Run with the gators, they said.
It would be fun, they said.
And what fun we had!
Race morning started a little rocky: Chris and I got caught in traffic and ended up at the parking lot around 5:45am. The race started at 6:30am, and we still needed to be shuttled over. I was in a bit of a panic (I HATE being late to anything), but soon calmed down upon the sight of Team Shenanigans hanging out in the parking lot at Shark Valley Visitor’s Center.
And coffee. Life is always better with coffee.
We took a pre-race group shot and set out to the starting area, which was about half a mile away from the visitor’s center. Upon walking there, we discovered that the start was going to be delayed due to medics having not arrived.
So we waited. And waited. Took some pictures. Saw a gator. Watched the sun rise. Got squished together with other runners on the paved walking route that would serve as the race course. (It was like Cone Alley width-wise, to be honest. However, with the Vacation Races series, the cap for runners is less than 2,000 on most courses. With Everglades being an inaugural, the cap was at 1,000. It made it REALLY nice to maneuver during the race.)
Finally, slightly after 7:00am, we started! Woohoo!
Vacation Races is walker-friendly, with an 18:00 mpm pace. We weren’t overly concerned about our time, and I just wanted to make sure Chris finished his first half marathon in one piece. Our team ran :30/:30 intervals the entire way, and just took in the scenery along this super duper flat course. One note about the course: there are no trees. No trees = no shade. After the morning clouds broke away, it got super sunny for a good stretch of the race, but the clouds eventually returned so it was nice balance.
Another great thing that Vacation Races does is that it ensures that the runners are well-taken care of on the course. For this race, there were six water/Gnarly stops, and each stop had Honey Stinger gels. I got to try a variety of flavors, and found that the Acai Pomegranate, Fruit Smoothie, and Mango Orange were very tasty. In the later miles, bananas and oranges were also offered.
Side note: Vacation Races are cup-free. Bring your own bottles or purchase a Hydrapouch (pictured upper right) prior to the race.
We took a pit stop at the Observation Tower for pictures just before mile seven.
I have to give the award for Best Water Stop ever to the team at Mile Seven. There was a gentleman using the water coolers as bongo drums and singing an improved tribal chant that revolved around the central theme of, “Welcome to Mile Seven!”
As we turned the corner and started the second half of the course, we all realized that our watches were giving different readings with mileage. Sure, we added a tenth of a mile due to the Observation Tower stop, but even then, everyone was reading something different. Chris and I learned post-race that the race staff had very specific places where they could put the mile markers (due to terrain and wildlife and whatnot), and many were not precisely accurate. Our total mileage for the race hovered around 14 miles when all was said and done.
You really cannot beat this scenery, and the open space to run!
We did see our fair share of gators! As a rule of thumb: respect them, and they will respect you. They don’t care about humans as much as the sunlight they’re absorbing through their scales. The gators we saw were snoozing along the race course. We also saw many birds, too. It’s awesome seeing nature up close!
Chris and I neared the end and we did an all-out sprint to the finish line, which was insanely fun as the announcers were cheering us on. He beat me by four footsteps. 😛
We finished around 3:36, which is totally fine for a race that we weren’t concerned about being speed demons at. We walked around and cheered the rest of our teammates at the finish line.
It was fantastic day for running, and I’m so happy to have finally run a race with my team! (I only became a member of Team Shenanigans in January, and I tried to keep up with them at the WDW Marathon, but couldn’t. Now that I’ve got more training under my belt, I can’t wait ‘til Goofy Challenge!)
Christina’s Post-Race Thoughts:
- If you’re looking to PR, this is the course to do it at. It’s SUPER flat and fast.
- If you like races in nature, this is a race to do…or any of the Vacation Races, for that matter. They are all within the National Park System, and are designed to be an outdoorsy adventure so you can #FindYourPark. There are also additional challenges you can undertake, such as Club challenges and a Trifecta challenge. These are designed so that you can get the best experience possible within the park and its surrounding areas. They are also great incentive to earn a discount for the following year’s race!
- Bring a hat and extra sunscreen. Like I mentioned before, there’s no shade along the course.
- If you’re a running newbie, you’ll like these races. There’s no pressure or intimidation from other runners for being too fast or slow. Just run at what you’re comfortable at and you’ll be fine!
- Watch where you stand. We often don’t think about what’s lurking along the sides of the road if we stop to tie a shoe or something. Chris and I ended up standing near a bunch of ants that we had to shoo away from our shoes.
- Running with teammates is the best! It makes the experience more memorable. Also, don’t be afraid to make friends on the course, human and animal alike.
Coming soon: Everglades Club Challenges and the Trifecta Challenge! Along with many more pictures from this racecation! 🙂