Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE HEAT....DON'T RUN THE KEYS 100



This past weekend I ran the Keys 100 Ultramarathon. To date, it is the only 100 miler I have run twice. But race director Bob Becker, co-race director Jared Knapp, and all their volunteers put on such a high quality and unique event it is impossible not to come back.

That said, for a while I believed I was to do the 50 mile option instead. My crew volunteers (having lives of their own) slowly decreased until I decided the 50 miler was my only option. So the final training and tune-up was geared toward a 50 mile race. I even went down to Death Valley the week before to run a training run of 20+ miles believing that would be a good combo with the 50 miler. Then Friday morning before the race, Bob Becker writes to tell me that he found 3 brave souls willing to crew me. So I was in the 100 miler.

I got down to Key Largo and attended the pre-race meeting. The check-in, number distribution, everything went very smoothly. I was able to finally meet people face-to-face. I had exchanged many e-mails and blog/facebook posts from other runners who I had not met in person. I got to meet Christian, Lane, Bob, Chris, Joe, Jen, and others.

Then Bob gave his informative pre-race speech and a runner, Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd who was planning on running the full 100 miles of the tropical heat in her habit, gave a presentation of orphan children due to losing their parents to AIDS. With her was Lisa Smith-Batchen who was helping her and 4 first timers attempt a 100 mile race. Her cause is very worthy and the statistics very grim. I was moved and pledged to help - please do the same by clicking here to read about the cause, the statistics and to help out the children: Donate.

Then it was off to final pre-race prep (buying some supplies, packing bags, etc.) I got to meet two of my crew members then. William (Will) Reynolds was a serviceman in the Navy based in Key West. This was his first introduction to the world of ultramarathons. The other was Bob Gentile, an experienced ultramarathoner. Bob was to crew me the first 50 along with Will. Then my third crewmember, Floridian Karen Maas, an experienced marathoner, was to relieve Bob and crew me the second half.

I was pretty nervous and not too confident about my conditioning. I predicted coming through 50 miles between 10:30 and 11:00 hours and hoped to hit my 100 mile average time of between 27 and 28 hours (well slower than my last year 25 hours and some change at Keys).

Then it was off to sleep before the alarm clock went off. In the morning we all packed the van and headed to the start line. The start was staged in the parking lot of the local Publix supermarket. Then we walked about a quarter mile to the actual starting line at mile marker 101 (the keys have mile markers counting down to mile 0 in Key West).



Bob gave a brief talk, I gave a brief prayer, then we were off. I started running a relative easy pace - somewhere around 9 minute miles I believed. Soon the sun rose and lit up the Florida sky. Despite thunder storms the previous day, the skies were quite clear and it was already in the 80's and humid. As I ran, I saw some faces I knew such as last year's winner Alyssa Spellmen who was ahead of me (I knew this year I was no threat to her and soon she disappeared ahead of me). I also saw Brian Krogmann, a former SF Bay area resident (a fellow USF alum too) who had blazing speed.

Around mile 5 I noted that my legs were feeling very tired and actually sore. But I was still running the same pace (probably not smart). Next to me was Chris Roman a sub-24 hour 100miler and Joe Lasky, another fast runner. We chatted for a bit and soon Chris headed off into the sunset. Joe and I leapfrogged each other a bit and I met his wife and two young children (his crew). But after awhile he too went ahead.

Bob and Will drove along side me in the crew vehicle with #30 all on it (my race number) - Will's pick-up truck. By mile 18 my legs were so sore and tired I actually slowed and walked. I was getting very frustrated and worried about the race. By the time I got to Will at Mile 20, I threw my water bottles in the back of the truck and started swearing. I crawled into the cab and just sat there. Soon, I realized that although I was drinking water, taking my S!Caps, and drinking my Clip2 - I had ate almost nothing for 20 miles (2 Gu packs).

So, I got out and told Will that my plan was to reel it in a bit, re-group, re-fuel, forget time, and try to salvage the race. I ate some tuna fish (my race fuel), another gel, and some coconut water. Then I started off again. After awhile my legs were feeling better, they were still sore but I was able to run.


Pretty soon I reached check-point #1 at the marathon point in just under 5 hours. After checking in, I grabbed some more fuel and headed off again. As the run progressed I started to crossing more bridges. This was my favorite part of this race. I was able to look over the gulf and ocean. The water was so blue and beautiful. Last year I had seen porpoise, turtles and other wildlife. By this point I had not seen any but the view was still beautiful.

My feet started to hurt and I felt as if I was getting blisters. So I added more lube and went on.

Soon Bob slapped on his shoes and joined me in my run. He was great - always cracking a joke and helping me get my mind off the run. We talked about various races we had run, mutual friends and other topics. I mentioned to him that I was disappointed that we had not seen any sea life yet and right as I said those words, a huge sea turtle floated right underneath us. Bob took a video of it (I will post it soon). We continued running past people fishing along the bridges. At one point a boy about 6 or 7 ran alongside us and tried to outrun us. He stayed ahead abit then stopped and smiled as we passed him. I joked with Bob that if he had kept outpacing us we'd have to toss him off the bridge and see how fast he swims :)

My slower pace, refueling and constant use of my ice filled bandanna was working. I was feeling better. Not great, but better.

Bob was getting hungry and mentioned that he would probably take a break and grab a bite to eat and re-join me on the Marathon Key for a hard point of the race on a bike path. The bike path is down in a low point with little breeze and it bakes the runners. But Bob never left - he stayed with me and soon we approached the bike path at around Mile 40.

The bike path was long and hot, but not nearly as hot as last year. Bob and I would mostly powerwalk it with some running. We came to Will at a couple of points and got more water and food and electrolytes.

Finally the bike path ended into the "downtown" section of Marathon. I will have to say that this is not the prettiest part of the race as we run past motels, dealerships and fast food joints. But after passing them we came to the Marathon Airport and the 50 mile check-in.

I got there at 10 hours 45 minutes - exactly half way between my predicted 10:30 and 11:00 hours. There I met Karen for the first time. I also took an opportunity to check my feet. I had developed some pretty good blisters and proceeded to clean these up. Some were "bubbles" that I drained and patched. Others though, on the sole of my left foot especially, hurt and was white but there was nothing to pop. Oh well, on I went.

Bob decided that he would go on and help Brian in his race as Brian's only crew up to that point was his mom. He received word that Brian was already at 70 miles!!!! Karen then jumped in the truck with Will and said that she would join me for the run across the 7 mile bridge.

So we kept going at a jog/walk until the 7 Mile Bridge. There at the base, I stocked up on my supplies as there would be no crew help for the full 7 miles. Karen grabbed a water bottle and joined me.

The bridge is wonderful. Some people think the traffic is bad, but the shoulders are very very wide and the view unmatched. We started the flat part walking but soon were jogging up the incline. Along the way we traded places with a few runners, passing a few and being passed. Karen and I also had great conversation as we went on. This conversation and the views really helped get my mind back into the race. I knew that when we reached the other side it would be 60 miles and for some reason that was a huge mental benefit - knowing I would have less than 40 miles to go after going past that point.

As we were approaching the end of the bridge I looked down and saw a few porpoise breaking through the water. Then, all the sudden, a beautiful huge spotted ray floated under us. We watched it as it glided under the bridge and beyond sight. It was sights like those in the crystal blue water that make this a truly unique race.

Finally, we reached the opposite anchor of the bridge and met Will. We refueled and moved along. It was just starting to get dark so after 2 miles more, we put on the reflective vest. After 2 more miles we grabbed flashlights. Karen was still with me. (SPOILER: I did make it to the finish line, details follow, but at this point I wanted to mention that Karen had done 2 marathons and those were her longest events. During this race she logged nearly 50 miles with me!!!)

As the night moved in, we lost the view of the sea. But it was still pretty. My legs were pretty thrashed - I just had not done enough training. But my worry was my feet. They were hurting more and more. The spots were now on the balls of both feet and the heals of both feet. I had tried everything from changing shoes and socks to various lubricants. But nothing helped.

So we kept moving forward and soon dropped down the bridge onto Big Pine Key. This was home of the Key Deer. Despite having crossed that key a few times I had never seen one. I flashed my light around and said to Karen "No deer." and then turned to our left to see one standing about 100 feet away. We watched it - it actually came closer to us - not really afraid.

Then we moved on. The night was still warm and muggy. When we hit the 70 mile point, I said that I would like to do 2 miles before stopping at the truck and then 3 so we could hurry and get to 75. Then I wanted to take a 15 minute nap as I was really having trouble keeping my eyes open and was staggering a bit. But then we realized the check-in was actually at mile 76, so I took my nap then.

After waking up, I felt much better. Feet still hurt like hell, but I was staying awake. Soon we crossed a bridge and headed to mile 76. This was a gas station and my point of total collapse last year. Although I was getting nauseous a bit and dry heaving, it was 10000000000 times better than last year. But my feet were killing me.

Karen and I checked in and I refueled - staying mostly with gu's, bars and electrolytes (S!Caps). It rained a tiny bit here and there, but barely even got us wet. Ryan soon passed me looking strong.

Karen and I passed through the remaining Keys all the time I was doing more walking than jogging. Soon, the sun started to rise as I entered the first part of Key West at Lower Sugarloaf near 85 miles into the race. It was around here that Bob rejoined us. He had helped bring Brian in for a 16 hour 31 minute finish!!!

So we kept going. Karen and pushed on until about mile 90 where she took a break. Bob joined me and we continued on. Bob tried to lift my spirits, but I was pretty low. I was moving but so slow and my feet hurt so f'n bad.

At one point we passed Lisa Smith-Batchen. Unfortunately Sister had to drop out around mile 40 (I still gave her $50 as I had pledged her $1 per mile for her cause....and after she dropped she came back and paced a runner for 10 miles). On we trudged slowly passing some runners....who then passed me back as I faded.

Finally, we entered the city and turned left to the seawall. 3 miles to go. I was going soo slow I was worried if I would make the cut-off (32 hours....and I had about 4 hours to make the 3 miles). I had never moved so slowly. I tried to draft off of a snail in front of me but it went to fast and I was left on my own yet again. A slug zoomed up from behind me and told me to get out of its way. Turtles laughed at me. A tree sloth mocked me. It wasn't pretty.

I came along side Ryan. He was limping too. He and I looked like victims as we barely moved down the sidewalk in our own private death march. I asked him if he wanted to limp across the finish line together and he agreed. I looked ahead and could not see the finish line. I was sure we had less than a mile to go. But when I asked, Ryan pointed off in the distance to two sailboats stating the finish line was there. I was floored - and all energy just left.

I couldn't keep up with Ryan's blistering limping and I sat on the seawall. Finally, I got up and Karen urged me to cover small areas "from here to that tree" "just to that parked car" "2 inches", etc.

Then, Bill Andrews came out to greet me and walk with me the last half mile. Jared also joined me as did Richard (one of the key supporters of the Keys race). I came down to the finish line and crossed with me crew following me. Finally time: 29:57:59. Ouch - that was slow and painful.

Bob Becker presented me my belt buckle. Mandy's husband Andy handed me a beer which was so cold I downed it....and immediately felt the need to sit down.



I asked if I had the DFL (Dead F'n Last) award...but was disappointed to learn that I did not.

After a shower and a nap, my crew joined Ryan, Brian and a few others for dinner. As is my tradition (well, 2 years in a row now) I celebrated the true Key West Ultra way....conch fritters and a Rum Runner (I think if the bartender knew of my performance he would have invented a Rum Walker drink instead).

Overall, Bob Becker put on yet another unbelievable race. If you have the chance - enter the Keys race (or one of his other ultras). I will....I will be back next year to keep my streak of finishing every single Keys 100 intact :)

8 comments:

David Ray said...

Nice one. Way to be tough. Congrats on the 100 finish.

Jakob said...

Slow... fast... you finished and that's good enough in my book :). I'll be doing Keys100 next year because the race just sounds so nice to do. Thanks for sharing your story.

Run 100 Miles said...

great meeting you Alan

i'll be back next year too for the hundo...

i'll bet you next year it will sell out - especially since we both praised it so much in our reports.

be cool brutha' - nice finish - i yelled at you from my moped as we sped around Key West, but you were pretty haggard.

keep in touch

Bob - BlogMYruns.com said...

I think if the bartender knew of my performance he would have invented a Rum Walker drink instead...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
LOLOL well some Ultras events just have that "I hate this chitt endings" and you had it :-( but YOU passed the test Alan by moving forward and completing the goal...

A lot of people dropped and waived the white flag at the Keys so BIG Congrats not quitting and getting it done!!!!

Recover Well My friend it was a blast!

AnthonyP said...

Great report. It was nice to see you out there. Looking forward to seeing you at Badwater.

Tony Portera

Baldwyn said...

That was a fun read, Alan, and not because of the amount of pain you were in, but rather the thought of drafting off of a snail. That's so ridiculous, their bodies aren't big enough to leave enough of a wake to have any noticeable effect.

Great job sticking it through, and stepping up to the plate when you had planned on doing 50.

Clara said...

Congrats on the finish!!! Wow...I'd be too scared to take a nap during an ultra; do lots of people do it? Tuna and coconut water? Interesting.

sftriman said...

Hey, that's my neck of the woods! I grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Never did occur to me or anyone I know to run to Key West, though! Loved the part about pacing snails and slugs - must have been tough going. Congrats on the race, and one of these days, maybe you'll score the prestigious DFL prize!