful and send us on our way. We leave the AS and head to Technoville and the Far East sections of the trail. We meet some great peeps along the way and are amazed at how hard this trail is - it's not what we expected, but in the very best way. We don't know what to expect on this trail and don't wan't to exert too much because we know it's going to be a hot and humid day. I don't take my trail running too seriously, in fact, I no longer take much in life too seriously, I just want to have fun and meet the cut off. We are having a great time, laughing, joking, telling stories and just trying to make sure we navigate appropriately while staying vertical.
Someone told us about some of the things we would see along the way. As we were immediately coming down a hill that was around a slight curve, there stood...ready for this? A freaking panther with yellow eyes, just staring at us! Not kidding one bit. Funny how many things run through your mind in a split second. Once it registered that it was a ceramic panther, I had already thought I would be shredded to pieces. We stopped and laughed and laughed and laughed. Un-freaking-believably funny! I loved that this panther was so strategically placed. We decided that now that we know where the panther is, we would get our pictures with the panther on the second loop.
We run into an area that was full of gorgeous trees that we losing their leaves. There were so many beautiful orange, light brown, scarlet and yellow leaves covering the ground, it look like a carpet. The sun was rising and hitting the leaves in such a manner that they sparkled. I tried to capture a picture, but the photo didn't do it justice. Up and down and up and down we go, where we stop, nobody knows. As we progress through the trails, I quickly realize how I underestimated this event. I really had no idea how difficult it was going to be. We know there is an aid station coming soon and look forward to seeing the awesome AS volunteers. Soon we run upon a winter sign "Let It Snow" and we rejoice. It's only a few yards and we run into the AS. If you ask me what makes a race fun and what makes a runner coming back, it's the aid stations. A fully stocked, well manned, positive flow aid station, can and will, make the difference on a long run. You meet the most fabulous people during these runs and build a bond that's hard to describe.
I snack on boiled potatoes (my new favorite during ultras), chips, get to the port-a-potty and water at the AS. Off we go. We run along "Calcutta Ridge" for a short period and the beauty of this trail continues to amaze me and as we run along a bit of water, I am on the lookout for any gators - but don't see any, I think our running scared them away. Running along the ridge, towards the end, you can start to hear people and see a few cars through the trees. I'm thinking --- woo to my hoo --- we've almost completed one lap and we can restock water and get moving. The ridge ends and smack dab in the middle of the trail are these two or three (can't remember) MOUNDS that are about 8-10 feet tall. The trail is marked with orange flags so we know that it is expected we run up and down the monster mounds. We do and it makes me feel like a kid again - and it gets tougher and tougher to get up and down these mounds as the race progresses.
We continue this obstacle course two more times (this race is three loops). For races that are loops, and of course, depending on the distance and the number of loops, the first one is filled of excitement and wonder. The second loop is one where I like to take pictures and for this race, the third loop is the "let's get this done" loop.
Fast forward...we are in our running groove, love the trail and it's starting to get a warmer. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. We run through the first 1/2 of the next loop and we know the panther is coming...heck we ran into it last time...so we know where it is and we are fully expecting it. Except we're not...we run down the little hill and turn the corner --- bam! smack dab into the panther --- yep, same reaction as last time, screams, followed by hysterical laughing. I think they need to have a hidden camera on that section of the trail next year. I am sure the photos would be priceless. As soon as we get a good photo with the panther, we quickly state that on the next loop, we will surely NOT be surprised by this panther. Except, we're not. The third time was the funniest! We run down the hill and smack dab AGAIN, right into the panther. I started screaming and shaming the panther. Pointing my finger at it...and yelling at the dang thing. We only have a few miles left and I guarantee you that this laughter provided us with the momentum to just keep going. In fact, as I write this two months later, I am still laughing so much, I am sweating. Good times for sure.
This was a phenomenal race. The race directors have thought of everything you will need and even thought of things you think you won't need, but will. The trails were well marked and the aid stations were manned by runners, for runners. Fabulous people coming together for a single event is what makes ultra running so much fun. I often wonder if it is the people, the trails or both that keeps me coming back. wonderful and have planned everything perfectly. I LOVE THIS RACE and in fact, have already signed up for the next one in December 2015! Check it out for yourself. Again, if you are looking for a race that is run well and where the RDs have thought all your needs, this is the one. They even placed a case of water on the trails for us when the sun rose higher in the sky! I mean, who does that? RDs that are runners and get it...truly get it. Thanks to all the volunteers and all the time and effort put into this race ~ y'all are phenomenal and thank you for making this such a great experience!
P.S. The more I push my body, the more I love it. The more I push my mind, the more I love it. I believe, truly believe, that how I choose to live my life (running, family, friends) and how I perceive, believe, and think, will have a huge impact on my health. In fact, I am so convinced of that, that I plan to continue to run ultras so I can prove to myself that my theory is true.
P.P.S. Watch out for Florida Panthers...you never know when you may run into one!
Yours in running, health and joy,