It has now been a week since the Keys 100, and my emotions are still mixed. I thought things would come into perspective in the days following the race, but I continue to look back with quite a few regrets and "what ifs". I guess that's the way it goes sometimes. Regardless, it is time to write things down before the memories start to fade away..........
My training leading up to this 100 had gone well. Once again, I was not able to hit any real high mileage weeks; during my peak volume weeks, I had a nagging pain in my hamstring and started to feel a bit flat so I made the decision to cut back and go into an early taper rather than log more miles and risk injury or over training. I really think I would do better if I could get my mileage up into the 80's at least and maintain that for 3-4 weeks before a 100-miler. Maybe someday. I went into both Javelina and Pine to Palm on the low end of weekly mileage and survived, so I figured I'd be okay here too.
It was a challenge training for the Keys 100 while living in New Mexico. When I did the Keys 50 in 2009, I lived in Miami and could run in hot, humid weather all the time. In New Mexico, it doesn't really get hot until June and humidity is really never an issue, so I had to find other ways to acclimatize to the heat. Early on after signing up for the Keys 100, I e-mailed the race director Bob Becker. He's a super nice guy and he gave me some suggestions, as well as the contacts of two people (Chris Roman and Bryce Carlson) who had done it in the past and done well. I e-mailed them and got great ideas about spending time in the sauna, doing hot yoga, and overdressing on runs as ways to help acclimatize to the heat. I did a fair amount of this, but was fairly inconsistent. The past few months were just so busy: I was finishing up my BSN, working, helping co-direct the Cedro Peak Ultramarathon, and trying to train for the 100. The things I slacked on were strength training and the heat training sessions. That being said, I generally don't mind hot conditions as much as most people- in fact, I like racing in the heat. I figured my game plan for the race would be aggressive heat management techniques (ice, etc) to keep cool.
I managed to get an awesome crew for this race: Sherrie Bieniek and Tom Koch, both good running friends from Miami. Unfortunately, Adam couldn't get off work for this one. We figured a crew of 2 would be okay due to the nature of the course; it follows US-1 south from Key Largo to Key West- you can't really get lost. There are frequent stops along the way, so from a crewing standpoint it's fairly straightforward.
|Sherrie, Tom, and I the night before the race in Key Largo|
On race morning, we arrived around 5:45. The 100 mile individual race started at 6:15, with waves going off every 5 minutes. This event also features a six person 100 mile relay, 50 mile run (from Marathon to Key West) and new this year a 50k (from Big Pine Key to Key West). All of the events are point-to point. I felt good at the start- nervous as hell, but good.
The early miles were uneventful. I started slow (probably not slow enough) and did my 1 minute walk breaks every mile right from the beginning. This was a tip I got from Bryce Carlson. I had always been reluctant to take walk breaks on flat surfaces, but I learned that they give you just enough rest to maintain a more consistent pace for longer than if you don't take walk breaks.
My plan for exchange points with my crew went like this: I wanted to spend minimal time not moving forward, so I had a double supply of everything so we could just swap and I could get moving. I had 4 bottles; Id give them my 2 empties and they'd give me the 2 full ones (a bottle of plain water and a bottle of water with 2-2.5 scoops of Tailwind). In addition to this, every time I'd see them, they'd have a ziplock bag with ice ready that I would pop in my hat, as well as stockings filled with ice that Id tie around my neck.
I was kind of proud my of my cooling system; it was doing it's job to keep me cool enough, and my crew and I had a nice routine going at the exchange points. I was getting my hydration and nutrition, my ice, and moving along. Things were running smoothly........except for one very big thing- a ticking time bomb was about to go off.
|The Lawrence of Arabia hat and stocking around my neck loaded with ice|
|Sherrie and I at an exchange point|
The ice was melting very fast through my stocking around my neck, it would be completely melted within 3 miles of having it filled. I was meeting my crew every 3-5 miles to get refills. It wasn't long before my shoes were soaked. I knew this could be a problem. I know about the things that lead to blisters- the heat, friction, and moisture that can be game-enders if they get bad enough. I had done my homework, though. I have used the injinji socks successfully in both previous 100's and they have always served to stop blisters in-between my toes, so I had those on and I had 4 extra pairs to change into during the race. I had lubed up my feet with tons of Trailtoes anti-friction creme, and for this race I took the extra steps of spraying my feet before the race with Newskin (a protective, supposedly waterproof barrier) before applying the lube, AND I put Tom's BlisterShield powder in my shoes just as an extra measure. I was worried about my feet going into the race. I knew heat and humidity can lead to problems. I had an entire bag in the crew car dedicated to feet. I had everything in it: KT tape, scissors, tons of lube, needles, alcohol, skin adhesive, neosporin, the extra socks, powder......TONS of things to address blisters. It's amazing how well-prepared and unprepared you can be at the same time.
|damage control on macerated, blistered feet|
Around mile 40, I felt like I had a major blister in-between my big and second toe on the right foot. My shoes were sloshing as I ran from all the water in them. I told my crew I needed to take a look at my feet. So around mile 45 (somewhere in Hell's Tunnel- a nasty, super hot stretch in marathon where there just isn't much breeze), we stopped. I sat on the cooler and took out my "feet" bag. I pulled off my shoes and socks. My feet were macerated and sure enough, there were already multiple large blisters. The one I was feeling in-between my toes was filled with blood. The Newskin I had applied was rolling off in little chunks all over my feet. It hadn't worked at all. I used some wet towels to try to rub all of it off, and I tried to clean my feet as good as I could. I planned on popping and taping the blisters. The problem was, NOTHING was drying!!! I couldn't get my feet dry enough to get any tape to stick. I tried a few times, and used alcohol then the skin adhesive too. The tape was barely sticking- I knew it would just roll off in my shoes and that would be even worse than having none at all. Great. That was my plan- that's what I've read you're supposed to do to fix your feet, and it was not working. Time was ticking away, I probably spent 10 minutes stopped here messing with my feet. All I could do was pop the blisters, re-lube and put clean socks on. Not ideal, but that's really all I could do. Another fail in my plan was that I only had one type of socks. I had 4 extra pairs of injinji's, but no traditional socks. I've gotten to where I don't like normal socks- I always use the injinji's but I felt like they were causing the mess in-between my toes instead of preventing it. Fortunately, Sherrie had a few pairs of normal socks and she offered those. So I lubed the crap out of my feet and put her socks on. Because I didn't have any extra pairs of shoes, I put the wet, sloshy ones right back on. Yet another fail. I'd heard people recommend extra pairs of shoes for 100 milers, but I didn't think it was necessary: I have ran in wet shoes before and been fine (especially back in my triathlon days) as long as my feet were lubed, and I've never needed a shoe change in my previous two 100's. However, at this moment, I was realizing why extra shoes would have been smart. It would have been well worth the extra money spent to have maybe 3-4 pair of shoes for this race. Lesson learned.
I knew the water from the stocking I was putting around my neck was the biggest contributor to the wet feet and shoes. I tried to do a 4 or 5 mile stretch without it, but it was just too hot for me and at the next stop I told them I needed ice. We decided to put it in a ziplock bag instead and I'd shove it down my sports bra. It didn't cool as well as the stocking, but I just couldn't afford to keep letting my feet get that wet. It worked well enough.
The issues with my feet had me pretty upset because apart from that I was feeling great. I felt like my nutrition was on point, and I was running well. I think I was second or third female, then fell back to 5th after the blister stop. In the miles after that, though, my feet felt better and I was able to gradually move back up to 2nd, and briefly into 1st (or so I was told). I wasn't trying to pass anyone- I know from previous experience with 100 miles that things can change rapidly and multiple times in such a long distance. I was just running my own race and trying to pace myself. This was probably the highpoint of the run for me (around mile 50-55). I felt a bit of relief that my feet were okay for the time being, and I was feeling good and doing well enough to be passing some folks.
|Tom and I getting ready to hit Seven Mile Bridge (with a photo bomber)!|
I wish that feeling could have lasted, at least for awhile longer. Tom wanted to run the Seven Mile Bridge section with me because he had never done it, so we ran together while Sherrie drove ahead to meet us after the bridge. At the start, I felt so much better with the breeze at my back and just being out of Marathon. I feel like Marathon is always really hot and steamy. I did go through some waves of feeling a little bad during Seven Mile Bridge, but nothing unusual for being 60 miles into a run. 60 is rough because you're more than halfway but you've still got 40 miles to go, and you already feel pretty tired so it sounds daunting. This a point when I usually find it best not to think about the numbers and just run.
On the bridge, I could feel new blisters popping up, and I told Tom I'd have to stop and take a peek at my feet again when we got off the bridge. This time, when I looked, there were even more blisters. I popped them again and added more lube to my feet. This time I didn't change socks because I didn't want to go back to the injinji's and Sherrie only had one more pair of normal socks I could use. I thought I had built up tons of lube in these socks and it would be best to keep them on longer. I thought I should save the possible other pair for later- I still had a long way to go.
|Reduced to a walk near Bahia Honda|
After I finished with this foot stop, I started running again. Yes, I was frustrated by my feet but I remember thinking I could deal with it. If I had to stop every 10 or so miles and do some damage control on my feet, that would be okay. I'd live. And then, fairly suddenly, around mile 65, the medial side of my right knee began hurting. It wasn't super sudden (nothing popped or anything), but it came on pretty fast. It was VERY uncomfortable to run at this point, but I felt like it was a level of pain I could tolerate..........and then, it got worse. I was forced to walk. I was so upset. I had felt so good (apart from the feet), it made little sense that something I've NEVER had a problem with before could come on this fast and reduce me to a walk. And even walking hurt. Ugh. I wondered if the mess going on with my feet had caused to to subconsciously alter my stride, because I just could not figure out where this knee pain was coming from. If my hamstring or glue had flared up, I would not have been the least bit surprised, but this was just such an odd thing to be hurting on me.
At first, I just hoped it was a transient thing that would go away- some pains do come and go- so I walked, waiting for the pain to leave, but it did not go away. The next time I saw Sherrie and Tom, I told them I was worried about this. I decided to take some aspirin, which I had packed instead of ibuprofen because I had decided I wasn't going to take any ibuprofen during this race. In the past, you could say I was somewhat of an ibuprofen abuser, and I've learned a lot since then about the danger it poses to kidneys, as well as the fact that it can mask pain, allowing you to push and do real damage. I'm not sure if aspirin is much better, but I felt like it was a better thing to take than ibuprofen, and I didn't want my race to be ruined at mile 65. So I took 4- 81 mg aspirin with a PocketFuel nut butter (so the aspirin wouldn't gnaw a hole in my stomach) since I had been running solely on Tailwind all day. I asked Sherrie and Tom if they could run to a CVS or store and get a generic knee brace. I thought it couldn't hurt to try, maybe it was something that could be relieved by a little stabilization. So on I walked as they drove ahead to try to find a brace for me. The sun was getting low in the sky, and I was on Bahia Honda- one of my favorite places in the Keys. I was just so sad that I wasn't able to enjoy it more. It was also finally starting to cool down. Earlier in the day, I had thought about how nice it would feel when the sun went down and I got to run through the cooler night. Funny how that works sometimes.
It was sometime neat 7:30 when they got back to me. They stopped and showed me what they bought: 2 different kinds of knee braces, some ace wrap, and a tube of bio freeze. I tried the braces, but unfortunately they did nothing to help the pain. So we smeared bio freeze on my knee, and put a bag of ice on it secured by the ace wrap. At this point, they must have talked and decided they were going to have one of them with me at all times from this point on, maybe in light of the fact that I was upset. Before the race, I had told them I wasn't picky about how much pacing I had. I felt safe running alone in the Keys, and they could just come and go as they pleased as far as pacing. Sherrie and I put on our lights and reflectors and started walking. I was beginning to believe this pain was going to be with me for the duration of the race. My dreams of a 20-21 hour race were slipping away. I was trying to stay positive, though. I remember thinking that I could still realistically be in the 22-23 hour range (and even PR if I could beat my 22:56 at Javelina) if I could just power walk the rest of it. Every step hurt walking, but the pain was tolerable. Every once in awhile I'd try to run on it and quickly realize it wasn't possible. For awhile, the walking was going pretty well. I was able to do 15ish minute miles. By now, people were starting to pass me. I knew this would happen, but it was just so demoralizing. I couldn't help but want to run again. I had been doing so well and it was heartbreaking seeing it all slip away. The ice/wrap on my knee was not helping, so eventually I pulled it off.
Tom and Sherrie took turns walking with me through the night. A lot of this is a blur. The pain continued to intensify in my knee, and my power walking was being reduced to 20-21 minute miles. Just plain walking. The sad thing is, the effort was 100%. I can honestly say this was ALL I could do. I've had so many races where I've taken it easy or held back, and I'm left wondering if I could have pushed harder. This wasn't one of those times. I was using every bit of strength (both physically AND mentally) to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. The pain wasn't wavering, it didn't come and go- EVERY step hurt. It was constant. In addition to my knee, my feet were now immensely painful, and I had some blisters on the bottoms of my feet. I popped them at some point, but new ones would form and the pain would start back up again. I kept feeling like I was getting lots of rocks in my shoes, and when I'd stop to empty them out, a tiny grain of sand would fall out. I was like the Princess and the Pea. Each time it was like an act of God getting my shoe back on, too. In addition, the slant of the road (which was not huge) was bothering me. Since we were on the shoulder facing traffic, we had to be on the slanted part- it was more level on the road, but there was still pretty significant traffic, so it almost wasn't worth trying to walk on the road for just a few minutes before a car would come, forcing us back onto the slanted part. The night went on and on, it seemed to last forever. I was grateful for Sherrie and Tom's company. I wasn't delirious or anything, but it just made it a lot less lonely having good conversation and lots of positive encouragement from them.
|Near the end. Couldn't even force a smile at this point.|
I'm not sure whether being stubborn is a good or bad thing. If I wasn't so stubborn, I would have DNF'd around mile 65-70, realizing that my knee wasn't getting any better, my feet were trashed, and I was not going to end up wit a time I'd be happy with. But I AM stubborn, so I crept along, walking (and eventually trudging) for 35 miles straight, even when I realized finishing in 24 hours may not happen. I've still never had a DNF. If I show up to a race, I'll lay everything on the line to finish it, whether that's a good thing or not. Eventually, I did finish at 6:18 am, 24 hours and 3 minutes after I began my journey. I had fallen to 6th female, 26th overall, which I know is still very respectable......it's just hard not to think about what could have been, especially because apart from my feet/knee, I felt really good. I never had any stomach issues thanks to Tailwind Nutrition, and I didn't feel tired or like I was wiped out from the heat.
|showing off my puffy hands. They didn't even look like they were mine. Also some nasty heat rash on my thighs-yikes|
I am so grateful for Sherrie and Tom: they not only did an excellent job crewing for me, but they watched over me during the night hours when things had derailed. They tried to help me fix my feet and knee, and Tom took tons of cool pictures throughout the race. Most importantly, they lifted me up with encouragement during the night when I wasn't sure I could even finish. I simply could not have done this without them. I hope they won't mind being my crew next time- that's right, I'm a liar!! They both got to hear me complain about how awful road 100's are and how from now I'll be sticking to the trails........but I need to come back someday and do this one again and try to have the race I had hoped for this time. I need to do better with foot care, and I've been thinking it might be time to get a coach so I can actually train right for these instead of my usual improvisational and directionless "training".
Though I can't say I'm really proud of how I did at this race, I can't say I'm not proud of the fact that I finished despite the many factors persuading me not to. Looking back, I do have mixed emotions about it, but at least I don't have the regret of quitting. I have a feeling that's worse to deal with than the regret of wishing my performance could have been a bit better. Someday, I'll be back- wiser and that much stronger. As much as I suffered, the Keys 100 is a top-notch event. Bob Becker does an excellent job of making this a fun, well-organized, and truly unique event. The Keys are one of my favorite places, and this race is one of may favorites too.
There were 144 people who started the Keys 100, 46 females.
There were 47 DNF's
I finished 6th female, 26th overall.