Most runners have some allotted time to “taper” in which they rest long enough to build up fat stores and stay injury free before the big race. I paid special attention to my taper week for this race as my family spent three days driving to Key West, relaxing by the beach and pigging out. But the time came to run this thing, my first marathon after having two kids. My main goal was simply to finish with all the internal organs I started with. Spoiler alert: I did!
To delay the effect of the sweltering sun, the race started at 5:30am. The race started out close to 80º and many people were sweating before the race even began. One man, rife with passion for his country, decided he should wear a speedo to stay cool. I made sure not to go out too fast, hoping I would pass people as time went on but I also wanted to make good time while the sun was still down.
The course was beautiful! First you run the roads of Key West passing cute island homes and then the marker for the Southernmost Point in the United States. Then you run the large sidewalk next to the beaches and the ocean. The remainder of the race was on the main bike path, bridges and sidewalks. There were plenty of street lights so no headlamp was needed, even in the dark.
A general rule of thumb is to add twenty degrees to the temperature outside to compensate for the warmth you generate when running. As the the sun came up, that put me at approximately the temperature of the smoldering Hawaiian lava flows.
You could see people’s wet shoe prints just from the amount of sweat dripping into them and I even started running slightly out the way just to have my shins in the shade. But thankfully this race had tons of aid stations with water and some even had ice cold sponges to hold onto and pour over our heads. I think those things literally saved my life.
I saw my husband and his parents at mile thirteen and they were so excited to see me it made me start choking up. Matt’s mom, who’d been sporting a knee injury, ran ahead of me to get my picture. Someone lecture that woman, will you? Matt ran along side of me to feed me the pretzels I requested which ended up being a horrible idea. They were so salty and dry it was difficult to swallow them and I ended up putting them in my pocket which then made them soggy. Just gross. Now I know that I cannot trust myself to know what I want. So much for the whole “trust your body” sentiment.
I made it to the turn around point at mile fifteen which temporarily pumped me up since I knew every step would bring me closer to the the finish line.
Surrounded by zombie runners, one volunteer commented that I was doing great and looked like I still had some gas in the tank. But the heat was getting to me too and I started imagining how great it would be to jump in the water and swim. That thought started becoming too compelling and I decided to take it down to a walk to compose myself before doing something outrageous out of heat hysteria.
It was at this point that I started running with a guy who had essentially been playing ladder tag with me the entire race. I would pass him while he would walk, then he would run past me. His name was Christopher and we helped each other for awhile but I was showing preliminary signs of heat exhaustion (swelling, dizziness, the chills). He said he was glad to run with me because I had been so consistent running ten minute miles but I was losing my game with the temperature nearing 90º at this point. We added extra running just to get into the shade for a change but it was worth it. My friend started experiencing the dreaded stomach issues and I ran off reluctantly without him.
The final leg was the hardest since traffic had picked up around the island and there were cars literally cutting off runners just trying to find a parking space (you know what they say about Florida drivers!).
It really was a crazy house. Thankfully I didn’t get hit by a car because I was too tired to care much. At this point I saw my mom and we joked that she caught me walking (I was). My two little ones and my nephews had about lost their patience sitting outside, doing nothing of interest to them and that left my family scattered a bit at the finish line. I booked it with that crazy energy reserve at the bottom of the tank. It felt good to be finished! It took me 4:59:39, my longest marathon (in which I didn’t pass out in) yet. The heat clearly impacted everyone as I still came in 6th in my age group (out of thirty-five females my age) even with such a slow time.
My youngest son, Liam, wanted some extra mommy time and I was happy to carry him to the car. We later went for a swim in the ocean and it felt great! Thanks so much to my family on my side and my husband’s side for driving from Tennessee all the way to Key West just to support me!
Note from August 2015: I have run several marathons in the heat now and would feel much more prepared to run this marathon again. If you’re considering this race, I recommend taking salt tablets throughout the run, wearing a hat of some sort, and carrying your water with you. There were plenty of aid stations but having your own would definitely help. I’ve learned that ice in the pockets or bra are awesome too. Key West is an excellent location for a “runcation” so have fun and stay cool!