Hit the woods: Trail Run
So you survived the Gasparilla Distance Classic and now you're looking for a another challenge. Why not hit the trail? Sunday's Long Play Race through Withlacoochee State Forest is a 33 ⅓ mile trail run that begins and ends at Lake Townsen Regional Park. Besides the obvious physical benefits, trail running will do wonders for the mind. If you are used to long runs on pavement, don't be surprised when a short run on uneven terrain leaves you sore and tired. You will work muscles you may not know even existed. But before you hit the trail, make sure you have the right equipment. Trail running shoes are much more durable than your standard road-running variety with more cushioning, support and sturdier soles to help protect your feet from rocks and roots. Most long-distance trail runners wear hip packs to carry water, energy bars and standard safety equipment such as a signal mirror or whistle, as well as basic medical supplies, such as a blister kit. If you set out on your own, be sure to do a little research. Some trails are better than others for beginning runners. Pick a spot where the trails are short, well-marked and frequently traveled. But an organized run such as this one is a great way to break into the sport. If 33 1/3 miles is a little more than you can handle, sign up for the 5-miler or half marathon. Lake Townsen Regional Park is at 28011 Lake Lindsey Road, Brooksville. (813) 232-5200. longplayrace.com.
Climb a tree: Pathfinder
"Climb a tree" is what my mom used to say when she wanted me to stop watching cartoons. Clambering up a live oak is a great way to burn some calories — and break your neck if you are not careful. Fortunately the St. Petersburg-based Pathfinder has made tree climbing safer for kids, big and small. At 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month, this nonprofit hosts an "open climb" at 1310 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg. The cost is $10 per climber. All money raised from the tree climbs goes to the Pathfinder scholarship fund. Climb with Pathfinder and you will support outdoor educational programs for financially challenged youth. The climb can get busy, so be prepared for a short wait. Pathfinder also accepts donations for Operation Attack, a neighborhood food bank. If you can, bring nonperishables such as peanut butter, tuna, pasta or canned vegetables and fruits. To learn more, go to pathfinder-ed.org.
Big snakes: Burmese pythons
The annual Python Challenge may be over, but if you are heading to Southwest Florida for an outdoor adventure, keep an eye out for these monster snakes because now is the time to see them. During cooler months, Burmese pythons can be found on levees that run along many of the canals. After a cold night, the snakes often lay on the land, soaking up the morning sun.
These constrictor snakes, native to India, China and the Malay peninsula, can grow to be 26 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. But while the Burmese python may be one of the biggest snakes in the world, most specimens in Florida average 6 to 9 feet. Pythons like the water, but they are also excellent climbers. Residents of South Florida often see pythons crossing roads, especially after the sun has gone down. While Burmese pythons have been popular as pets, they are currently listed as a "conditional species" in Florida and can no longer be bought or sold. They are also listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an "injurious species" under the Lacey Act, which means they cannot be imported into the United States or transported across state lines.
Great gear: Osprey Pack
March is my favorite month to backpack the Florida Trail. The days of uncomfortable, external frame packs are gone. Gear has come a long way. Thursday's overnight packs feel like day packs. The Osprey Atmos AG backpack has enough room to hike the Appalachian Trail if you are so inclined. $260. opsreypacks.com.