"once more into the breach, dear friends..."
Each and every year, Alex and I learn new tips about the race. Last year, I wrote a Keys 100 "playbook"; you can find it here. This year, I'd like to focus on what is probably the most important dynamic for success at the Keys 100: the runner/crew interaction. More than just about every other ultra in the country, crew members are absolutely vital to a runner's success at the Keys 100. So, on our 5th year of the Keys 100, here are five tips to keep in mind that you can hopefully find useful as you make your final preparations for the big race!
1. Ice, Ice, baby.
I say this every year: you must respect the heat/humidity in the Keys. The sun is unrelenting and the heat is extreme. This year will be no different; expect highs of 87-88 with little cloud cover and high humidity throughout the race. It will not be a "cold" or "easy" year.
There are two main things you and your crew can do to combat the heat. First, and most importantly, pick a realistic pace. (This especially applies to out-of-state runners; the heat in the Keys is much hotter than even Miami, which is only an hour away from Key Largo...). Second, ice is your best friend. (I know this is an obvious point, but what isn't necessarily-obvious is just how much ice you should be using during the race.)
You will want to have two coolers in your crew vehicle. One is for "clean ice." Nothing goes in that cooler except the ice that you will put in your water bottles during the race. And get a metal scooper to fill the bottles so that no hands actually touch the ice. The last thing you want is to get sick because you are drinking contaminated ice out there.
The other cooler should be packed with ice as well, in addition to anything (food, drinks, etc) that you want to keep cold. Use ice bandanas throughout the race; you can use the "dirty ice" for your bandanas or anywhere else you want to put it on your body.
Ice is truly your best friend in the Keys. Use it constantly during the race.
2. "Baby steps to the elevator..."
Don't think like that; you absolutely cannot think about how many total miles you have until the finish line. This is true with all ultras, but especially point-to-point races like the Keys: break up the race into small sections and simply focus on your goal for the current section. Then move to the next one. And so on and so on. Don't allow yourself to think about the finish line until you are actually on Key West. Any sooner and you are asking for major trouble.
For me, I break the course into a lot of little sections and have specific goals for each section. For example, for the first 50k, I like to run a certain number of miles every hour and hold that pace until the 50k mark. Then I do the same from 50k to 50 miles, and so on and so on. If you allow your mind to travel too far down the road, it will likely come to the (very rational) conclusion that "it's just too far away."
Even though I've run about 20 ultras of 100 miles or longer (Keys will be #20 for me), I made this mistake last week in Italy at the 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo. I had all kinds of knee problems on and off for the last 100 miles, and when I reached the final 11 mile-stretch (a gorgeous bike path into Sanremo), I allowed myself to think about the finish. I had already run 164 miles; I figured I was allowed to think about the finish.
It was a huge mistake. When you can hardly move, 11 miles might as well be a million miles. I should have been more focused on just making it to the next town, or even the next lamp post. We can almost always still move forward. That is what we should focus on when we are feeling like crap...
Crew members play a huge role in this, and can help runners "stay in the moment" by doing the following three things:
(1) Set small goals for your runner: "Let's try and get over this bridge in the next 10 minutes"
(2) Always be where you say you will be: If you say "meet you in 2 miles," make sure you drive exactly 2 miles up the road, not 3.
(3) Stay positive throughout the race...
In addition to those general suggestions, there are two specific sections of the course that are very difficult, yet receive little attention. (Most people just assume that the Seven Mile Bridge is the hardest section of the course . . . it is not.) The following two sections of the course are spots where you and your crew will want to have a specific plan in place:
(1) Long Key Channel Bridge: This flat bridge, over two miles long, comes at just about the worst possible time in the race (about 35 miles in, and when the sun is directly overhead). Crew vehicles will want to meet their runners right before they enter the footbridge. This is also an excellent section to have a pacer, if one is available.
(2) The Mangrove Section (i.e., "Corridor of Death"): Upon entering Marathon, runners will cross US1 at about Mile Marker 58.3 and will enter a canopied paved path for 2.5 miles, which is basically a furnace. This is easily the hottest section of the course. Vehicles have several access points to the runners along this path. Keeping the runners cool and in as positive of a state of mind as possible is paramount in this section.
3. eternal sunshine of the crew member's mind.
That being said, runners, the bib number you will be wearing does not give you an "asshole license." I don't care how hot you get, how badly you are feeling, or how far off of your originally-planned pace you fall. Don't take it out on your crew. They are volunteering their weekends to support you and help you reach your goals. They are very likely loved ones who you care a great deal about you. Return the favor and never lose your humanity during the race. Remember, you paid to be in this race. So keep in mind why you are on the course, and why you endured all of those long hours, days, weeks, and months of training. Which leads us to...
4. Don't be a cobra kai sith lord ultrarunner.
Just leave the negativity/anger/stress/judgment/etc behind.
The ideal mindset for an ultrarunner is to run from a place of love. I know it sounds corny and touchy-feely. But these races are just too difficult to run while feeling anger, passion, jealousy, or whatever negative emotions you encounter. I actually know a few people in this sport who preach running "on anger" and negative emotion (I'm not joking). They are usually the same people who speak in absolutes ("a DNF is a mortal sin," "no excuses," blah blah blah) and see the world in black and white. Perhaps that attitude works for them. For my money, though, that sounds a lot like the Emperor trying to convince Luke Skywalker to "give in to your anger" or the Cobra Kai sensei telling Johnny to "sweep the leg."
Savor the experience when you are out there. Do me a favor and just try it: smile throughout the race (even when you feel like shit). High-five other runners. Wave to people. Cheer others on (yes, even those who pass you). When you give off positive energy, you'll receive it back from everyone else in the race, as well as your surroundings. It really works.
One of the best runners I've seen at doing this is a relative newcomer in ultrarunning, a Florida runner named Lucas Smelser. (I guess it's fitting his name is "Luke"). I ran most of the 46-mile Pinellas Trail Challenge with him last August. The guy smiled, waved, and said "hi" to everyone we encountered. It was just contagious. People respond to positivity; you could just feel all the good vibes around us. Again, these races are just too darn hard and long to run on negative emotions.
Even if you are trying to win the race, win your age group, or nail a certain time goal, being positive and helping out others is -- for my money -- the way to go. I'm as competitive as anyone else, but in a race this long and hard, we are really all in it together. Sure, I want to win, but I want to beat you on your best day, not when you are feeling like crap. So for you speedsters, you can either help and encourage your competitors on Saturday, or yell "get him a body bag!!" as you pass by. (Bad example, as that would just be really funny and no one would take you seriously). But you get my point. Don't be an 80's movie villain out there. And if you do happen to encounter one on the course, just practice the Tao of Taylor and "shake it off" :)
5. have fun!
I hope you all have a great weekend and you all reach the goals you set out for yourselves. I can't wait to see you all in Key Largo on Friday!!!