Tuesday, May 20, 2008

KEYS ULTRA 100 MILER - DNF REDEMPTION IN THE SUN



On May 17 and 18, I competed in the Keys Ultra 100 mile run. This run started in Key Largo and ended in Key West. My main, and in fact almost my only, goal was to finish and get the belt buckle to redeem myself from my Did Not Finish at Rocky Raccoon 100 in February.

My FANTASTIC, AWESOME, SUPPORTIVE, ATTENTIVE, UPLIFTING AND #1 crew of Mandy, Michele and Teri met me in the lobby of the host hotel and we went down to the Race-Mobile (mini-van). There we drove to the start at Mile Marker 101 (meaning we were starting 101 miles from the finish line in Key Largo).



Then it was off to the start line.

The 100 mile and 100 mile relay started together while the 50 miler started, not surprisingly, 50 miles further into the course. Combined there were around 160 or so racers.

Although it was 6:00am it was already warm (80 degrees) and humidity was around 75%.
I started running and was feeling good. The course ran along the Overseas Highway (Highway 1) so the choice was basically asphalt, concrete or the shoulder (consisting of some grass, crushed rock and coral rock). While running on the shoulder sometimes saved some pounding from the asphalt, I found out later the constant rolling on the rocks along with the slants (most roads had a definite slant in the shoulders) caused problems with the bottom of the feet.

I was running smoothly averaging around 9 minute miles and feeling very comfortable. I was chatting with runners next to trying to find out if people were in the relay or the full 100. I soon was able to learn that if a runner had a low bib number (under 25) they were a solo runner. I met some real nice people and the miles seemed to quickly past.

I left Key Largo and entered Tavernier (around 10 miles) and soon came upon Plantation Key. I was still right under 9 minute miles and feeling good, but my early morning cup of coffee had kicked in and I realized that I needed to find a restroom. As I passed some houses, I was hoping to see a homeowner to ask if I could borrow their restroom. Then, I came upon a public park with large clean public restrooms. I ran in and was very grateful for the timing.

Afterwards, I continued on my way. Every now and then my support crew would drive by yelling words of encouragement.

We had worked on a plan where I would meet them every 3 or 4 miles. As the day wore on and the heat grew, this changed to every 2 miles (actually, this change was very early - probably no later than mile 8). I would reach the van and they either be waiting or would jump out. They were awesome! My hat and bandanna were chilled with ice and water. My two water bottles were filled with ice/h20 and ice/Gu2O. They gave me anything I asked for and got me on my way.

They also decorated the van nicely with cool signs.


Early on in the race I had been wearing a light short sleeve top and a Zombie Runner headwrap. Those lasted less than 10 miles before I changed into a sleeveless running top, sunglasses and my soon-to-be Badwater Desert running cap (which triggered lots of smart ass comments...including from my great crew).


I continued running. The views became very beautiful. We were constantly running between the keys, over bridges. The ocean was so blue. And I would glance down and see all sorts of sea life. Once I saw what appeared to be 2 porpoise swimming and breaking the water. Later I confirmed they were porpoise and saw at least a dozen more throughout the run. In addition, I saw rays, a barracuda and a HUGE sea turtle gliding through the waters.




Soon, the road entered the village of Islamorada, made up of various keys. Around Indian Key or Craig Key, I approached the 25 mile point. This was the first check-in point. As I neared, my crew was screaming my name and as I got there I was informed by all that I was in first place overall in the 100 miler. My time was 4 hours 10 minutes. I felt great - but never dreamed of being in 1st. I laughed and told everyone that wouldn't last I would rightfully be around 3rd or 4th by mile 50.

My crew mentioned that compared to my estimated splits I had been going fast. I agreed so for the next 25 miles I employed a 5 minute run, 3 minute walk pace (although the walk was very very brisk).

I took off again and continued the same 5/3 pace while my crew would leap--frog ahead every 2 or so miles. About every 2 or so miles I would down a 1/2 bottle on ensure and sometimes some pretzels. Conch Key passed, Long Key passed, Walker's Island and Duck Key all passed as I kept my pace, feeling very strong but noticing that fatigue was setting in.

After awhile, the road seemed to leave the ocean view as we left Long Key and approached Grassy Key in Marathon. There it dipped down onto a bike path. It was nice to be away from the constant buzzing of cars flying past just a few feet away, but the bike path was sheltered with no shade. It felt as if the temps had risen 10 degrees (Mandy's husband had called her during Day 1 and reported that the temps there had hit record highs. Since the last record high I saw was 92, that meant at least 93...although I never saw the car thermometer go above 91 myself).

Finally I left the bike path and entered the section of the keys near Marathon airport.


I kept running looking for the 50 mile marker. Soon, to my left I saw my crew jumping up and down. Everyone in the aid station was shouting my name too. I entered and sat down. I was still in 1st place incredibly. More incredible - my 50 hour time was 9 hours 9 minutes! That was my 3rd best 50 mile time ever!

I decided to take a bit of a rest in the shade of the 50 mile check point. My crew had filled an extra ice chest with ice and water. I stepped into it. YIKES!!!!!!!!!! That was cold. Michelle had gone next door to a coffee house and through some unknown manner(but humorous inside jokes were made as to how she got the ice) had come back with a free bag of ice for the chests. After soaking my feet. I took a look at them. I counted 6 blisters total over the feet. I pulled out my handy-dandy blister kits from Zombie Runners (these are must-haves!) and proceeded to clean and dress the 4 largest blisters. It was funny, each foot had exact mirror image blisters of each other.



Up through this point, I had seen a few support vans for other runners but they were all relay teams. All but two - one belonged to the Badwater legend Lisa Smith-Batchen and the other to Alisa Springman, a very experienced and accomplished ultra runner from Pennsylvania. So I knew they were close. Honestly, I never had any dreams of winning the race, but at that 50 mile point, still in first, I now kind of wanted to keep it.

So, after the blister care, off again I went. The run went through marathon and soon approached mile 53, the start of the 7 mile bridge. As I approached the bridge, my legs were feeling pretty tired. I met my crew in a parking lot on the north end. There I saw a man grabbing a woman and pulling her up the embankment. She was only wearing a bra, her jeans falling down and she was holding her belt. It was clear she was intoxicated and I feared the worse. As I neared them though, it became evident that the two were a "couple" as she swore at him to get her another drink and he tried to keep her on her feet. Ah puppy love is so sweet.


I approached the van and the 4 of us watched as the people basically crumpled in the driveway of the parking lot. She tried to stand but fell backwards and on the guardrail, with the ocean under her. The man only held her left hand and she teetered as Teri rushed over to help. She basically pulled the woman back while the guy made some comment like "she does this all the time" and hardly did anything to prevent her from flopping over the rail. The woman then laid on the road and screamed obscenities at the guy telling him to get her a drink. I commented that if she was like that all the time, I wouldn't be in a hurry to stop her from going over the guard rail either.

I then headed up the 7 mile bridge after a couple of relay runners. My crew called the police who showed up to meet the guy and his lady friend as my crew raced back to Marathon for supplies.

The 7 mile bridge starts flat, then climbs up the largest "hill" of the day. This actually felt great - it was the first time my leg muscles really had to be worked in a new manner for 53+ miles. I flew up the bridge and then down. However, the last few miles were flat and I walked a lot of it as it was actually, despite the view, getting a bit boring. During the length of the 7 mile bridge I counted nearly 2 dollars in loose change, a baby car seat, lots of tire treads, a pair of sunglasses, one glove, some fishing tackle and about a dozen empty bottles and cans along the bridge path.

As I exited the bridge, I saw Alisa's van drive by. At times I wasn't sure if they were waiting for her or checking out my lead. Either way, I knew she was closing the gap. Soon I saw my crew off to the right. I jogged over and Lisa's crew came over shouting to me that I was doing great. One of her crew (I believe he was her husband) offered me some water melon and told me that Lisa had been forced to drop out. I munched on a piece of melon and Lisa appeared. She shouted "You are the man! You are kicking ass!" I laughed and said that I wasn't feeling that great at the moment. She told me that she had dropped - and that it wasn't her day. I told her that was unfortunate. I meant it too - knowing how much that sucks.

I then met my crew and got more supplies (since the last 7 miles were without crews as vehicles couldn't stop on the bridge). They told me Alisa was looking good and was about 3 miles back. Just a matter of time I thought - oh well, I'd hold her off as long as I could. I joked with my crew that if I could at least hold onto second place, I'd have the men's course record :)

So off I went. 60 miles down, "only" 40 to go. These miles seemed to drag along but I managed to hold my 5/3 plan pretty good. I even hit one bridge around Sunshine Key and felt really good. I ran the whole way, joking with the fishermen below and watching more porpoise playing beneath me.

Soon, I entered the Key Deer reserve area of Big Pine key. This area is fenced and protects an endangered species of deer called the Key Deer. While I saw some droppings, I never saw the deer. I approached my crew at around mile 70 and told them that the last couple of miles I had been feeling like throwing up.

I changed into my night gear (light, reflective vest) and left my sunglasses and hat and took off. I was accompanied by a beautiful Keys sunset.




All this time, I kept expecting to see Alisa come up behind me. I was pretty sure that unless she was fading like me, that she would get me soon. So I made my next goal to see if I coudl at least hold the lead into the mile 75 check-in. Plus, a sub-24 hour time was still a possibility (although shrinking).

Sometime between mile 70 and 75, Mandy offered to pace me. I agreed and that helped a lot. We chatted a bit, but for the most part just kept moving forward. Mandy is a 7 time Ironman finisher, including Kona. Despite getting in a serious bike crash a few weeks ago and having her hand in a soft cast with pins sticking in it, she was there in the dark night keeping me going.

Soon, we approach Michelle and Teri in the van and they tell us thet the 75 mile aid station is just on the other side of a short bridge. Mandy and I jog the bridge and we come to yet another wonderful group of screaming volunteers. I plopped into a chait and held me head in my hands. I was feeling like absolute crap. It had been more than 5 miles since I was able to eat anything. My "fuel" had consisted of sips of water and an occassional sip of flat mountain dew or red bull. I had the dry heaves a few times.

Finally, I asked where our van was as I needed to lie down. I walked across the parking lot to the van and felt a wave of nausea hit me. I was down on my knees wretching in the intersection. I was later told my crew and a few volunteers gathered round me to stop a semi truck from driving over me.

I then went to the van. Michelle went to get some tums from a market. I lied down a bit but felt taht I better get going. I stepped out of the van and saw Alisa's crew right next to me. I said hello and asked how Alisa was doing. They informed us she was doing great, but for some chafing and he asked me how I was doing and offered me a chair. I collapsed in it and told him I had better days. I think my crew thought I was Benedict Arnold and was fraternizing with the enemy. But as much as I would have liked to have held on to that 1st place, I knew it was gone - I was more concerned with my sub-24 hour which I felt had almost slipped away. The night had gotten a bit cooler - dropping to 80, but the humidity had risen sharply.

Mandy and I took off and kept trying to run. Soon however my jogging became less and less. After awhile I had to walk the full stretch between stops and finally announced that I needed to take a nap. I went into the van and put my feet up. As I was semi asleep, RD Bob Becker came by and asked how I was doing.

After about 10 minutes, I got up and Teri and I started off. I tried some jogging but my legs were thrashed as I was approaching mile 80 which meant 10 plus miles without being able to keep anything down and the joys of dry heaving. Plus, the bottom of my feet were killing me from more and more blisters. I had learned that the constant unequal footing had caused some bad blistering.

At mile 83 I turned and saw Alisa and her pacer approaching. The soon passed me as if I was standing still (mostly because I kind of was at that point). We exchanged greetings and off they went. Oh well, now to try and hold onto second place. By this time all of us had realized that unless something drastic changed, my sub-24 was not going to happen either.

The night dragged on with me taking more and more rest breaks. The tums was heloing a bit, but every 2 miles or so, another bout of dry heaving would hit me. I could tell that Mandy, Teri and Michelle were getting just as tired. I know it had to be miserable to be without sleep, go a mile, nap for 10 minutes, be woken up by me, get out of the van, attacked by misquitos, and then watch me stumble off at an ever slower pace. Once I took some extra time to dress some blisters and I realized that it was a mistake - I should had waited until the next stop. But my crew never uttered a negative word.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we entered in the single digit zone....less than 10 miles to the finish. Mandy took a couple of miles, and then Teri. Finally Michelle and I crossed the causeway and entered Key West. We got to 1 and 1/2 mile from the finish and all three of my crew got in the van and wanted me to cross the line on my own. This was not an easy task as now I was around 10 hours and 30 miles without any fuel of any kind in my system and very painful blisters.

I tried to jog along the ocean front toward the finish line. I kept looking behind me, expecting to see 3rd place fast approaching. Every now and then I'd see a jogger and fearing the worse, tried to jog.

Finally - the finish line was in sight. I crossed it. My time was 25 hours 37 minutes! This was more than 2 hours better than my previous best. I had taken 2nd overall and set both my age group and men's course record (both should be easily shattered next year).





After crossing the finish line I gathered with my AWESOME crew for hugs and photos and Michelle put my finishers medal on my neck and I was handed my BUCKLE!.




Then, these great EMT volunteers who had been on the course for as long as the runners came over to help me with my feet (I had 23 blisters spread over both feet!).


Some of the damage:







Afterwards, I slept in the van and napped and cheered on the other finishers. Out of around 20 starters in the 100 miler, only 7 finished. Two of these finishers basically collapsed and needed IV's and I needed the blister care. It is without a doubt a very difficult course - the heat, humidity and pavement all combine to present a true ultra challenge.

THE AWARDS

After a real nice shower, and a 2 hour nap we all headed to Hurricane Joe's for the awards. I decided to celebrate with the appropriate Key Ultramarathon drink - I had a Rum Runner.
The crowds were in a great mood.

Co-Race directors Jared and Bob started handing out awards.

I was called up and got my 1st place male 40-49 and my overall awards!!!


Then it was a raffle where almost everyone walked away with something (I got socks).


Afterwards, Mandy, Teri, Michelle and I watched the sunset at Mallory Square and had a wonderful dinner.




Two full days later, my stomach still isn't 100%. Despite some conch fritters, mahi mahi and some seafood paella post-race, I am still down more than 4 pounds since the race start and my digestion is not perfect. But my legs are recovering and the blisters receding. Also, I got two great awards, my buckle and finishers medal and met the best crew possible. We are already discussing about possibly defending our titles next year at the Keys Ultra, plus Mandy is considering joining my Badwater crew! Finally, having met Bob and Jared, I would consider running almost any race they put on. Not only do they take great care of their runners, they put on a fantastic race, and they are just wonderful people.






STAY TUNED - MY CREW PROMISED THAT THEY WILL DRAFT THEIR OWN RACE REPORT TO POST ON THIS BLOG SOON!

19 comments:

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great run (you're lucky to have such a great crew), hope the redemption keeps for high for a while. Men's course record holder! I like the collection of great award swag and blisters, too.

Alan said...

Thanks Mark!!! The crew as the best - wouldn't have done it without them. The men's course record is slow, it is obvious to be broken, but for now....ITS MINE! But I think it will take awhile for someone to break my blister record! BTW - thanks for the forms - they went out today!

Rajeev said...

Alan,

I am so proud of you. You dug deep and then dug some more ...

Congratulations on your second place finish!!

Rajeev

Alan said...

Thanks Raj! It was tough, but there was no way I was coming home without a buckle. The race was awesome - I loved it! Congrats on your race. Take care my friend.

Jean Pommier said...

Wow, Alan, what a story! And the visuals, breathtaking views (oh well, not the blisters though - You really need to get this issue fixed before Badwater, please...)!

Congrats for handling the pain so long, this is ultra resistance and a great mental building block for July.

Take care,

Jean.
Farther Faster

Rajeev Char said...

Congrats Alan! Awesome report!
Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles!...that was a lot of blisters!!
Yea fix that issue before Badwater.
Rajeev

Peter Lubbers said...

Congratulations, Alan! Great race and it looks like a beautiful place to run (if it wasn't for the heat and humidity!)
Peter

Alan said...

Jean:

Thanks - I agree, the views were great. I think I will work on my pre-race taping and see if thathelps with the blisters. Congrats on your win! Awesome run in a hot California race.

Rajeev:

Yes, I do need to avoid those blisters. Toughing them out the last 30 miles was bad. It would be nearly impossible to do so for 65 miles in Badwater.

Peter:

Thanks - I loved the race. Plus, you too had to deal with heat in the '90's in your race! Congrats on your finish!

Baldwyn said...

That was a great report, Alan. You did incredible. I've heard about blisters on blisters (well, there is that Beatles song), but never seen it before! I was incredibly touched by how awesome your crew of previous-strangers were! Amazing.

Looks like a really cool race. Looking at the course map, it looks like you're walking on water :)

Eudemus said...

Congrats Alan! Sounds like a really tough race and proof yet again that flat races aren't necessarily easier than hilly ones. I don't know that I could manage a road 100, those blisters look nasty! Good job and way to endure.

Alan said...

Baldwin:

Thanks - at times it feels like walking on water. There are stretches where the road is only about 5 to 10 feet away from the ocean...on boths sides! I've come to learn one major thing about blisters: they suck :)

Steve:

Yeah, road races do get hard when they get into ultras, but I still tend to do better on them (SF 1 Day, Fear & Loathing, Ruth Anderson, Keys, etc.) so I am hopeful for Badwater.

Take care.

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

Alan,

Yeah for you in the Keys!
It will be wonderful to see you at Badwater..you will do very well there!
Best to you
Lisa

anil said...

Congrats Alan. You rock man. Very glad to know about your 2nd place finish under tough conditions. Those sauna training paid off.

Keep it up

Anil

Alan said...

Lisa:

Thanks. It was nice meeting you at Keys and looking forward to Badwater. No 2nd place there....just looking for a buckle finish.



Anil:

Thanks and yes, I really think the heat training paid off. It was certainly hot out there, but I never felt that the heat was unbearable. I'll leave that feeling for Badwater :)

Michael Kanning said...

ALAN-ALAN-ALAN!!!

You did it! Yes! Congratulations, I'm so happy for you! And a course record to boot. An amazing report to read, you were hurting but you kept going, and going, and going, until you finished. Nice pictures too.

I'm glad you got your redemption (and more) and hope you enjoy your recovery. Keep up the good work.

-Michael

P.S. Are you still doing the San Diego 100 Mile? My Dad and I are driving down the Friday before and you can carpool with us if you want.

joerunner said...

That was a great report and a great run. The race sounds extremely challenging. I came this || close to running this race on a whim this year but came to my senses. My wife and I love South Florida so this race is on the top of my list. If my 3x loser status doesn't get me into WS 2008 then you will probably see me there. I have to say, the pavement and traffic does not sound alluring but the sights, sounds, and smells of the keys sound would be awesome.

Congratulations on a fine race.

Alan said...

Michael:

Thank you. As Eric Clifton siad on Running on the Sun "Not much of a course record". :) (plus, mine is only the man's C.R., not overall). Not sure about SD 100....I still have 4 other 100's this year plus Badwater, have to see if legs, feet, and wallet can handle one more, but thanks for the offer!

Joe:

I really recommend the course. The conditions aren't that bad - at least 50% of the race is on bike paths and sidewalks well away from traffic. Bridges have pedestrian walk-ways (most anyway) and the shoulders are wide enough. As you know, the views are amazing. I hope my 3 time loser gets me into WS100 too, but they are far enough apart that I would still consider Keys again.

Clara said...

Wow- Congratulations on that race!!
It was soo beautiful- that has to keep you going.

Question regading the pics under "Some of the damage". On pictures 1 and 5, is that whole white part one big blister, or is that just the color of your skin after running? If that's one huge white blister, that is disgusting!

Wow..that must have been fun to peel off afterwards, after it's dead and hard! :)

I haven't yet looked at all of your races that you've done but do you ever do trails? It seems like you don't get as many blisters while running on trails....or maybe it's just that I've had good shoes???...or maybe it's just that I've never run 100 miles. :)

Summer Wesson said...

I just signed up for the KEYS 100 for 2009 today. I came across your blog and reading your about your adventure made me that much more excited about doing it myself!

Congrats on a strong finish and maybe I will see you out there sometime!