May 19, 2015

“Why do we hold the race in May when it is so hot and humid? In order to make it challenging,” explained Keys 100 Race Director Bob Becker to the runners gathered in Key Largo, Florida for the pre-race briefing. While Becker’s comment elicited some nervous laughter, it was nevertheless precisely the challenge of finishing such a race which had drawn us all to South Florida. I, for one, had competed, and suffered in the 2014 event, and was nevertheless looking forward to another jog through the Keys.

In addition to the steamy climate, the course alternates between the slanted shoulder of a road and a hard, concrete path. “Hard concrete” may be grammatically redundant, but it is appropriate. The shredded soles of hundreds of brand new running shoes and bruised feet are evidence of this particularly challenging surface.

When the race started at 6:20 am in Key Largo, I was already dripping sweat. Even so, the first 15 miles were almost comfortable as the pace was easy and I was not dehydrated or overheating, yet. I even took time for selfies and had energy to chat.

Mile 16 with Ashkan Mokhtari.

Mile 16 with Ashkan Mokhtari.

As the day wore on, temperatures rose to the mid-90’s, while the humidity remained. Sparse clouds did nothing to shield runners from the sun. At one point along the course, a sign announced that we were about to run through “The Tunnel Of Hell.” Or maybe it read, “Welcome To Hell’s Tunnel.” Either way, the concrete path meandered through a heat-trapping tunnel of boondoggled bush for several miles. I wanted to speed through this phase of the course, but my body was too stressed for anything faster than about a 12-minute run/walk pace. A tedious pace under normal conditions, but a top-speed after 40 miles under the Floridian sun.

I eventually made it to the 50 mile aid-station, but after about nine hours on the tarmac, I was thoroughly cooked. I knew from past ultra-marathon experiences, that I would be better off, later on in the race, if I cooled my body now, as opposed to pushing myself past the point of recovery. Thus, I sat in the shade for 30 minutes with ice cubes on my head, replacing them with fresh ice as they melted.

Cooling down with an ice-packed hat at the 50 Mile Aid Station.

Cooling down with an ice-packed hat at the 50 Mile Aid Station.

It was discouraging to see other runners go past, but I reminded myself that ultra-running ultimately isn’t about competing with other runners, but rather oneself. If I had tried to keep pace with other racers I would have soon overheated or my muscles would have cramped. Unlike shorter races, where one can match pace with other runners, in ultramarathons, each runner has to find his or her optimum pace and fueling strategy to get the finish the fastest. Furthermore, I was running the race without a crew so it was prudent to err on the side of caution. Before leaving the aid-station I swapped out my well worn Huakas with a brand new pair which I had packed in a drop bag.

I paid a price for the long, but necessary break. When I restarted my quadriceps and and hip flexors were extremely tight and I noticed sharp pains in my right hip and left knee. It was a discouraging moment because running another 50 miles seemed impossible due to the frozen muscles and aches. Slowly, my muscles warmed up, and I endeavored to not stop for the rest of the race. Along the way, I popped 200 milligrams of advil and tylenol, but only after drinking enough water and electrolytes that my pee was nearly clear. 

Eventually, the sun set and temperatures dropped enough for me to increase my pace without the risk of overheating. It was still hot and I continued to pack ice under my hat for rest of the race whenever possible. I did not negative split thanks to the extended aid station break, but I did run the second fastest split of all the runners over the final 25 miles and finished in 19:55, 5th overall, and First Place Master. 

There was very little room for error in the steamy South Florida climate and the right nutrition and gear were critical to finishing. As usual, I relied on a steady diet of HammerNutrition which included: one Endurolyte Extreme capsule and gel every hour, one Sustained Energy serving every 25 miles, one Endurance Amino capsule every hour and every couple hours a Fizz tablet was added to my CamelBak bladder. Many bananas and a potato rounded out my calories.

Race nutrition prepared pre-race and distributed at drop points along the course.

Race nutrition prepared pre-race and distributed at drop points along the course.

The CamelBak Marathoner vest was perfect for this race as the bladder holds up to two liters of water and it also has two front pockets for water bottles. I used one water bottle specifically for dousing myself with water in order to keep cool, one bottle held my Sustained Energy mix, and I drank from the bladder.

It’s official, I am in a relationship, with the Huakas. With substantial cushioning and light-weight, they have proven to be an amazing shoe for both short and long distances.

Done! First Place Master.

Done! First Place Master.

Definitely in Florida.

Orangiant Juice. Definitely in Florida. Mustard for scale.


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