5 tips to surviving florida's iconic ultra.
Alex and I love the Keys. We got married in the Keys. We ran our first 100-miler at the Keys 100 (2011, 7th overall). We've run the race every year since (2012, 6th overall; 2013, Male Champion; 2014, 8th overall; 2015, 4th overall). And yes, I use the word "we" even though I was the one running and Alex was supporting me . . . in point-to-point "heat" races like the Keys 100, your crew is vitally important to your success. Anyway, you get the point: we love the Keys in general and the race in particular! So here we go:
1. run on "feel," not "pace."
Here is the weather forecast for the Middle Keys (Marathon area) for this weekend:
So what does that mean for your race? If you take one point from this article, and one point only, it's this: don't run your race based upon what your watch says; instead, run it based on your effort level. This will be my sixth year in a row running the Keys 100 (wow, I feel old just writing that), and -- believe me -- I see it every year: a bunch of incredibly-fast and talented runners come down to the Keys to run their first 100-miler, simply do not respect the obscene heat/humidity down there, and are puking at the side of the road by Mile 15. (There is some serious speed coming down this year . . . a few guys with 3hr 50k times are running their first 100-milers . . . that is elite speed).
Yes, you are an ultrarunner, so that means you are very-likely (1) an anal, type-A personality who will have a detailed pace chart for each section of the course; (2) will feel like a failure if you don't hit your pre-conceived time goals; and (3) have no mechanism for recovering from that near certain result.
Here's my advice: while it's fine to have a plan, in "heat" races like Keys and Badwater, you really need to be able to have the maturity to abandon your original goals and create new ones on the fly. This year is shaping up to be one of the hottest Keys 100's ever (on par with the 2013 race). DO NOT struggle to maintain a predetermined pace in the first 20 miles if you feel like you are working too hard. Everyone else is feeling the heat too. Make the mature decision, reassess your situation, and adjust accordingly.
Case in point: last year, I ran the Keys 100 for the 5th time. I was two weeks removed from running the 175-mi UltraMilano-Sanremo in Italy, and I had already run 5 races of 100 miles or longer that year to date. So, suffice to say, I wasn't exactly in "fresh" shape for the Keys. The race started at 6:15. By 7am, I was already complaining to my crew about "how f--king hot" it was out there (not a good sign). My original goal was to run the first 50 in 7:30, and the second 50 in 8:30, for a finishing time of 17 hours (or a few minutes faster). But after only a few miles, I knew that wouldn't happen. So instead of running myself into the ground in the first half of the race, I re-adjusted my goals to "50 in around 8 hours, and then we will see from there."
It worked. I wound up finishing 4th overall, losing to 3rd place by a few seconds (more on that later). But had I been too stubborn/arrogant to abandon my original goal, my finishing time would have been several hours slower (if at all).
Bottom line (especially for you first-time 100-milers from a state where it's not 900 degrees outside on a regular basis): run based on EFFORT. Everything else will take care of itself. Don't be a "peacock": no one cares who is winning the race after 10 or 20 miles.... :)
2. In Florida, "Micking" is the new "chicking".
Well, in Florida, if you are a guy and will actually be surprised by getting "chicked" in any of the Keys races this weekend, you are a certified idiot. Seriously. If you had to ask me to name the top-3 ultrarunners in Florida (regardless of gender), all three spots would be women. (And while you might fairly debate me about #3, the top two ultrarunners who live in Florida are unquestionably female).
At least 4 world-class women are running one of the Keys races this year. So -- in addition to this being Chris Thompson's dream race :) -- what does that mean for you male speedsters who dream of winning that overall first-place prize in one of the Keys races? Here's what it means: Check your ambition at the valet of your hotel in Key Largo, and pick it up when the weekend is over, because it would be a monumental upset if anyone with a penis wins the overall Keys 100-miler, Keys 50-miler, or Keys 50k. Let's discuss in more detail:
A. The Keys 50-miler:
We start with the 50 mile race, because that race features the best female long-distance road ultrarunner ON THE PLANET, Katy "The Silent Assassin" Nagy.
I guess her resume isn't really all that impressive . . . um . . . except for the fact she: (1) is the reigning 24-hr World Champion (over 150 miles in 24 hours); (2) is the record-holder (blowing away the old-record) at the most-competitive road race on the planet (the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece, with an INSANE finishing time of just over 25 hours); and (3) came in 4th overall at Sparty (which is an unbelievable accomplishment, considering every year, about 20-30 world-class men compete at Sparty).
B. The Keys 50k:
Sorry, guys: your chances of winning the Keys 50k do not get much better, as former Keys 50-mile winner Alice Henley is running the 50k. Again, good luck.
C. The Keys 100:
Okay, the main event. Let's look at the raw numbers: well over 1000 people have toed the line at the Keys 100 over the 8-year history of the race. And during that time, exactly one -- ONE -- person (male or female), has ever finished with a faster time than Aly Venti's 14:42 result in 2014 . . . and that person was some obscure guy who no one has ever heard of (named Mike Morton, who just happens to hold the U.S. 24-hour record (172 miles), as well as winning Badwater (about 2 minutes off of the course record), Western States, and basically every other race he's ever run)...
Aly hates me writing about her, so for the rest of the article, let's refer to her as "Valy Fenti" to protect her anonymity :)
Valy is Liam Neeson from the "Taken" movies. The 1st-place conch shell is her kidnapped daughter. And the rest of the field consists of the Eastern-European thugs getting in her way.
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long ultrarunning career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let me win the Keys, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will pass you, and I will 'chick' you."
Okay, that might be completely made-up. But you guys get the point . . . here in Florida, getting "chicked" is the norm. The unusual result would be one of these women getting "micked." (And, as an aside, there is definitely a less "PC" word that rhymes with "chicked" that can be substituted for "micked," but this IS a family show...) :)
Also, should Aly not be "feeling it" during the race, guys, keep in mind that Badwater LEGEND (and two-time overall BW winner) Pam Reed will also be toeing the line this year at the Keys. Seriously, Pam is a certified ultrarunning badass. In fact, she almost started running Badwater in the "B.C. era" (which, of course, means "Before Chris Kostman"!!)
In addition to being one of the most-accomplished road ultrarunners in history, she also was one-half of one of the greatest (and funniest) news headlines in ultrarunning history (in Outside Magazize . . . my buddy Dean being the other half):
"Desperate Housewife Stalks Male Supermodel in Sports"
(click here for the article) :)
3. Engage the mind to Engage the legs.
I have run the Keys 100 5 times and Badwater twice. Some free advice: late in either of these races, you absolutely need to have some external motivation in order to perform as well as possible in the last 10-20 miles. Two of my own examples: at the Keys last year, I was in 4th place until about Bahia Honda (Mile 65), when I passed Byron Roca, a super-young and very talented ultrarunner from South Florida. But he started five minutes after me, and I knew that if I saw him again, it would be a race. Well, by Mile 90, I got word that he was only 5 minutes behind me, and the race for third place was on. (No one was within an hour of us, either in front or behind). Without each other, we would have basically crawled to the finish line. But because we were engaged in a race, we pushed each other to a much faster finishing time than we could have done alone. He wound up beating me by a few seconds, but I didn't mind, because (a) I had just run 175 miles two weeks before, and (b) looking-back, it was such a fun experience to be running 6-7 min/mi over the last 10 miles (which I've never done before in a 100-mi race).
My point: our bodies are always more capable than we think . . . we just need to give our minds reason to believe it...
This maxim was confirmed for me a few months later at Badwater, when, at the final checkpoint (Mile 132), I learned I would finish top-5 if I could just beat Luigi Dessi's time on the "switchbacks" (the last 5k to the finish line), with a 10-min cushion. I was completely dragging for the prior 9 miles . . . seriously, if you would have seen me on that stretch, I looked like I was about to pass out. But upon hearing at that last aid station that I had a good chance to finish in the top-5 overall at the world's toughest footrace, it was like a shot of adrenaline to my heart!
So, late in the race, find something to motivate you, if you want to finish as quickly as possible.
4. Be a Hippie.
I know; that is sometimes hard when you are emotionally-stripped by the course and not thinking clearly. Here's a tip: when I feel like crap on a course, I deliberately make myself ask others how they are doing. No, I'm not being nice or unselfish; rather, I just want to take my mind off of something else besides how crappy I feel. (Promise you won't tell Alex, okay...) :)
Whatever your motivation, be nice to your crew, and try to run as "happy" as you possibly can. If that doesn't work, just remember that if I run by you during the race, and you are berating your crew, I will -- without hesitation -- punch you in the face. And keep in mind, I'm a lawyer, so go ahead, sue me. :)
5. Remember, you paid to be here.
I cannot wait to see everyone in Key Largo in 48 hours!!! And for those of you who are in town on Friday, I am hosting a "shake-out" run at 2pm, leaving from the host hotel (Holiday Inn), and running the first 1-2 miles of the course. The pre-race meetings do not start until 5, so you have plenty of time to get a very short run in, which will help you calm your nerves a bit, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you guys might have!!
Alex, Zoey, Witt, and I can't wait to see everyone on Friday :)