Well, it's mid-May in Florida ultrarunning, and that can only mean one thing . . . it's time, yet again, for the KEYS 100, one of the very premier Florida ultras (and, one of the two "prime-time," point-to-point road 100s run along beautiful coastline scenery . . . hint . . . the other one is in December . . . .) :)
Seriously, Bob Becker is the gold-standard in race directing, not just in Florida, but in the United States. The KEYS 100 should be on everyone's "must-do" list, and, if you're not signed up yet, there's still time. (Click here to do so). This is the 10th anniversary of the race, and to mark the occasion, Bob has planned all sorts of cool stuff, including the band Sister Hazel, who will be running the relay race and then performing on Sunday for us! How cool is that???
In addition to awesome entertainment, this year's version of the KEYS 100 features the most-competitive and deepest field in the history of the race. While the "Queen of the Keys," Aly Venti, will be sitting out this year's race (she's 8 months pregnant), the firepower at the start line on Key Largo on May 10th will be nothing short of world-class. Leading the way will be the two DAYTONA 100 champions from 2016, Marc Burget (whose 14:40 winning time was good for the 4th-fastest 100-miler in the entire country last year), and Noelani Taylor (whose 16:00:03 winning time was good for the 7th-fastest female 100-miler in the U.S. in 2016). Lining up next to them, among the 200 or so starters, will be about a dozen other runners who all have their eyes on the ultimate prize . . . the coveted KEYS 100 conch shell for the winners:
(The prize for winning the Keys 100 . . . Alex not included . . . sorry guys!)
This is the fourth year in a row I've written this Keys "Playbook." The basic premise behind it is although I'm a coach and have about two dozen Zwitty runners coming down to the Keys this year to compete their asses off, I fully believe there should be no "secrets" in this sport, so I have always tried to share all of my accumulated knowledge of this great race with anyone and everyone who wants to hear it. I believe that is what this sport is all about . . . helping each other, building each other up . . . keeping it . . . what's the word I'm looking for . . . classy. :) (And for reference to why I chose that word, click here).
Seriously, I absolutely consider it an honor to be able to help a lot of runners -- formally and informally -- to reach their goals in our amazing sport. With that in mind, here is this year's edition of The Playbook. For the 2014 edition, click here. For 2015, click here. And for 2016, click here.
This year's Playbook's five tips will focus primarily upon perhaps the most-important factor in determining success versus failure at the race: pacing . . .
Tip #1: the "peacock" award.
And for Noelani, I coach her, and one of her "staple" workouts is she will run 20 miles on a treadmill . . . in two hours flat. (Yes, that's a 6min/mi pace, or a "10" on the TM). She considers that workout "easy." Again, if you're in that kind of shape as well, feel free to tag along with the "Smiling Assassin." (She is seriously the nicest person ever; trying to get her to swear is one of my favorite pastimes!)
(The Dynamic Duo)
The point I'm oh-so-subtley trying to make is RUN YOUR OWN RACE. In a 100-miler, you are certifiably fricking insane if you let another runner dictate or change your pace for (at least) the first 80 miles of the race. With 100-milers (or longer races), I like to pretend I'm a passive character in a movie for the first 80 miles. I think it's utterly unrealistic to say "don't pay attention to what others are doing . . . just focus on yourself" during these things. Of COURSE you're going to be paying attention to others; we are on that course for so damn long, we need something to occupy our minds. So just pretend you're in a movie for the first 80 miles, watching the action unfold around you. If, by Sugarloaf Key, you find yourself in a race with someone or multiple people, then, by all means, become the lead actor/actress in your movie, use strategy/race tactics/etc. Until then, however, if you let someone else dictate your pace, I guarantee you it will end badly.
Which brings me to the 2017 KEYS 100 PEACOCK AWARD!! If any man not named Marc, or any woman not named Noelani is the first one to reach Aid Station 1 (Mile Marker 90, Mile 10 of the race), he/she will become the official KEYS PEACOCK!!! (You don't want the award, trust me!) Seriously, run your own race. If you don't trust me, listen to the smartest man in ultrarunning...
2. find your "forever" pace, and never go faster during the race.
Bob is over 50 years old. Bob ran the Spartathlon last year and finished in the top-15. His last 13 miles were faster than anyone else in the entire field. Last month, he ran 152 miles in a 24-hour race, finishing agonizingly-close to making the U.S. 24-hour team, battling at the World Championships next month in Belfast, Ireland (Bob was beat out for the last spot by a few hundred yards . . . think about that for a second...)
Bob's marathon PR is around 3 hours, which is WAY slow for someone who just about made a national team in running. And he's over 50 years old . . . while ultrarunning is certainly not a kid's sport, Bob is definitely not in the prime of his athletic career from a physical standpoint. So, how in the heck did he become a world-class runner -- and make no mistake about it, he's world-class -- and how in the world did the guy run 152 miles in 24 hours?? Training? Sure, that's a given with everyone at the top of the sport. Bob's main advantage, however, is his (very big) brain: while Bob may own a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, he is the world's foremost expert on pacing strategies. He figures out his "forever pace" (i.e., the pace he can run all day long), and he never goes faster. Here is the graph of his pacing from his 24-hour race last month, a race he dubbed his "masterpiece":
Seriously, in his race, each lap was a half-mile, and every third lap, he walked for one minute (that's why you see two dots at 4.5 and one dot at 5, repeated for a long time). Bob figured his "forever pace" was 9-min miles, so he never ran faster.
As an aside, if any of you want to pick my brain about what your forever pace is for the Keys, feel free to hit me up! I deeply love this sport and really like hearing from you guys :)
3. "Do not underestimate the powers of the emperor, or suffer your father's fate, you will..."
The heat down there is just different. I ran the Keys three years while living in Miami (i.e., 30 miles away from Key Largo). The heat/humidity is noticeably different even from Miami. "Sunny and 85" in Miami, or Jacksonville, or Austin, or wherever the heck you're from is not the same as "sunny and 85" in Marathon or Islamorada or Key West. The heat in the Keys is disgusting, it is all-encompassing, and it is unavoidable.
So what does this all mean for you? Again, don't think because the race is flat and on a road, you'll "crush it" and set the course on fire. Find that "forever" pace, and never, ever, evah deviate from it. You can thank me at the post-race party :)
4. walk the walk so you can talk the talk.
During the run, the one thing that Dan was most-surprised about was the amount of walking we did during those 30 miles. Dan wants to finish LIGHTHOUSE in under 24 hours (which, I'm sure, is a goal of most of the people reading this, for the Keys). I finished the 100 miles in 20 hours and change, and we walked at least 30 percent of the time. Think about it . . . for a 20-hour finish, you need to run 5 miles an hour. That's a 12min/mi pace. If you want to finish sub-24, you need to run a tad over 4 miles an hour. That's basically a walk. If you are properly trained, there is no reason you can't reach those goals.
The problem, coming from a marathon background, is that "walking equals failure." Because in a marathon, if you walk, that means you've "bonked" and are having a terrible race. But what Dan learned that day, and I hope everyone learns, is that unless you are planning to run Keys in under 15 hours, you will be walking at points during the race, so why not choose those times yourself, versus being forced to walk/crawl/sit because you pushed yourself too hard?? Again, look at Bob's chart above. Every 1.5 miles, Bob walked for one minute. He still got to 100 miles in around 15 hours. There's probably a lesson to be learned there...
5. "Clear eyes, full hearts..."
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know of my affinity for all things "Taylor," including "T-Swizzle" (Taylor Swift) and Coach Taylor from "Friday Night Lights."
I fully believe the best way to run ultras is to honor the rallying cry of the fictional Dillon Panthers . . . "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose"!!! If you are well-trained, have a rational goal, and think clearly about how to accomplish it, you are well on your way to getting there. And when you're running, run with love in your hearts, for your crew, for your fellow competitors, and for the fact you're accomplishing something absolutely amazing that 99.999% of the world can't even comprehend. If you have that mindset in the back of your head during the race, I promise you, you "can't lose."
I know, it's not easy to feel "love" when you're in the "Corridor of Death" in those f--king mangroves at Mile 44, and it's easy to lash out at your crew or others when you feel that way. But believe me, the one thing that can get you back to feeling good again is to take the focus off of yourself, and focus on all the people who sacrificed to get you the chance to do something so audacious as running 100 miles in the Florida Keys. In those dark times, focus on them; focus on those who will always believe in you, no matter how long the odds.
See you next week!