Monday, June 27, 2011

Serenova Tract Thunderstorm

Driving through the lightning and thunder with ominous black clouds above, I started to think that maybe I was a bit crazy.  As much as I love to watch the lights dance in the clouds before the sun rises, I questioned my sanity, and not to mention safety.  How safe is running in a forest alone, rambling around various bodies of water in a central Florida thunderstorm stretching as far as the eye can see?  I'll be fine, I convinced myself.  This is worth it.

Pulling into the small parking area, I was glad to see that multiple people were already in the park. 

"Ya got bug dope on ya?"  A middle aged hiker with a walking stick asked me as we entered the trailhead at about the same time.  I did, and we agreed that the deer flies can be a pain.  Although I would not come upon many pesky insects because they well aware of the storm on its way.

Down the shaded path, I passed two birders in canvas hats, fishermen contently sitting on their coolers, and the man with the walking stick.  J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park would be deserted in this sort of weather.  Well, I'm glad to be in the company of other crazy people, I thought. 

I made my way down a few dead end trails, stumbled upon an old anachronic parking lot like surface, and discovered a hidden little lake blanketed in lily pads that I long to paint.   Following a crushed shell road deeper into the park, the rain beating down heavier, and Serenova opened up.  I could see the silhouette of cypress domes against the sky as it grew progressively darker.  Knowing Starkey, I assumed the paths were a series of loops, so when I trail crossed the road, I took it.  It directed me east, further away from the road and then south, further from the trailhead.  I kept my eye on the power lines, my key to judging distance at Starkey, and continued on.  About a mile later, I crossed the road again.  Thunder boomed over me.  The storm was no longer close, it was here.  I picked up the pace and headed down the road, back to the lot the shortest way I knew.

When I returned, the fishermen were packing up and the birders were long gone.  If they were going in, I guessed I should follow.  As I unlaced my sand caked Brooks and changed out of my soaked shirt, I decided that I had to come back another day soon.  Clearly the lightning gods wanted me around for a bit longer.

Now, I was curious about storms and Florida.  I knew that in Florida, the Sunshine State and also the Lightning Capital of the United States, most lightning strikes occur in June, July, and August, our rainy season.  Despite listening to Dennis Philips clad in his trademark suspenders every so often, that was about the extent of my knowledge of Florida lightning statistics.  I decided to do some research for myself:

West central Florida has around 90-100 thunderstorm days in a year, higher than any other area of Florida.   Lightning accounts for well over 50 percent of weather related deaths in Florida.  You would think that hurricanes may top the list of dangers, but our thunderstorms prove to be most deadly.  "Lightning Alley" was new term for me.  This corridor from Tampa Bay to Titusville receives the most lightning strikes in the United States on an annual basis. 

"Past history has shown that many people struck by lightning in Florida were near water, in an exposed location, or under/near trees."  Three for three?  Okay, maybe I was a bit crazy.

Statistics from NOAA.

To learn more about this great park, I recommend a short YouTube video and the SWFWMD Serenova Tract webpage.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


One of the aspects of running that I love most is how it unites, and reunites, people.  I had the pleasure of running with a former track and cross country teammate from high school in a place that holds many memories for both of us.  I competed with the girl for just a year, being that she is two years younger and started running as a sophomore, but we have remained friends despite graduations, running on opposing teams, and moving away from one another.  One thing that has kept us close is our love of the sport.

Just like days in high school, we met at 6:30am at the crushed shell parking lot of the corral, predictably wet from the heavy summer air and smelling like a mixture of salt and horse.  After stretching, applying bug spray (horse flies are unrelenting in the summer and I am known to keep a bottle or two in my car), and many hugs, we made our way down the horse trail that connects to the paved bike path. 

Meandering a few strides over 6.5 miles through the vast landscapes the park is known for, the bike path at J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park is a popular spot for runners, cyclists, walkers, and friends.  Although it extends to the 42 mile Suncoast Parkway, my friend and I were just going to put in a few miles.

We discussed old running and new running, stories from high school and college.  She is about to leave our little town for another with a four year college located in Tennessee.  I am about to graduate and leave the world I have called home for the past few years.  I laughed after hearing tales about former teammates.  She laughed about my giddy, obvious love for the park and the trails.

I pointed to the right of the path, "There's a great trail back there, along the tree line.  I ran it all of the time last summer."

"By yourself?" she asked, clearly worried about me running alone in God-knows where.

I assured her that I was safe and that "I've never gotten lost."  But that doesn't mean I always knew exactly where I was going, either.

Two miles.  The pristine painted white line stretched across a newly repaved section of the trail.  The mile marker had moved; it used to be worn and hardly visible just beyond the section of trees.  We turned around anyway and made our way back to the start of the trail.  Nothing stays the same when you are away.  The paved path now extends to the front of the park, forever altering the home cross country course I was told I inspired.  Young longleaf pines have grown nearly a foot since March. 

I guess what does remain are the people.  In the early morning hours, I see the same people out on the trail:  the middle aged man and his doberman, those speedy cyclists, and running club members who have seen me running at Starkey since I was thirteen.  Friendships.  That's what I love about running.  Even though we may not always know where we are going, we know where to return and we know we have our friends to return to.

My friend was feeling the heat of the quickly rising sun and decided to take the wooded trail back to the corral.  We said goodbye, unsure for how long it will be this time.  A week?  A year?  I turned around and ran back down the path for a mile or two more, greeting each person I met along the way with "Good morning."  What better way is there to spend a morning than running with longtime friends and new ones.

A few pictures of the bike path from last summer

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Exploring the Preserve

Brooker Creek Preserve, located in Pinellas County, is an approximately 9800 acre "mixture of cypress and bottomland swamps, freshwater marshes and pine and oak hardwood forests" (SWFWMD).  "Over four miles of hiking trails are accessible from the Environmental Education Center.  Hikers learn about the Preserve on the 1.75-mile self-interpretive Friends Trail, located at the end of nearby Lora Lane.  Also, nine miles of equestrian trails, the Scenic Horse Trail and Exercise Horse Trail, meander through pinelands and open fields [...]."  (BCP)  Currently, the park is open from sunrise at 7am to sunset (time posted) and there is not an entrance fee (so that means you can visit often).

Map from SWFWMD

I was pleasantly surprised when I drove into the park this morning.  The electronic gates opened at 7:01 and I drove the meandering road about a mile (I want to run this 1.85 mile loop the next time I am at the park) back to the parking lot.  It was great to see multiple deer, rabbits,  and wild turkey mere yards into the park.  Who knew such a beautifully preserved piece of land sat so quietly near my home for years?

Overall this park is probably the most "user friendly" park I have ever been to.  All paths and viewing areas are marked from the trail head.  Almost over-marked, it is virtually impossible to get lost.  The trails fit together in one large loop with a few points of intersection.  The disappointing part is that I felt like I was running a loop, like the wilderness did not go on forever.  I knew that in time, I would end up right where I started without any need for exploration.  That can be a great thing when you are looking to run a fast trail run, but these are not the trails to spend hours on.

I appreciate the start and ending points.  These markings help when determining how far you traveled.

A few distances are marked on the Wilderness Trail

Signs reading "Preserve Staff Only" appeared frequently  on the paths.  As much as I wanted to run these clearly off-limit trails, I was good and stuck to the paths intended for park guests.  I can imagine that the restricted  trails are much more extensive (and fun), probably similar to the obscure, overgrown paths I find at J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park.  Even though the Preserve Staff does not want anyone to explore these trails, I am overwhelmingly curious about how far out they go.

Being a future educator and lover of natural sciences, I greatly appreciated the educational plaques on the trail by the Education Center.  The quality of the information and presentation as a whole was impressive.  This would be a wonderful place to take a family or group of children to learn about natural Florida firsthand.

Knowing the size of this park, I thought that there had to be other entrances.  With a bit of research, I learned of the one off of Lora Lane.  Horse trails!  We all know those are my favorite.  I can't wait to get back out to Brooker Creek Preserve and learn the intricacies of the land!

Brooker Creek Preserve

As many times as I have driven down scenic Keystone Road, I had never turned into the nondescript entrance of Brooker Creek Preserve until this morning. It is now summertime and I am determined to get caught up on the parks and preserves in my general area.  Brooker Creek Preserve was number one on my to-do list.

Here are a few preview pictures:

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have had a few set backs with the running recently, but I am still moving in the right direction overall.  The long hours of being on my feet and printing during the summer semester did a number on my hips.  I have started getting my IT band massaged about daily (by an athletic trainer at my school), which seems to be helping.  I have never had anything massaged regularly, so it will be interesting to see if it helps in the long run.  YouTube is full of videos about IT band massaging, but most seem to focus around the knee instead of higher up around the TFL.  These two were helpful to me:

Video 1
Video 2

I am also foam rolling more again.  I admit, I slacked off when my hip started to feel better. 

I was able to get out to J. B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve recently, which did me a lot of good mentally.  After being away at school, I had forgotten the smell of these woods in the early hours of the day.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning, as a fellow runner pointed out when we crossed paths.  "It is beautiful," I replied.  Then I added, "But it is always beautiful here."  That's the truth.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Few Steps Further

I am really starting to feel like a runner again.  So far this week I have run 21 miles and swam 1.5.  Just a few weeks ago it seemed like I was swimming as far as I ran, and it wasn't much. 

Yesterday, I made it out to Anastasia State Park.  Yes, the beaches are lovely (so much nicer than the stretch lined with hotels and huge buildings past the pier), but I am no longer a beach runner and I am not really complaining.  I would much rather lose myself on some hidden trail, so that is exactly what I did!  I probably only ran just a mile on the trails because I had to run to the park first, but it will hold me over until next time when I can drive out there.

(Photo from Here.)  The trail entrance is just steps into the park on the right hand side.

I wish I had taken my camera with me to show you what the trails are like.  All of the photographs on the park's website are of the beach and not the quarry, one of my favorite parts of the park.  There is some good history relating to that- I will let you explore.

(Photo from Here)

The park is open 8 AM to sundown year round.  They do charge admission, but I'm not sure how much it is because I typically am there without a car, and if I do bring one I park it down the street so I can get some running in around the outside and inside of the park.  These trails are not extensive, so you will have to do some road running if you want to get in a little distance.

Hopefully I will be back to Anastasia State Park in the next few days!