I ran the Keys100 Relay Race…
It was a surreal event of strength, perseverance and team spirit.
Months of training, talking, planning, motivating all comes down to the weekend that would change me at my core and bond me to five women forever.
We call ourselves The Southernmost Mermaids.
There we were six girls, one van, two coolers, enough food to feed us for a week, yoga mats, foam rollers, essential oils, healing ointments, 12 gallons of water, bags of ice, electrolyte drinks, a plethora of energy chews & bars, snacks, lots of baby wipes, something called monkey butt powder, dozens of cooling towels and much more. You get the point. We were prepared!
Pre-race Friday Fun Day
The official Keys100 journey started Friday morning. We custom fit our rental van for our needs – out went two rows of seats to make room for stretching and general comfort – smartest move ever. Two of the girls packed the van and we met mid day to take off for Key Largo. As we all piled in the van, a wave of excitement came over me.
We took a leisurely drive, had lunch in Marathon and arrived at the hotel just in time for the captains meeting & race packet pickup. I feel like the pre-race race packet pickup meeting is a right of passage so to speak. Here you are given your race numbers, final course details are passed out and essentially it is a pep rally of sorts as everyone gets together. We decide to not stick around — as we had to still get back to the hotel to complete some pretty important tasks like — decorating the van and giving ourselves motivational tattoos and nick names. You see with three Kristen’s on the team they already had nicknames so we all decided to have a Keys100 name – KLo, K10, KCro, KZen (me), JRad & Lisa Marie.
We had a healthy dinner, sipped wine and called it a night. We were given a 5:55am start time in the morning. That means up at by 4:30 and out the door by 5am.
It’s here — Race Day
Morning came very quickly. The energy was a bit feverish – we were dressed, car packed and out the door on time. It is still dark out. Excitement runs through my veins and I am not even the race starter!! We snap our start line pics, saw our other mermaid running friends and before you know it, it is go time! And that was no joke – it meant we are on for the next 100 miles.
I was runner #3. I was nervously waiting that first hand off! It was good to get it out of the way early, not to mention, I was graced with a sunless run for my first leg.
Each of our legs were short, roughly two to three miles each, which meant we would be switching off every 20 to 40 minutes. This is not a lot of time to meet the runner, exchange, maybe stretch for a moment or do a little cool down walk and jump in the van to head to the next exchange. This was the routine we had over and over about 45 times. By the 5th runner exchange we were in our groove.
At my second exchange, I had a very special welcome by my sister and brother-in-law who were staying in Islamorada. They woke up special and made it out to cheer me on. This was a one of my favorite moments of the race. Having my family from out of town to support me in my big race down here was truly special.
Each runner had between six and eight legs to run, totaling between 15 to 20 miles.
As the time ticked by the day drew hotter and hotter, you could feel the energy lag. The heat sucks the life from you. At one point the car thermometer said 100 degrees. We were struggling especially as we entered the Middle Keys, you loose the airy feeling of running the bridges and open water views become nonexistent. You begin to feel as if the buttonwood and mangrove trees are concrete walls and literally it feels like you hit the wall. There were plenty of times I had to walk for a several minutes to center myself and regain composure enough to breathe.
Mid-race, four of us had a very long rest at Veterans Park as K10 and KLo headed out to face the Seven Mile Bridge in the heat of the mid day sun. This is by far the most intense leg of the journey. You have to be fully self-sufficient for seven miles. It is you and blazing Keys sun, no shade, no breeze. The midday heat is unbearable and took a toll on our girls that had this leg. I saw a friend literally collapse to the ground in a state of emotional overwhelm as she finished the bridge. My other friend had blisters across her back from her hydration pack. Really overwhelming feelings as you see people in overall rough physical shape.
It was after that, no matter what my body felt like, I did not complain.
It was time for my fourth leg — the Bahia Honda Bridge — it was also my longest at 3.5 miles. To be 100% honest at this point in the actual race I was starting to feel very tired and an overall lack of excitement. It took everything in me to muster up a positive attitude as I recalled what my two friends just suffered through. Not five minutes into my run, I was graced with cloud cover (thank you). Then a beautiful cardinal flies across my path. The to me the cardinal is an earth angel version of my late father – this was a magic moment. My energy shifted to happy, you can do this! There were baby white herons flying overhead. Good songs were playing on my Pandora station. I felt light and as if I was actually running faster than usual — I was not moving fast at all but it is amazing what the mind will do to help us along. I continued my run and just held my ‘gentle strength’ mantra close. As I made it to the start of the bridge, I knew that just a mile away was my end point and there would be a special visitor, my #1 supporter — my hubby Clint. He would be there to greet me and give me a big hug.
After each of my legs I had adopted a ritual so to speak. I would stretch or use a roller to massage my muscles, apply anti-inflammatory essential oils to my muscles, drink electrolytes, then once done sweating like a complete pig, I would baby wipe myself off and usually change outfits so I wasn’t sitting in sweaty wet clothes. This was usually done on the floor of the van, at one point I was doing yoga in the van – the girls got a kick out of that too! I think it helped me feel good along the way. I also was very kind to myself during the runs, if I needed to walk, I walked – I did not push myself and that saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ was playing in my head all day.
In thinking back, this race is relentless and then magical all in the same moment. It will lift you so high that you are ready to jump on out of that van, high five your girls and run-run-run, then in the next hour it will take you low-low-low.
Once the sunsets and you are in the Lower Keys, the vibe changes pretty quickly. We hit an ugly patch for a few legs. Luckily, we are all Lower Keys girls and we were fortunate to have a few friends come out to cheer us on as we passed islands that held familiar faces – that was such a treat and it helped keep us going.
Come 9pm, it was really dark, we were moving a lot slower, and the evening was quickly turning into the next day. We had been running for 18 hours. I had never run at night before and the good thing was it was so much cooler and for that alone I loved it.
It’s nearing 2am as we entered Key West, truth be told I just wanted the race to be over. The exhaustion has hit an all time high and if the rest of the girls are like me, they are wishing away our last miles and dreaming of the end.
Finally we make it to the last leg, our captain JRad is pumped up and ready to bring us home!!! There is a little burst of happiness knowing we are literally minutes away from the end. We all crossed the finish line together. It was 2:35am. It took us over 20 hours to complete the 100 miles.
I Did It!!
My journey has gifted an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I have enormous pride for what I did. I truly feel like an improved version of myself.
It still feels funny to say, ‘I am a Runner’ — but hell yeah ‘I am a Runner’!
Thank you for allowing me to share my journey. Have a beautiful summer.
Click here to read more from my I Am a Runner journey.