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Keeping it Chill at the KEYS 100

Keys 100 Race Report May 19-20, 2018

Guest blogger & Ultra ambassador Dr. Juli Goldstein 

It’s been just over 2 weeks since I completed the Keys 100 ultra marathon , yet my body refuses to stop showing the effects of running 100 miles.  The irony of it all, I can’t wait to do it again! It has been several years since I have attempted the100 mile distance and I felt it was time to get my ultra legs back. One hundred miles is no joke and anything can happen on the journey, and usually anything and everything does.   Prior to the start of official training, I had a fairly good base of at least 40 miles a week mostly road running with some occasional trails. For 15 weeks, I looked forward to my weekly plan from my awesome coach and multiple Badwater finisher, Tony Potera.

The Keys race is typically very hot and humid and is a great race for anyone considering or training for Badwater.  However, the weather Gods decided this year would be different. Race morning was greeted with intermittent rain and much cooler temps.  The cooler weather, on most occasions would have been a blessing, however starting out a 20 + hour journey in the rain was of immediate concern for all things feet and chafing.   

The first 50- 60 miles of Keys 100 felt like a breeze, I had quick crew stops and often didn’t stop at all at the crew locations. I reached the 50 mile check in without incident in a time of 10:50:30, which was much faster than I had expected or planned.   Unless I am specifically chasing a PR, my goal with most races is to run by feel and always listen to my body. I also apply this to my nutrition and hydration needs.

One of the many wonderful things about this race is the generous cut off times. We had 17 hours to get over the Seven-mile bridge (60 miles into the race) and I felt that was more than doable.  However, other than finishing, my main goal of this race was to get over the Seven-mile bridge before sun down. There are 42 bridge crossings between Key Largo and Key West and this one is the by far the longest and most challenging.   The Seven- mile bridge is one of the most picturesque bridges in the US and is also the home of the very popular and aptly named Seven -mile bridge run. The start of the bridge occurs around 53 miles into the 100 miles race and this is the longest stretch where you are not allowed crew; but thankfully, pacers are allowed and encouraged. I picked up my pacer Michelle B and went off to tackle the bridge in the daylight that I had hoped for.   One of the many reasons permits are granted for this race year after year is that it causes minimal disruption to the local area; including not closing off any parts of any road or bridge. Running up and over bridges where cars full of vacationers, locals, large tour buses, and trucks are speeding by is more than terrifying and a motivation to get it over with a soon as possible. Luckily, as we were beginning the uphill portion of the bridge, Michelle and I caught up to a group of runners/pacers that were about our speed and were on the same run/ walk schedule as us.    There was safety in numbers and having a large group not only helped block the wind, but also made us way more visible to oncoming traffic. One the many, many things I love about ultrarunning is that walking is not only acceptable, but is encouraged and necessary. With each race, I walk up every steep hill whether it is on trail or road, and run the downhills. I am not a strong up hill runner and the energy I expend trying to do it during an endurance event it not worth the exhaustion. As we made our way over the bridge the sun was setting and a beautiful sunset and rainbow was present for our viewing pleasure. The rain was also fairly light during this stretch, which was also a nice break.   As we approached the downhill of the bridge, we struggled to keep up with our new friends. Although I am strong downhill road runner, I was starting to feel the effects of running almost 60 miles and for the first time in over 11 hours; I started to feel less than good. Feelings of nausea and brain fog were coming in waves and I couldn’t pinpoint the reason, other than I had just run 60 miles. I ate fairly well and consistently during the day, stuck mostly to my NSNG plan, with some coke sprinkled in as needed. I am trained to run on very little and am 99 % fat adapted, so when I do have sugar it gives me a huge boost. It’s hard not to over do it in a race this long but I did my best to eat and hydrate with what my body dictated.  

By about mile 64-65 I was having my first official meltdown of the run. Crying is always inevitable for me during an ultra, it’s my body’s way of purging the pain and reacting to the physical exhaustion, but it also is usually short lived.   Nightfall had come and I couldn’t shake the tears, the nausea or the brain fog. My crew realized night running without at least one of them was not an option and took turns staying with me. We also put a call in to my coach who gave me the pep talk I needed and strict instructions for a dance party and only 10 more minutes allowed for tears.    This shook my brain right and the dance part began, as did the craziest and scariest 30 miles I have ever had in a race.

After the dance party started and melt down number one subsided, the rest of the details become a little foggy.   For the rest of the evening I fought torrential downpours and severe nausea. My pace, when I was moving, slowed to a snail’s pace to the point when my crew finally insisted I take an actual break. Ultrarunners all dread “the chair “, but after not keeping any food or medicine down to calm my stomach and nausea, it was time to regroup.  For about one hour around mile 85 or so I negotiated with my crew to let me keep going. They made a deal that if I could count to 10, pick myself up (I was laying down in the crew car at this point), and slowly eat some applesauce then they would let me go forward. It took a while, but I accomplished all three goals and back on the course I went.  All I wanted was for sunrise to come and we were just a few hours out from daybreak. And just as I was getting back in a groove… we were hit with a severe down pour that in some spots included hail, I was told later by other runners. Sidelined again, we huddled up in a gas station for a wardrobe change and poncho application while we waited for the weather to ease up.  The remainder of the race was zombie running at its finest. The nausea I had never full went away, but subsided slightly when the sunrise finally came. An additional pacer joined my team after finishing the 100 mile relay and she brought some much needed fresh energy and help to my exhausted crew. The rain kept coming, and the single digits were getting smaller and closer to the finish.  As we finally entered the last 4 miles to the finish, I felt my energy increase and the pain in my body slip away. All I wanted was to see the finish and have this experience come to end. As grateful as I was to be feeling better, I was frustrated that this rush of euphoria couldn’t have come say…..16 miles earlier. Nevertheless, I was grateful to be running a little bit again, and finally saw the light at the end.   I finished in 29:06:35. No record by any stretch, but a finish on a challenging and exhilarating journey.

To say that it takes a village is an understatement. My crew fought hard for this and paced more miles than planned and got me back on my feet after being minutes from pulling the plug.  I am so grateful to them all and never want to do another 100 without them! Michelle Barnhardt, Michelle Hartman, Suzanne Branecki, Stephanie Schmidt and Steve McCulloch are rockstars and deserve a buckle too!  In addition to their dedication race day, they also helped me to raise over $1400 for the Dolphin ‘s Plus Marine Mammal Responder group. This group had severe devastation after Hurricane Irma and they are the only marine mammal rescue group for the entire Florida Keys. Please check out their website and donate if you can https://www.dpmmr.org !    

Also a huge Thank You to Running Skirts!   In keeping with the ocean theme we were dressed head to toe in Sea Camp and the Keep it Chill Collection Azure tanks and sleeves.  When it wasn’t raining, there was severe heat and humidity and the specialized fabric kept us from overheating with the extreme temperature and weather changes. We received so many compliments on our outfits and they survived severe weather for the entire race!  As with every ultra, I learned so much about myself and my abilities and am looking forward to the next one!

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