Fun run in the sun

Florida Kiwanians transform Honeymoon Island into an adventure run that winds through forests and beaches.  

Story and photos by Jack Brockley

With more than three miles already behind her, the runner feels good. But as the course turns onto the beach, the sand yields beneath each step, sapping strength from her calves and precious seconds from her speed. Soon, every huff of breath can be heard above the crush of the early-morning tide.

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There are no digital timers along the routes of the Dunedin, Florida, Kiwanis Adventure Runs. There are no tote bags of souvenir bling for the 5K and 8K runners and walkers. Instead of professionally designed posters, handmade 8-by-10-inch signs are staked along the trail, expressing encouragement and thanks.

Yes, the annual January races are unlike most fundraising runs. On Honeymoon Island, entrants watch ospreys soar overhead, their talons clutching the morning’s catch. A forest of slash pine and palmetto palms line the course. In its 11th year, the event has fostered a genial camaraderie among the 350 runners, who unselfishly share repellent to chase away a persistent predator: the mosquito.

Runners greet course volunteers, acknowledging their host and the purpose of this race: “Thank you for your service.” “Thanks, Kiwanis.”

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Prior to starting the Adventure Runs in 2010, the Kiwanis Club of Dunedin already had a profitable fundraiser. The popular Midnight Run puts between 1,200 and 2,400 entrants on the streets of Dunedin every year on the night of July 3. Its success has allowed the club to make sizable contributions of more than US$125,000 to a playground and splash pad projects in recent years.

“We realized that in order to continue to support our community at this level, we needed another fundraiser,” says member Dan Borba.

There already were several 1Ks, 3Ks, 5Ks, half marathons and marathons in Pinellas County. However, with the exception of the Dunedin Rotary club’s triathlon, running competitions are rare on Honeymoon Island.

“Honeymoon Island is the most visited state park in Florida,” says Adventure Runs Coordinator Joe Garrison. “It also has a lot of wildlife; so, we work closely with the rangers to plan routes that won’t disturb the birds, turtles and other animals. Before the first year, the park biologist reported that the course was too close to the nesting eagle on the island’s north peninsula. We rerouted the course.”

The 25-member club relies on help from Friends of the Islands Parks and the Dunedin High School Key Club, which contribute a good share of the 75 volunteers needed for the races.

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“It’s a challenge and much different from road races,” says Joe Mattiacci, explaining why he returned this year for his second 5K Adventure Run. “Plus, it’s a good organization. The money goes to charity. And they serve breakfast!”

The race is over. Following previous results, the club will net between $5,000 to $6,000 from entry fees and sponsorships.

One entrant, Steve Byrd, stands in the crowd as awards are presented. He recalls being part of the first Adventure Run. “It was 25 degrees with 40-mile-per-hour winds out on the beach,” Byrd says. “One guy didn’t wear a shirt, but the rest of us were all bundled up.” 

After all the prizes are presented, runners and their fans line up for breakfast: sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs, coffee and juice. The mosquitoes have disappeared. Out in the forest, an osprey chirps. Runners shake hands and hug goodbyes. Until next January.

This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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