I arrived at the Orlando Wetlands Park, located in Christmas, Florida (only about 40 minutes from my house) for race morning packet pick-up. Parking in the dark was daunting, but as the sun came up and cast it's rosy glow on the row of parked cars, I was reminded how short the journey is to explore the native state of the central Florida ecosystem.
This was not a race I had been planning to do... for months my schedule had me going to Hilton Head for a much anticipated run, but after several days of fighting a cold, I acquiesced to the reality that sleep needed to take precedent over driving all day Friday - so I found this local race on the Running in the U.S.A. site and registered the day before.
I have done several races with EPIC Sports Marketing, so I had a pretty good idea what do expect - not a lot of frills, but a reasonably priced and well organized event. The fact that I could sign up just before the race for under $50 is almost unheard of at established races lately - and the quality of the T-Shirt for this event surprised me, although most of the races I have done with EPIC in the past have been 5Ks. Under the pavilion where friendly volunteers distributed race bibs was the assortment of post-race snacks - fresh fruit and breads, peanut butter, jelly and nutella all awaiting the famished runners that would soon return.
As runners wove on dirt roads through the wetlands, I realized this was a great local run for trail practice, on terrain which was not too aggressive. A welcome break from hard pavement without the challenge of loose sand or tall grass. I marveled at my surroundings, content that my recent illness would require a lot of walking during this race. I had no reservations about taking it slow... this was one of those "run to finish" days.... and then I saw the sign...
Now, as a Floridian, I know there are Alligators, but seeing them is not one of my favorite activities. I found myself taking quicker and quicker stems as I watched the eyes bobbing just above the water line. These were not small alligators either, and the one pictured above was way to close to the bank for my liking.
As I curved around the water, contemplating all I knew about running from gators (which basically consisted of zig-zagging) I spotted a dozed trees in the distance with hundreds of birds perched on their bare limbs. Were these vultures? GREAT.... waiting for the gator to finish with me I supposed... my quick steps got suddenly quicker.
This was a double loop course, so this journey happened a second time, and I was incredibly happy to see the finish line and receive my medal for the 10th Annual Orlando xTreme Half Marathon.... having seen the creatures I encountered along the way - I believe now it is the perfect name for this race.
This isn't the run for everyone, and I am not sure I will do it again, but I will continue to run many of the runs offered up by this race group, and am excited to see that each year they continue to add new races of varying distances to their schedule.