Keys 100 | 50 Mile Race Report

It’s all about your crew.

Babette crews for Christian in the 50-miler at the Keys 100
photo: Christian gets excellent support from his crew.

I learned yet a little more about the sport of ultrarunning this weekend.

This race lesson wasn’t about pacing strategies, or nutrition tweaks, or gear selection, or which shoes to wear, or which shoes NOT to wear…

…as an admitted ego-maniac who loves “look at me”, this effort wasn’t so much about me.

Nope – this race lesson was all about the appreciation of a good crew.

I just got to play in the street for 10 hours.

Controversy? Snide Comments? …Did I hear Dangerous?

After last years Keys 100 Ultramarathon, some in the online ultrarunning world weren’t exactly “kind” about the race. Allow me to quote some of the post-race remarks after the 2008 race:

“…got an email from a friend who ran the Keys 100. As she called it, the Roadkill 100.  She dropped after fearing for her life on the highway.  Said it was very very dangerous…”

“…Only an idiot would run it…”

“I really can’t think of a much worse place to run.”

“It is one thing to run under harsh or hard natural conditions, something quite different to be forced into playing tag with speeding semis and lesser vehicles on US 1.”

Are you kidding me? For someone like me, after reading all that, there wasn’t a thing in the world that could keep me from trying this little piece of controversial kool-aid.

Don’t do it? …oh, I’m doing it.

A Dummies Guide to the Keys 100 races

Can I be sued for saying that? the Dummies thing?

Anyway, The Keys 100 consists of three races, all self-supported:

  1. The 100-mile relay (6 team members running intervals of their choice)
  2. Individual 100 mile racers
  3. Individual 50 mile racers

If you’ve ever visited the Florida Keys, you know that there is only one main road in and out of the island chain. The road is called US1, and since it’s the only way in and out of the Keys, most of the local addresses are based on the green highway mile markers from the top of the chain, all the way down to southern most tip of the United States, in quirky little ol’ Key West.

The 100 mile runners (and relay teams) started the race in Key Largo, at mile marker 101 at 6:00 a.m.

The 50 mile runners started four hours later (10:00 a.m.) from Marathon, with all runners headed to their final destination of Key West.

Keys 100 crew vehicle
photo: me and my crew chief, longtime pal, BonBon

Yup, there is intense traffic. There’s also intense heat, and in our case this year, the sun never, ever let up. Clouds with short, tropical showers the day before and the day after – but nutin’ but pure scorch on race day.

But, there’s also the unique and awesome experience of running in the tropics with the Gulf of Mexico over your right shoulder, and the Atlantic Ocean over your left.

In fact, during one particular skinny section, and just because I thought it was a cool thing to do, I threw some ice to the right of me, into the Gulf, and then immediately tossed some ice to left of me into the ocean.

Think about that for a minute.

That’s just flat-out cool, …kinda like standing with one foot on each side of the equator.

Goals a’plenty

In April, after running 50+ miles at the Delano 12-hour, I changed my registration in the Keys 100 from the 100-miler to the 50-miler.  At this stage in my ultra development, it simply made perfect sense to me to attempt to run the entire 50 miles of the Keys 100, with a goal of no walking on the course, as opposed to suffering through the 100-miler where my experience would be less of a race against myself, and more about just staying upright and alive.

Other unknowns also made the 50-miler a much more attractive option:

  1. The race is self-supported.
  2. As mentioned, I had a goal of running the whole thing without having to walk on the course.
  3. This would be my wife and longtime bud’s first attempt at the art of crewing.
  4. This would be my first time using a crew in a race.
  5. The race is 100% road, and almost all my ultramarathon experience is running trails
  6. I had NO idea how the intense heat would affect me and my crew.
  7. I had no idea how I would deal with the hectic tourist traffic brushing along me all day.
  8. I wasn’t confident that I had the right gear, or nutrition strategy, for even 50 miles, let alone the hundo.

Having vacationed multiple times in the Florida Keys, I knew the times would most likely be much slower than some other 50-milers simply due to the heat and the amount of crew time that would be necessary refueling and hydrating with a roaming crew.

With a generous 16-hour cut-off, I set a baseline goal of a sub-12, with a “good day” goal of sub-11, and a dream race goal of sub-10 hours.

Then, eight days from the race, I hurt my low-back doing some heavy dead-lifts without proper warm-up. Why was I doing dead-lifts 8-days out? I don’t know. I’m stupid, I guess.

I visited Doc Karen, the chiropractor, a few times which helped a bunch, plus lots of ice/heat, massages at night, chair support devices …and rolled into Key Largo Thursday afternoon, a heavy 205 lbs from no activity for eight days, still in a little pain, but trying hard to implement mind over matter.

I printed the maps from the web site, met briefly with my wife about it, and just like that, we’re at the pre-race meeting at the Holiday Inn, Key Largo, listening to the race director bellow out the warnings and cautions – the theme of the race is “take care of yourself”, and “don’t do anything stupid”.

Sounds easy enough. {wink}

The eyes of Miami upon us

Maybe it was me, but I found the crazy traffic along US1 to be a big help in the race.

Last year, I heard some horror stories about drivers purposely trying to run racers off the road, honking incessantly, and throwing things out the window as they passed. While there were instances of all of that, I really got a kick out of all the honking.

The Miami Herald ran a front page story about Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd, aka.the Running Nun, who was 60 years old and attempting to run the 100-miler in an effort to raise awareness for orphans with Aids. I believe this sort of attention probably cast a positive light over the race and set the scene for more traffic-tolerant, supportive drivers.

Hundreds of vehicle drivers and motorcyclists honked, waved, thumbs-up’d, and yelled supportive messages throughout the entire 50-mile trek.

The best though, or perhaps the worst depending on your ‘view‘, was getting mooned by a college girl who practically fell out of the passenger side window swingin’ that butt around.

Let’s call it section one

This was the easy part of the 50-miler
photo: I’m smiling because this is the easy part – bike path, first 4 miles

At 9:57 a.m., 65 nervous runners stood at the 51-mile mark in Marathon, Florida, nervously awaiting the 10:00 a.m. start.

It was already 85 degrees, with bright overhead sunshine, and I think it was right about then when people began to realize what we were in store for over the next 10 hours …or more.

The first four miles was a nice easy trot through the small town of Marathon, Florida, and I ran with an attorney from Sarasota. It was his fifth ultra, and I REALLY want to remember this guy’s name since he saved me 10 minutes before the start with a handful of Scaps! electrolyte tablets. (I forgot mine and would have been DEAD without ’em)

After this nice four-mile trot, I met with my crew, grabbed an extra bottle, and headed towards the start of the long, seven-mile bridge.

Seven mile bridge in the Florida Keys
photo: Top view of the seven mile bridge in the Florida Keys

For many runners, the seven mile bridge can be sketchy. There is VERY LIMITED space for which to run along the bridge and you are doing so, facing oncoming traffic with semi trucks, confused tourists, and high speed drivers coming at you non-stop.

There is also no crew access on the bridge, so you’re on your own during this long, hot, exposed stretch.

But probably the most troubling for some people is the fact that there is nowhere to get out the way. If for some reason you are faced with a errant driver, the only option is to jump over the barricade and drop about 65 feet into the ocean – that might suck a little.

But, as usual, I freakin’ LOVED IT!

I saw a bunch of dolphin, one of which might have been the largest porpoise I have ever seen. I also saw a huge loggerhead turtle swim by and tilt his head up, almost as if acknowledging me, before ducking back down into the deep and outta sight.

I loved the wild life, loved the water, loved the supportive traffic honking and waving and taking photos and video and yelling out support. It was awesome! Might have been my favorite section.

How about that? – everyone’s worst, became my best.

Note to self: never drink Gatorade during races longer than 10K

The breeze was strong, and for the most part at my back, making me feel light on my feet and very run-strong. …but I had a …umm …how should I say, “a bathroom super emergency” on top of that bridge.

And it would seem to never end.

My stomach gripped itself in these horrible pains down low and I knew the fructose in the Gatorade I was drinking was wreaking havoc on GI system. I knew if I didn’t “rectify” the situation shortly there would be a front page picture at the Miami Herald that might be even more popular than the running nun. All I could picture was me, squatting on the seven-mile bridge, with nowhere else to hide, taking care of business under the horrified glances of drivers flyin’ on by…


But I made it the end of the bridge and Veterans Memorial Park without a moment to spare!

My apologies to the innocent older gentleman already in the park bathroom brushing his teeth.

My crew is better than yours

Bon Bon crewed like a champOk, so I don’t know if that’s all true, but like a young kid who believes his Dad is the rootin’est, tootin’est, toughest hombre around, that’s how I felt about my crew.

Sure, compared to most, I had a small crew – just my li’l ol’ wifey Babette, and my longtime surfing bud, Matt “bonbon” Thornton; but for what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in attentiveness.

Every time I approached the crew vehicle they were there waiting with ice-soaked shirts, bags of ice, and freezing cold water to pour over my head.

Constantly pushing food in my face, even when I didn’t want it, but knowing I needed it.

Filling up my bottles with the speed of a Nascar pit crew …and making sure not to let me dilly-dally.

They kept me updated with my current place in the pack, and who was coming and who was starting to crumble ahead of me so that I might reel’em in.

They motivated me by telling me how strong I looked, and how solid I was running, and how they’d be at the next spot waiting for me with this or that…

I never had to think.

Just run.

4:57 at the Halfway Point

I felt good running into the 25 mile checkpoint. I joked around with the volunteers while my crew prepared some bottles for me, and left quickly, excited that I was on pace to satisfy at least one of my goals, and maybe even my dream goal of sub-10 hours.

The second half of the race felt a bit more baron with long stretches of mangroves, lots of stinky low tide smell, and iguana, squirrel and snake carcasses every mile or so. The bridges were always a welcome sight because I knew that once I got on the bridge, I would get a nice little cooling effect from the wind.

I started to pass a few people …maybe about four dudes, from miles 25-35, and although I was starting to slow significantly, I never started walking. I figured even my slowest run was faster than my fastest walk, so I continued on – not out of ego, but out of a desire to attain my goal of running the entire 50 miles.

Even though it was hot as you-know-what, I was having a ball.

The turquoise ocean and bay all around me.

The smell of the ocean.

The whole Island vibe.

The nature.

…even the sun and I had a very volatile love/hate thing goin’ on.

I’m all about the beach.

The beach is my home and I am content near, on, or anywhere remotely close to the water.

But it can’t all be sunshine and kittens

With about 15 miles to go, the low point set in. My New Balance 790s were soaked the whole race from both sweat and the buckets of ice cold water being dumped over head, and I started to form a small blister on the bottom, center of my left foot.


I knew the last 15 miles was gonna hurt, and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing you can do to stop one on the bottom.

So, like a good crew team, my wife laced up, threw on her Eminem-looking, 70’s sweat band, and started loggin’ miles with me; and let me tell you, it’s very humbling when your wife starts heckling you about your slow pace.

She’d run a mile, let me go another mile or two, and then run another one with me.

It was nice to have her there. Thanks, LuvPi.

Seeing single digits

Man did that 9-mile marker look good to me.

Something about knowing I was in the single digits, with only nine more miles to go, somehow made the pain go numb. I ran mile markers 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 with decent speed – enough to make my wife ask me if I was sure I wanted to do this.

“Yea, I’m ready to wrap this up”, I’d say.

Babette pacing me in the Keys 100, 50 mile race
photo: Babette runs along with me during a gnarly construction stretch

Up and over the last bridge, and there it is – Roosevelt Blvd., Key West, Florida.

I ran alone from the 4-mile marker to the 2-mile marker where Babette joined me one last time to pace me to the finish. We ran along the boardwalk, fielding congratulations from runners’ crews, relay runners, strangers, and anyone else milling around the scene.

I got a little ahead of myself, ran too hard after seeing the 1-mile marker, and had to stop for fear of puking my guts out.

Less than a mile away, and I had to walk for a couple of split seconds.


And finally, I saw the clock ticking away and I started a modified sprint to the sound of my wife and bud hootin’ and hollerin’ for me.

10:32 (although, I thought it was 10:35)


While I missed my dream goal of a sub-10 hour, I easily surpassed the sub-12, and sub-11 goals, and ran 99% of every step of the race.

I wanted to finish in at least the top-25, so getting a 13th (or 15th) place finish was a huge bonus!

But the real heroes were Babette and BonBon. They kept me going through incredible heat and the mental challenge I had been expecting. Without them, I can’t even imagine what the day would have been like.

If you two read this – thank you, thank you, thank you.

I know I’m an intense, maniacal dude who thinks the whole world revolves around him, but you guys really were the main ingredient that made this whole race, in fact the entire trip, a wild success.

Much love.

Technical stuff

So here’s some technical stuff and race tidbits that may (or may not) help individuals who might someday run this race, or any race like it:

  • Heat kills – I expected to need two, one gallon jugs of water. My crew went through 10!
  • Loved my 790s – I wore my favorite trail shoe, the NB790, and was glad I did. Although the race was all road, the road is gnarly, half melted, rocky blacktop, and the 790s just cruised right on through.
  • Traffic – yup, there is lots of scary, hairball traffic and no, you don’t ever get used to it. Deal with it.
  • Even pace was key for me – my splits were pretty close to even. Not as close as some people can do, but for me, 30 minutes slower on the second half is quite an improvement. I constantly paid attention to my pace based totally on ‘feel’.
  • Crews win the race – as runners, we’re just pawns in their chess match. If your crew is good, you won’t be doing a damn thing but playing in the street.
  • CrossFit folks e’rewhere – lots of CrossFit guys and gals running this race. Love it or hate it, we’re in the sport now.
  • Bob Becker is one heck of a race director

I love the Keys, I love the tropics, and I loved this race.

Next year, I’ll be ready for the 100, I’ll just have to figure out a way to ensure BonBon and Babette will crew for me once again.

Mopeds in the Keys
photo: day after the race, milling around Key West on mopeds.

Next up, one of my favorites – SweetH20 50K

Get some!