Little Everglades Ranch draws down-and-dirty race
DADE CITY -
In less than two years, the Little Everglades Ranch—once known for hosting the Florida Steeplechase— has distinguished itself as a premier destination for another type of race. One that's far less elegant.
Later this month, the ranch will host its second Savage Race, one of a growing number of extreme mud runs that have found a home in Pasco County. The Savage Race brought more than 6,000 people to the ranch last October, and registration for the April 13 race is already 96 percent full.
“This one is going to be our biggest to date,” Savage Race co-founder Sam Abbitt said. “We expect to have 12,000 people, and it will be a 6-mile course with 25 obstacles.”
The course will be totally different from the October race. “The great thing about Little Everglades Ranch is it's so big we're able to make variations to the course,” Abbitt said. “We don't want people to come and run the same course they already did.”
The race will be Little Everglade's fourth mud run, and it has already lined up two additional major events. The Savage Race will return in October for a fall run, and the ranch is completing negotiations to host the world-famous Spartan Race in December 2014.
“We've agreed in principle, but we just need to finish the paperwork,” said Brian Duncanson, vice president of strategy for Spartan Race.
Spartan Race also will announce plans for a 3-mile Tampa race next February. The Pasco race will be Spartan's most grueling event: a 10 to 12-mile course for only the fittest and most advanced athletes. They call it the Beast.
“The concept there is people keep moving up the ladder,” Duncanson said. “We have a special medal for people who complete races at all three levels in the same year. But our Florida racers have had to go to Atlanta or South Carolina to compete.”
Duncanson said Spartan Race was drawn to Little Everglades Ranch for the same reasons as Savage Race. The location allows them to draw from the Tampa and Orlando markets. “And it's a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “Of course, being in Florida, it's not as hilly as some of our other courses, but it has several water features.”
The ranch also has excellent access to I-75 and the technical experience organizers look for. “They have the history and experience,” Duncanson said. “They have had big events. We expect to get anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 at a race, so it's important that they have the facilities and parking in place.”
Little Everglades Ranch introduced the adventure-mud run concept to Florida in December 2011 when it hosted the state's first Tough Mudder race. That event drew 18,000 people over two days.
“We've been doing the high school cross-country state championships here for years and we'd hosted some NCAA events, so it wasn't that big a stretch to look at other types of endurance runs,” said Kevin Campbell, the ranch's event coordinator. “To do that, you need a pretty good sized piece of property; we have 2,150 acres.”
The Tough Mudder exceeded all expectations, but organizers opted not to return to Pasco County in 2012. “We would have loved to have them back, but we couldn't come to terms on a deal,” Campbell said. “They came to us again for 2013 but we passed on it.”
He said Pasco County — quick to recognize the tourism potential of the extreme races — has been an enthusiastic partner. The county's Tourist Development Council co-sponsored the first Savage Race and recently approved a $25,000 sponsorship agreement with the Spartan Race. Contrast that with Polk County, which refused to permit the 2012 Tough Mudder, forcing the race to relocate to a remote ranch near Sarasota.
Race participants complained on message boards about the traffic and other problems with the site. “Last years event at Little Everglades was easily 100 times better,” one racer wrote.
Campbell said the demand for adventure runs continues to grow. Last December, Little Everglades hosted a 5K Zombie Run and drew more than 1,000 participants. Now Campbell is booking color runs and other types of niche races.
“We're going to have four-to-six running events in the next season,” he said. “It's a great demographic of people. They're healthy and happy, and they don't party too hard because they take care of themselves.”