Brett Sanborn, 100-mile record holder and 2021 100-mile winner--RACE REPORT:
When I decided to run the Keys 100 for the first time in 2019, I did so because of the guaranteed Badwater entry that goes to the winner. That year, I had a great run and enjoyed the heck out of the race, so when races started happening again in 2021 after a depressing 2020, I was eager to get back down to the Keys and give it another shot. The course highly unique and makes a lot of logical sense: you start in Key Largo in the upper Keys, and run straight to Key West and you’re done. Heat and humidity and sometimes rain are present, but you do not have to contend with elevation gain or technical trails like in most ultras. The course is beautiful, and once you make it to Key West you can have a relaxing time at the beach, or head back to Big Pine Key to search for Key Deer or Lower Keys Marsh Rabbits. Either way, it’s a great place to forget about the pain and suffering of the race. Selecting a good crew is important not only for their critical role in getting you through the race—they need to be a fun group for the days afterward!
I was lucky enough to get into the first wave of runners at 5:30 am, which meant that I’d get an extra 30 minutes than usual in the relatively “cooler” morning temperature of 80 F before the real heat arrived. The first four miles in the dark on the median of US 1 felt great. After crossing to the bike path onto the ocean side, I saw my crew for the first time at J&M Scaffolding and picked up my hydration pack. At only about five miles into the race, I was already drenched from the humidity and probably staring into the hole of dehydration, though I was not aware of it. After passing Coral Shores HS, some of the faster relay teams started to catch up to me. Both times I ran this race, I enjoyed the camaraderie and encouragement from the relay teams and their crews.
People worry about many aspects of the Keys 100 such as the heat, humidity, and maybe the run across the 7 mile bridge. The thing that has always worried me the most is the Snake Creek Bridge. It’s the only drawbridge on the course and opens on demand. In my nightmares there is a long line of boats and I end up waiting at the boom gate for hours, the race clock running all the while. In 2019, when I caught sight of the bridge I hammered my fastest mile of the race, thinking that a boat would somehow materialize and I would be stuck. In 2021 I tempered my emotions a bit and maintained my pace, but still felt like I was in the mouth of a dragon as I ran over the grates.
I felt cracks starting to form around miles 20-25. While trying to maintain the pace I was on, my heart rate started to increase a bit more than it should have—an indication of overheating. I spent some time before the race researching the most optimal cooling apparel. I found some interesting new fabrics that touted endothermic cooling ability provided by xylitol, a sugar alcohol. When xylitol comes into contact with water a chemical reaction occurs and the temperature of the mixture drops. I found a shirt made by Zoot that had xylitol woven into the fabric. Needless to say, I hoped that I’d have an edge, but the reality was the opposite. Instead of feeling cooler, the xylitol shirt clung to my body and I felt overheated. I made the decision to ditch the shirt just before mile 25 and switch back to the Pactimo waffle weave shirt that I used in 2019. I also started using ice bandanas at that point, much earlier than in my 2019 run. Though I felt a lot better, the damage of overheating had taken its toll. From there I tried to regroup during the cruise over the Channel 5 Bridge, through Layton, and onto the Long Key Bridge.
Running across the Long Key Bridge is a nice distraction from the pain of the race since the main focus is on not getting caught by a hook. The entire five mile length of the bridge is filled with coolers, camp chairs, bait buckets, and the occasional long fishing rod leaned over the path. Luckily, I only had to leap over one such fishing rod. Twice, I came close to getting hooked by people casting their line into the water. I suppose it would be better to stop and be more cautious in those cases, but the distraction of the activity on the Long Key Bridge only goes so far; it’s always on the Long Key Bridge that the race starts to get hard.
Shortly after entering Hell’s Tunnel I started to realize that I was getting quite dehydrated. Though I felt like I had been drinking well, I was only able to urinate at about miles 15 and 30, and not much thereafter. I also had something of a mini-hallucination where I swear that I saw my crew up ahead, only to later find a saw palmetto waving in the wind. I decided to discontinue my Maurten drink mix and focus on taking in more water, thinking possibly that the Maurten was somehow blocking the absorption of regular water. Neither this nor focusing on water seemed to make a dent in my dehydration for the remainder of the race. At best, I avoided going further in the hole and developing severe dehydration.
I made it to the Marathon Garden Club in about 6:21, slower than I had hoped going into the race, but happy enough not to be slowing down severely. I thought for a while that if I had a decent second half that I might be able to get close to Mike Morton’s time of 13:42. Just past the 50 mile mark, my crew provided me with a strawberry popsicle to enjoy during the cruise through Marathon. Just before the 7 Mile Bridge, I met my crew again and loaded upon water and ice in my arm sleeves. The Trade Winds provided a nice tailwind as I ran over 7 Mile and I felt good for the last time. Around mile 60 I went into full damage control mode focusing on not slowing down.
The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. After Big Pine Key, I just tried to keep up the drinking and taking gels, and taking on ice from my crew. Some brief cloud cover showed up in the afternoon which was a nice surprise. Somewhere around mile 80 ran into a few runners from the 50 mile race and chatted with one of them. I hoped that he would hang on a bit more and distract me from the state that I was in, but he dropped off. At the turn onto Roosevelt, I lost some time due to the traffic light, but at that point it didn’t matter. I would end up finishing over 14 hours, so I just enjoyed the run around the southern part of Key West and met my crew for the last time to don my reflective gear at 7:30 pm. I enjoyed the last mile to Higgs Beach and was glad to be done after another hot day on US 1.
A Note on Heat Training
Though Albuquerque is a desert city, it sits at about 5000 ft above sea level, so it is generally cooler than places like Phoenix. It can get consistently above 100 F outside, but that tends not to happen until June or July. With the Keys 100 happening in May, when April temps rarely break into the 80s, specific heat training is necessary. I have always prepared for hot races the same way: effort-based running outside while wearing lots of layers of clothing. It’s harder to run while wearing lots of layers because you’re effectively preventing your body from shedding heat, so you’ll be forced to run at a slower pace, and even walk sometimes if it gets too hard. This raises the core temperature of the body above a threshold that forces heat adaptations to take place. I find that runs of 60-90 minutes, about five times per week is enough to gain heat adaptations such as increased sweat rate. During heat runs, I drink up to about 1.5 L of water, but I make sure that it’s hot water—as hot as it comes out of the tap—so that it does not lower my core temperature at all. I generally start doing heat runs at least three weeks before the race, and make sure to end heat runs about three days before the race to allow my body to recover. If you live in Florida and are preparing for this race, doing runs in layers is probably unnecessary. If I lived in Florida, I would probably take Mike Morton’s approach of running in the midday heat, and still aim for a similar run duration of 60-90 minutes. He used this approach to great effect for his successful runs at Badwater, the Keys 100, and other races.
Michelle Beck, 2021 finisher-- RACE REPORT:
The idea to run this race started on a whim when Bertha and I discussed it when she crewed me in December 2020 for the Daytona 100. There would be no shade. It would be pretty and it would be tough. When actual registration opened up on January 5, I initially didn’t hit register, although I kept going back to the site as I was simply intrigued. Finally the message from her came on the 6th, “Michele, Keys 100 registration is open, did you sign up?” It was mandatory that you have a crew this year as there would be no aid stations. I asked if she would crew again and she agreed. I definitely wanted her to have assistance with this one so I said I would ask around. In the end, I selected Sandra Payne, a coworker, who I have done several half marathons with; as well as my new friend Sandy Austin, who had actually crewed this race in 2017 and has an extensive running resume of her own. (More about the crew later).
We left Thursday morning May 13th to head for my parent’s house in Punta Gorda. We had dinner with them and spent the night, and then all did a shake out run in the morning of varying distances. We arrived in Key Largo for “drive through packet pick up” around 3pm on Friday. I fell in love with the design on the bib. I was number 89…..the year I had graduated from college. I am a numbers person and I like numbers to have meaning so I took this as a good sign. 1989 was also the year I received my MS diagnosis, but at age 53, I was about to embark on my third 100 mile ultramarathon when they had told me 32 years ago I might not be able to walk at age 40. So, again I felt good about being number 89. 1989 though was also the year my brother had been diagnosed with diabetes and sadly, his life was tragically cut short by that ravaging disease in 2004. He lived passionately up to the day he died so I decided to use that testimony once again to spur me on in this pursuit.
I have never been to the Keys. I love Florida and have been all over the state but had never been to the Keys. The previous “host hotel” where we stayed had a wonderful lobby and pool, but the rooms were a disappointment and smelled like dirty feet. The pizza and pasta place where we went to dinner served something they called baked ziti, but it simply was not. I was not impressed at all with Key Largo and trying to push through these disappointments. We reviewed our notes, my strategy, what and when I wanted where etc. I’m usually pretty low maintenance on this stuff but the details can be important. I had a detailed notebook that I had written out all this information but we couldn’t locate it anywhere. It wasn’t until I got home and was detailing the vehicle to take back to rental place that I found it jammed under a back seat. The stretch goal for the race was a sub 24 hours, but my realistic goal was around 27 hours. I had no idea how the heat and humidity would impact me for that length of time, and it has been downright cold training in North Carolina this spring. My last long run had started with a temperature of 41 degrees. The temperatures in the Keys were already mid to high 80’s.
Race morning: I woke at 4:20. I wanted to get two cups of coffee in and out of my system. Got that down with most of a bagel, but was still not able to go to the bathroom. We headed over to the race start across the street and did a group picture. When I went to sign in for my 6:45 am start, they told me I could go with the next group. I was officially off at 6:27 am. I would have until 2:27 pm on Sunday afternoon to complete the race (32 hours).
My plan was to run the first three miles easy and then fall into a 9:1 run/walk ratio (minutes). I was running at least 30 seconds or more faster than I wanted but it felt good to run while it was still moderately cool. A coworker who barely survived this race in 2019 had instructed me to run early until about 10 am and then go into survival mode to be able to focus on running at night again. “Survive the day, run the night” was the strategy. I met my crew at mile 5.3 and needed bathroom. We exchanged water bottles and they gave me the mandarin oranges I requested. Off I went. Continued to mile 10 or so using the 9:1 or 10:1 ratio. I was feeling okay although I continued to think I had gone out just a bit too fast for conditions. The exchange of water bottles and nutrition at the 10 mile mark and first timing mat went well. Ran into Charlotte, an acquaintance I had done several ultras with, around mile 11. Chatted for a minute or so, and continued on. A peacock strutted in front of me at this point for about a half mile. It was rather amusing and made me laugh.
At mile 14, I met my crew and was picking up Sandy, who was going to pace me for 14 miles as she had her own 14 mile training run to do. The heat and humidity were really kicking in at this point. There was simply no shade cover and it became difficult to do 9:1 ratios. Instead of selecting a less intense timing ratio, it became more about “let’s run where it seems a bit more shaded and walk in the blazing sun parts”. Not sure that is a great strategy in the Keys as almost all of it is blazing sun. With lots of garbage trucks. The smell of the garbage turned both of our stomachs. At mile 14, Bertha had wrapped ice into my neck buff. I am not used to training with this and it was awful. It sounded like “grandma’s old gaudy beady necklace” banging around and the ice wasn’t really permeating through the buff to do any significant help. Between the noise of the ice, the choking sensation of the buff and the smell of the garbage, things were going downhill. Sandy voice-texted that I wanted the cooling towels from here on out.
We stopped at mile 20 as planned and I changed out of the sports bra/crop top I had into a less compression style sports bra. I was given my next handheld of fluid and my go-to “uncrustable” pb&j sandwich. I could not get this down. My stomach was turning. I was starting to dry heave. Walking was becoming more prevalent. I was initially not super concerned with this. I knew I had plenty of time and was supposed to be just “surviving the day”. So we walked quite a bit and I apologized repeatedly to Sandy for ruining her long training run. She was kind enough to say the humidity was impacting her as well. Strange little sea creatures were darting in and out of holes along the path we were on. I almost thought this was comical, but Sandy was not amused at all by them. And let’s be honest, when something with weird looking appendages is darting around your feet, it is a bit concerning that you’ll get bit. We hit the marathon point together and at some point, Sandy texted I would try a hot dog. This was something we picked up in Punta Gorda. I eat maybe 3 hot dogs a year but something in the Publix told me to get them for this race. I thought the sodium in them would help if I were having issues.
My crew had been amazing at making sure I got electrolyte tablets every 10 miles and gave me two more at mile 30 as well. I changed into a different pair of wool socks as I could already feel moisture in the ones I had on from the start of the race. I ate the hot dog and the pickle and went back out on my own. The next 12 miles or so were blazing hot. My stomach was not in the best state, but I was keeping things down. I was out there solo but did talk to a few runners here or there. I ran into the guy from the hotel the night before who I am friends with on Facebook from a previous race we were signed up for. He offered to pour some of his cold water down my back, but I felt okay without that. I talked to a young woman, also named Michele, who was running her first 100 (and she picked the KEYS!!!). She was feeling like she was going to DNF. I told her about my Daytona experiences and what my coworker had said about this one….just survive the day, take your time, run the night. She loved that. We separated, went to our respective crews, and lost sight of each other.
Around mile 42, I picked up Bertha who would be pacing for a bit as I had already pre-determined that I did not want to go through the section called “Hell’s Tunnel” around mile 43 alone. We walk/ran the first mile together and then she took some fun pictures with me by the Hell’s Tunnel sign as we were about to enter. It’s a blistering hot path on a sandy trail surface that has no shade and bushes grow around it about 12 feet high that trap in the humidity. I decided we were power walking it to conserve energy as it was 2-3 in the afternoon at this point. When we came out of that 4 mile stretch, Sandra told me she had talked to that other “Michele” who said I had been a huge encouragement to her as she had been about to quit but decided to try my strategy instead. That made me smile. I continued on for miles 46-50. At this point the sun wasn’t so high in the sky and there was a slight breeze at times. I was almost doing a 4:1 walk ratio and feeling a lot better. Since the hot dog had worked at mile 30, I changed from my standard “grilled cheese at mile 50” to “let’s do hot dogs again”.
I ran across the fifty mile timing mat 11:58 into my race, with a smile on my face at almost 6:30 in the evening ready to tackle some nighttime running. The staff was cheering me, and my crew captured it on pictures. I changed into a glowing green shirt and my hydration vest. Changed out of my HOKA Arahi’s into the Rincon 2’s and downed 2 hot dogs. I took some chex mix for the journey. Sandy was going to join me for next three miles, and we had also found out that someone COULD pace me over the 7 Mile Bridge at mile 53. Sandy and I left and she had snuck me some 5 hour energy. This was something Bertha wouldn’t allow me to have at Daytona. I took it now and we continued. We were close to the 4:1 walk ratio although my stomach was starting to heave again. Sandy was telling me at this point of a couple mutual friends who had reached out to ask how I was doing and shared their thoughts and encouragement. Similar to my last 100’s, I cannot tell you what this means when you get those brief messages of support. It renews your strength and pushes you forward a bit.
As we went to enter the 7 mile bridge, I yelled across the way that I was all set and would walk and wait for Bertha to catch up (I knew I was slowing down again due to stomach and didn’t need anything). Bertha ran up and handed me a baggie of grapes as she continued to hold the baggie of watermelon. I tried a few grapes and put the baggie in my vest pocket. Every so often, I was grabbing the side of the bridge and dry heaving. Finally, about a mile onto the bridge, with the wind whipping, I grabbed onto the ledge of the bridge, and this time I just power chunked vomit everywhere. I remember briefly thinking “I wonder what the fish think of these fruity flavored hot dogs they are getting” (weird the thoughts that go through your mind), as the wind flung the vomit into the side of the bridge. Bertha had been a bit ahead and was walking back to me with this look of sheer terror on her face. And then….I felt fine…… I started powerwalking, and then running. Even up the hill of the bridge. We were passing people. It was sunset and she wanted to go live on facebook and get pictures and I was just so excited to have everything out of my system, I just wanted to run. So, we ran. But then about 3 miles later, I was depleted. The last 2 and half miles off the bridge took a bit. I was getting tired and had very little energy. Bertha had noticed before I entered the bridge that I had a bit of “runner’s lean” but didn’t say anything. It is definitely visible in the pictures that were taken at that point but I had no idea.
We came off bridge. I knew I had to eat but nothing sounded appealing. I remember trying crackers, cheese and pepperoni. I remember Sandy handing me a pickle and I put it right back in the jar because I couldn’t eat it. I’m really not sure what I choked down. Sandy was doing next part of run with me and I was happy about that. I usually do a lot of the nighttime hours alone, but I was grateful for her company this time. It started to rain. To me, it felt like heaven. It was similar to putting lotion on dry, cracked skin as it starts to absorb. I think the sun had baked into me so much throughout the day that the cold rain just felt amazing. I could tell Sandy did not like this although she’d never admit it. She was cold (she told me after the race). This poor woman who had to endure all these ridiculously slow miles was now trapped in cold rain.
A lot of the overnight hours are a blur. I felt whiney. I was depleted as the humidity and heat earlier had simply sucked the life out of me. I was pretty much only able to keep down liquid nutrition such as the tailwind and broth. I have such little tolerance for “whiney” in my own life (or anyone else’s) and I could hear it in my own voice. I was determined but I was miserable and whiney. I hated myself for that. I felt so slow. It was a Death March. I had practiced powerwalking during training, so that when I did inevitably have to walk as you always do in 100’s, that it would be under a 16 minute pace. But I was just depleted. Bertha and Sandy kept exchanging pacing duties and never left me alone. I didn’t realize how bad the lean was but they were so concerned because we were on the shoulder of the road and I was leaning right. Right into traffic. Sandy played music. I do remember she would ask “do you like Billy Joel?”, “do you like Journey?”. I’ll admit I’m not a big entertainment buff and really can’t hold any type of conversation on pop-culture, but even I was laughing at this point at some of her questions because who doesn’t like Billy Joel or Journey? There were bushes alongside the road at this point and occasionally Bertha or Sandy needed “to go” and did so. I was afraid of creatures darting out so held it to the porta-potties. At one point near mile 80, Sandy had texted ahead I wanted broth (the one thing I could seemingly keep down). Sandra, who had been doing the bulk, if not all of the driving, of the crew van, relayed the message to Bertha who had brought her camp stove. Bertha thought she said “bra” and asked, “which one, the pink or the white one?” (I had given special instructions before race if I requested a different sports bra). This led to a rather funny exchange between the two of them in trying to decide which color broth I wanted. As we neared the place where other crew were parked for their runners, my lean had gotten so bad that I kind of gracefully fell along the sidewalk along an embankment we had just been coming down. Bertha was yelling “Sandy, I have her broth, you have to catch her, she’s falling!!” and Sandy was yelling that she needed to go into the portapotty (I won’t quote her, but as out of it as I was, I was not delirious and it was truly one of the most hysterically funny things that happened in the 100 mile journey). Bertha ended up handing me two cups of broth as I just laid on the embankment, laughing and exhausted. I was slowly drinking it. I was in no way despondent and I was fully aware of what was going on around me and how funny and pitiful this was at the same time. Sandra looked super concerned and I was just worried about any bugs that might be biting me as I was laying on the ground.
I know they were worried. I know I was determined to finish. I also know most people say I’m an optimist and always cheerful, but I was too tired for that right now. I was just counting down the steps.
I kept walking. They kept taking the steps with me. When the sun comes up the next day in a long ultramarathon, its typically a great thing and renews your energy in an ultra this long. But suddenly, I could see what they saw. My shadow was in front of me and my body was leaning right at some obscene 45-60 degree angle. I would occasionally try and straighten up but it just kept going back to that angle and it was horrifying me. I remember at one point I wanted to ask Sandy to make the sun go away so I didn’t have to see my shadow. I knew she had no ability to do that, but I was truly freaked out. Now I understand why they had continually looked so concerned all night. I practiced trying to walk straight as I knew there was a timing mat around mile 89 and did not want to get pulled from the course at that point.
I hit the timing mat at mile 89.2 at ten minutes to 7 on Sunday morning. About 24 hours and 19 minutes into the race. Friends and family who were tracking me had no idea what I had been dealing with or just how long these next almost 11 miles would take. I was resting more at each stop. I hadn’t been carrying my phone as either Bertha or Sandy had theirs but occasionally at the stops, I would be close enough to it that I could see the messages come over on my COROS watch. “Hey, see you were at 89 miles, you must almost be done. You’ve got this !” I wanted to respond, “Oh you have no idea how incorrect you are”. One friend went out for a run thinking I’d call when finished and ended up doing 15 miles wondering what in the world happened to me. (I found this out later)
With 8 miles to go, I said to Sandy that I didn’t think I could go 8 miles. She told me not to. She said “just go one”. “Do it one mile at a time”. Very sound advice. I was constantly stopping. Constantly stretching. Constantly leaning and bouncing off things. With a 10K to go, I thought of my brother, whose illness had gotten the best of him. And I kept thinking “what am I doing to my body? Am I writing a check my body can’t afford to pay?” I prayed to God to tell me when to stop…to give me that wisdom….and instead, He just gave me the fortitude to push forward.
Five miles to go. We met Bertha and Sandra at a gas station. At this point both Bertha and Sandy were going to pace and Sandra would be driving to finish line to walk back to us and meet us with one mile to walk in together. They encouraged me to take my time. I still had plenty. Several runners passed us. Everyone was so encouraging. With just under three miles left we were headed up alongside the beach. There was a younger man that was pacing and crewing a former Badwater 135 finisher. They were both (the runner and the pacer) struggling, but his time pacing was over so they switched him out with another pacer. He saw the three of us approaching with me looking all bent over and deformed. He was in awe and yelled “You are amazing! I LOVE YOU!” Bertha and Sandy both teared up and Bertha said she got chills with that statement. I was literally trying to powerwalk as fast as I could but grabbing poles (or garbage receptables when there were no poles) every tenth of a mile and stretching the right side of my body out. I felt like 4 years of yoga and core work did nothing to prepare me for this, but I also have wondered how bad it would have been had I not done that. The Road Marshall for the race drove by and beeped twice. I was terrified he would pull me from the course at this point. Racers and runners were going by, or intersecting us coming back, and were SO encouraging. Others were just staring at us with horrified looks. In retrospect, here’s this middle aged woman in a bright lime green long sleeved shirt with a hydration vest on (that probably looked like a straight jacket) in 90 degree heat, walking all bent over at some kind of crazy pace but then laughing the stretching at every pole with two women walking alongside of her not helping (they couldn’t do anything that would get me disqualified) and taking videos. I can’t imagine what they were thinking.
One mile left. We saw Sandra ahead. My body was so out of whack at this point. I had to keep stopping every few hundred feet to stretch. I had a difficult time moving out of the way of bikers coming at us. One woman on a bike was incredibly cruel. Sandra called her a bitch. I smiled. We went around a corner. It’s up ahead. Oh wait, another turn. Finally, the big blue finish. I was approaching. My crew stayed just steps behind. People were clapping and cheering. Apparently not only my crew, but other people were crying as well. I knew none of this at the time. I was just so happy to walk under that finish sign as the volunteer put the medal around my neck and handed me a buckle (she asked if I wanted it …..LOL). The staff medics were immediately there as well but I just asked for the chair they offered. My time was 28:29:23. I am so freaking happy with that!! It’s not my best 100. It’s not my worst. But it is definitely the hardest I ever had to fight to cross a finish line.
We got to bask in it for a while. The look on Sandy’s face in our group picture at the end of it says it all: Complete peace. Complete accomplishment. She did nearly half the race with me (47 miles). The “I LOVE YOU” guy came over to do a selfie with me and shared part of his story with me and said this buckle will always mean the most (and that he really did love me 😊). There were posts afterwards on the KEYS100 facebook group page when I posted the final lean picture at the finish. So many people saw me out there and the determination and the smile I had. The Road Marshall even commented that when he saw me I was doing such a blistering pace in spite of the lean and he was really impressed. When I said that I had been afraid he’d pull me, he said “OH NO, you were leaning but you didn’t look medically distressed”. Not sure what you have to look like…..
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THIS: (this is where I usually put things that are helpful for the next race and leave emotions out hoarding them to myself. I’m being 100% candid here and my tips for success will not be mentioned but my emotional journey is).
My dad’s cousin posted this quote today: “….realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” --Roald Dahl
There were several times during this race I was NOT having fun. Running has been my passion and sanctuary for many years now and when I can’t enjoy it, I mix it up with trail runs or group runs or something to restore the joy. I am a middle of the pack runner but I am super competitive. I don’t like to walk ultras. I want to be running as many steps in them as I can. And the Keys 100 did not allow me to do that. The reality is that I probably ran a 50K and then powerwalked the remaining 69 or so miles. Yet in the end, there is this tremendous victory, because while it was not the race I imagined, I stayed true to who God created me to be. I stayed true to living positively and passionately (something I swore on my brother’s gravesite that I would always try to do since he couldn’t anymore). I am a live out loud person. I have made so many bold mistakes and I own all of them (and thankfully there is a merciful God who forgives them when I ask). So of course, I posted this race on social media. And a million people rush in with the “oh you are so amazing”. No, I am not. Amazing are the people falling on the sword and doing something for humanity. I am just out there running. Which is my passion. But if somewhere in that, others are inspired, others see my joy and others go forth to pursue their passion, then even the tough, grueling races are worth it. I felt like I was miserable out there for so much of it. There was another runner who commented after that she saw me at mile 92 passing. That I looked determined and was smiling. So, for today I will take the “YOU ARE AMAZING!” because I want to inspire others to be an enthusiast for life. To be passionate. I don’t for one moment believe this is the life we are here for. I believe that rests in eternity. But I do believe that while we are here, we have been given specific gifts to encourage others, and that each second we are here demands our full attention and should be lived with passion and enthusiasm and conviction. One slow smiling step at a time if that is what it takes.
The Crew: the finish line would not have happened without these ladies. I owe them more than I can ever repay and they each brought a special strength to the team. Four strong willed women who had never met had the potential for disaster, but they helped bring it home for me.
Bertha----my very first “trail sister”. I met her at a course preview race a couple years ago. She is tough. Her daily physical routines and strength training inspire me. We’ve done a number of races together as she is an ultraruuner as well, (she does it on trail though….crazy inspiring) and she has crewed me before. She also camps so she knows all the little tricks to make it work. She’s allowed me to crew and pace her as well. My goal is to someday be as masterful at it as she is. She did all the cooking and cleaning and organizing on this as well as paced me at least 30 miles. She thanked me on the 7 mile bridge and was beaming running over it during sunset. I will always treasure that look on her face. I was absolutely determined not to let her down and DNF this thing.
Sandra---my coworker and former half marathoner travel buddy. She is 73 years young! She had never crewed before but was excited to come along and help. She kept me positive the whole time and drove from Key Largo to Key West with all the little stops along the way when I needed something (parking that giant Dodge Durango rental car). Sandra brings the energy to slow it down and enjoy it when it doesn’t go well. The whole “survive the day, run the night” strategy may have worked without all the stomach and lean issues but her smiling face at each stop during the night kept me as positive as I could be and kept me out there. She updated my friends and family every ten miles with pictures on social media. And she brought the saving “cooling towel” that wetted down worked so much better for me than an ice buff.
Sandy---one of my newest running friends from DART (Davidson Area Running Team). We connected from almost one of the first runs we did there. She happened to mention she’d crewed this race in 2017. It took me weeks to have the courage to ask if she wanted to come along on this journey and I am so glad she did. She logged in over 47 miles primarily walking with me, and also kept me focused and determined at those moments when I thought I couldn’t go any farther. Sandy is a former Boston marathoner so doing all those miles at that incredibly slow pace had to be agonizing, but she continued on with me in all the elements and never gave up on me. She talked of my fortitude and strength never realizing that I was leaning on her own for the last 20 miles or so of that race (both literally and figuratively).
I didn’t like the Keys. (Please note I am saying Keys and not saying Keys 100). Bob Becker puts on one hell of a race and the staff was beyond compare. But, I found nothing exceptional about the Keys (and I LOVE Florida). The route, as you cross over 42 bridges, is really nothing extraordinary, even though I wanted it to be. The water on both sides is beautiful and for each bridge I crossed, I knew that was one more island I had passed through. I can see why this was always a Badwater qualifier. It is just plain HOT. Would I do this race again…..probably not, but I’ll never say never. Would I crew or volunteer here? ABSOLUTELY!! This race is iconic and to be able to support another runner pursuing 50 or 100 miles would be a joy. Prayerfully I will be back for many more 100’s, but probably not this one. Oh…and the medal and the buckle? They are both KICK ASS!!!
All photos may be downloaded, saved, and shared at no charge, but no commercial use, please. Photos by race photographer, Tuan Nguyen: https://www.flickr.com/photos/195712961@N04/albums Photos by Race Volunteer Alan D: https://www.flickr.com/photos/195712961@N04/sets/72177720299472491/