KEYS 50 FLORIDA 18/5/13

The Keys 100 and 50 mile events are today in their 7th year with locals and ultra runners from all over the globe competing. This is not my usual off road, hilly trails, but flat pavements and the hard shoulder of the US1 highway. 

As friends call me the crazy runner, I figured my first overseas ultra should be a test and so the high humidity and Florida sun are going to be my challenge today. My race starts in Marathon Key at mile marker 50, then follows the highway all the way through the keys, finishing in Key West at the end of the road at mile marker 0.

With no time to spare the briefing is already in progress so I sneak in at the back to listen for the final instructions. Luckily we have blue tape to stick the 'runners caution' posters on the car and are reminded to use the tape to display my name and race number on our crew vehicle. 

Once outside we mingle with other runners and I meet a Brazilian guy who points at my sandals 'born to run' he says. A slight language barrier but I discover he came second in the race of the same name in California last year. We wish each other luck and assemble around the start, anxious to begin. 

Watch check
Last few final checks and some pictures. I hug my sister Sam then Sunday and set my RunKeeper and Garmin at the ready. 

Bosh-Run in Florida

Miles 1-10 (pace/mile)
7:42 7:33 7:48 7:40 7:56 8:08 7:43 8:34 8:16 13:56
Cheers and clapping from the spectators and crews, we sprint off through the start. The Brazilian runner is full steam ahead followed by two ladies. I stick close to them for now keeping an eye on my pace. I think 7:45 per mile is probably too fast so eventually slow it down once through Marathon Key and to the approach of Seven Mile Bridge. Marshals lead us over the road onto the hard shoulder, facing the traffic.

Slowly beads of sweat drip off my nose, and into my eyes, stinging from the sun cream. I wish now I used a sport block on my face instead. I dab the sweat with my buff and keep drinking from my hydration pack, already half empty. 

Refuelling with Vita Coco coconut water
My clothes cling to my skin, drenched in sweat, my breathing heavy and fast. I feel like I have climbed for hours, but the road is nothing but flat. I take in the view ahead as a distraction. I decide to take a salt tablet for the amount of water I'm loosing.

The seven mile bridge looks small in the distance of the deep blue Atlantic, but still so far away. The hard shoulder faces the oncoming traffic with just a concrete boulder wall to the left. Debris is scattered along the road side and I knock a piece of metal that catches my toe.  Eventually the bridge is closer and we incline slowly over the top. I pass two runners on the bridge. 

Seven Mile bridge

I can see the next island in view as the road descends. My body is already depleted of energy, I feel like I just ran a marathon and I'm not even at 10 miles!

I actually think 10 miles between meeting my crew and the aid station is too far.... I need ice and cold water. I really am in doubts if I can make it through the day unless I can get my core temperature to cool down. The sun is already high in the sky with no shade. The heat rising from the road feels like I'm running through an oven. 

Monster Truck

At the end of the bridge I can see the first check point ahead, Sam is already taking pictures. I'm aware the skin around my toes are burning and will need to apply Vaseline to prevent rubbing. I only used talc. 

Once I reach the aid station, the team take my number and ask what I need. I ask for cold water and ice in my cap. I stand by the portaloo to seek shade. There is some blood on my toe from the scrape, so we use wet wipes and Sunday applies the Vaseline. 

Grounded in the Alpha Earth Runner sandal

I tell my crew I need everything prepared next time to keep things simple and quick. It seems the event staff prefer crew to stay by their vehicles to allow for room. I explain I'm really struggling in this heat and will need ice regularly. 

I add ice in my buff for my neck, then into my cap. I hydrate with water then drink 500ml of coconut water. It goes down fast, I'm that thirsty. 

I thank my crew and ask if they can meet me before the next aid station. 

Miles 11-20
10:33 10:05 9:21 9:07 10:20 10:38 10:04 9:46 10:19 23:50 
With the extra fluids I can already feel an uncomfortable stitch in my side. The road ahead is long and narrow, lined by plenty of greenery. I start to see regular faces from the supporting crews in their vehicles dotted along the grass banks. A nice couple ask if I need anything, I take a cold water thanking them. They seem in awe of my footwear choice. 

Once through the Bahia Honda State Park the area is built up with restaurants, fuel stations, RV parks and stores. This is Big Pine Key. 

At 16 miles my crew have pulled up by a small shop. I top up the sunblock and Vaseline my toes. Sam fetches more ice and I can see they have been busy stocking up with supplies with everything laid out in the boot of the car. Great job!  I grab a Nakd and seed bar, drink some more coconut water, then add ice in my buff and cap.  I've drank enough water to get me to the next check point. I hug them both. 

At mile 20 I check in with the event team and refill my hydrapak. They tell me 'good job' and keep it up. I add some ice under my Bosh sweat band to cool my body.

Mile 21-30
9:19 10:06 13:05 11:44 14:17 11:15 20:03 8:31 20:22 8:29
Over the next bridge and into Little Torch Key. I hear screaming from a car and notice two ladies waving Union Jack flags shouting 'Go Luke!' It's my American cousin Elaine and her sister-in-law Ihssane. I give a thumbs up and wave back. 

Minutes later my body starts to feel exhausted and moving my legs seems impossible. My pace has dropped dramatically and I start walking breaks to catch my breath. By now the sun is high and burning into my skin. I have another salt tablet and try to eat some raisins with difficulty. I feel really off my food and I haven't been able to urinate yet. 

I can see a group of spectators on my path and then a huge flag. I count six people and once in sight I see all my cousins with Sunday and Sam. I greet Elaine, Lee, Craig and Ihssane thanking them for coming all this way. Craig pushes me 'don't stop keep going' I drink some more water and add ice to my neck before leaving. Sam is filming the reunion.

Family support
Seeing everyone gave me the lift I needed and I pick up speed with a smile across my face. After the next bridge I can see fishing boats. It's onto Summer Land Key and I approach my awaiting crew at 25 miles. Then on over the half way mat to register my chip with the event team. 

I to and fro over taking in the same runners ahead, they catch up then walk, I catch up then walk and so on. I can't take much more in the Luna sandals rubbing on my in step and my soles feel very warm. Time to change into the EarthRunner Alpha sandals and my Union Jack vest. The heat is really making me feel lethargic and queasy so I cool down in the car before changing. I've started developing indigestion so go easy on the coconut water for now, just hydrating with cold water. Ice added and the sandals on, I am good to plod on....

Just a few steps and I can feel the difference already. The suede foot bed is molded comfortably and the buckle is to the side, so it has released the pressure from the top of my foot. The Luna sandal has left a sore blister. 

At mile 30 check point I have some iced coconut water and orange wedges from the team. We refill my hydrapak* but notice dripping, lots of it. With inspection the bladder has pierced at the seam and is leaking. Great, all I need and I don't have a back up option. I drink what I can and head on down the road. Relay team runners sprint past at lightning pace but then they are running 2-5 mile sections each, they can afford to race. 

Mile 31-40
15:32 16:58 9:02 9:19 13:40 9:05 10:15 10:01 25:26 12:56
I hear a car toot and see it is Sam and Sunday, I signal I need help. I stop to text as they drive on. Minutes up the road they have parked and are waiting for me. I decide the only option is to carry a water bottle in the front pocket and we agree to meet at every 3 miles on the route. I slap on more sun block to my burning neck and shoulders. 

Craig pacing me

Back onto the hard shoulder and through Sugar Loaf Key, a tall chap runs up next to me. It takes me a moment but I soon notice it is my other American cousin Craig joining me for company. Shortly after his wife Ihssane joins me too. We all run together then Ihssane drops back. 

I chat about training and what Craig has planned for the year ahead. He has just got his running slowly on track again after foot surgery a couple of years ago. More relay runners shout 'good job' when overtaking. 'Its all him today!' Craig replies.

At 35 miles Craig has run three miles with me and decides to stop here. I thank him and Ihssane for the support and chat and shall see them both at the finish later. 

By now I stop under small parts of shade wherever I see any, which is very little. The road is lined by hundreds of orange and white bollards between some shrubs and small trees. I have to stick my head into the bushes to get any cover from the sun. 

My walking breaks become more frequent. I eat another Nakd bar and some nuts. It's not so much that my legs won't move but my body is giving up with exhaustion from the constant heat of the sun. I start feeling really sick and off balance. 

I am not the only one suffering, a lady with her pacer is walking now and keeps stretching her legs. 

I spot what looks like a large lizard jetting across the path, then shortly after another. These lizards are not small, at least a foot in length. Black markings along the body and tail. I wish I could have got a closer look. 

One of the many lizards of Florida

It seems forever but two miles later I can see the help of my crew ahead. I am to the point tears when I reach them and all I can say is: 'I need to cool down, I feel sick'. Sunday adds an iced flannel to my neck and sits me in the air conditioned car with cold water and added Nuun electrolytes until I start to feel better some minutes later. I force myself to eat a seed bar and sip coconut water. I really have been off my food with the heat.

Sam suggests they meet me at every 1.5 mile (average 14 minutes) from now on and we all agree. At each stop my crew check how I'm feeling, provide ice and water and reapply sunscreen - I'm wearing water resistant 100SPF by this point but it's sliding off as quick as it goes on! I feel much better after cooling down and getting some food in me. I hug them both and plod on with a struggle. A few minutes later I finally can go to the toilet. I have another salt tablet.
Sunday cooling me down with more ice!

After a very slow walk/plod I make it to them and stock up with water and add electrolytes to my bottle. More ice then I slowly carry on to the next check point. 

40 miles and in Big Coppitt Key at the check point my number is recorded and I'm told I am in the top ten. I'm so pleased. I add more ice to my buff and have some iced coconut water. My indigestion has eased off. I top up my bottle then head on my way, ready to make it to the finish. The last official check point is in 5 miles. 

Miles 41-44
9:28 11:09 8:09 12:14
The route is a smooth paved cycle track away from the hard shoulder. This continues with no sign of the end in the distance. 

Sunday and Sam run across the road two miles up with water and ice. They hold up a union jack throw for me to run to and jump up and down shouting 'Come on Lukey!' Already my spirits have lifted and my pace improves. The late afternoon sun is cooling the temperature and I feel confident I can do this. Time went out the window at the first check point, and my goal is to finish safely.

Relay sprinters meet then overtake along the path. The lady runner with her pacer is having more walking breaks along this section.

After another bridge crossing and onto Stock Island I reach the 45 mile check point with just the one lady volunteer, Anne. She has the warmest, helpful nature any tired runner could ask for at this stage in the race. 

At Amazing Ann's aid station - 5 miles to go

Sunday and Sam join me here, and we chat about the final stages and how well I have done. As the sun is now cooler I'm feeling the best so far in the race. I eat more orange wedges with iced water as they are easy on my stomach. Sunday puts ice on my swollen, blistered feet and Sam slaps on more sunscreen.

Cooling ice cubes for hot feet

Mile 45-50
8:37 14:21 8:37 10:54 8:06 9:05
I thank Anne for her kindness and make my way down the long endless road. The last stretch has felt like the road to nowhere. No bends and no sign of the end. The finish line is in 5 miles. 

On the approach into Key West the road leads onto Roosevelt Blvd and heads around the perimeter of the island. The sun is lower now and a sea breeze is blowing from the bay, refreshing and cooling to run against. By the waterside at sea level the view is beautiful. The pavement is wide and many tourists and locals stand to cheer the relay runners on the last leg. 

Key West just 2 miles to go...

A brief stop near the 2 mile marker, just some water and a few nuts. My crew had to leave it 3 miles rather than the usual 1.5 miles as there was no where for them to pull over on this busy road approaching Key West. 

I am exhausted but feeling in good spirits to reach the finish after a very long day. I say my goodbyes to Sis and Sunday and will see them on Higgs Beach. 

This long pathway feels like an eternity and I just have to keep looking across to the amazing view along this beautiful Key West coastline as a distraction. Once around a large bend, passing big hotels on the front, a runner comes up beside me. It takes me a moment to register, but it is Sunday joining me for the last 1.5 mile. Sam is parking up so will be at the finish with my cousins, patiently waiting.

Sunday paces me for the last 1.5 miles
The last mile is another long road into the busy centre of Key West. It just never seems to end and my body is giving up on me. I have to stop to walk a few steps, before Sunday tells me 'You are so close, you can run, keep on going!'

It is a wonderful moment but a very painful one to endure. I remind myself it is only temporary and to keep talking as a distraction. I keep asking where is the finish as I cannot see a beach. This is why Sunday joined me for the last 1.5 miles - after Sam drove the last stretch they decided I may be unsure of the route.

Eventually I can hear crowds cheering and see a blue finish inflatable archway on the  sand. Sunday pulls back to let me finish, I pick up some speed to make it to the beach. Running on the sand is such a great feeling and it is my first race finish on a beach. I see my family clapping and shouting 'Go Luke, you're awesome!' I pass under the finish with my hand on my heart, with a sigh of joy and relief....It is 19:18 in the evening.

Relieved and happy on Higgs Beach

I come in 5th position overall, from 92 runners, 3rd male finisher in 9:18:13. Note the clock time in the picture is the 100 mile ultra clock time. 

1st and 2nd positions were the two ladies that started with me back in Marathon and sped off into the distance at the Seven Mile Bridge.

Not my ideal time I had as a goal, but then I really didn't know how my body was going to cope in the heat. It reached 31C/87F today, high humidity and no shade. 

I start to feel very off balance and have tingling sensations running down my arms and legs. It soon passes but is something I have not yet experienced after a race, more accustommed to shivering with cold in England! I meet the family and head into the sea to soothe my sore blisters. 
Soothing my feet
After lots more water and a veggy burger, I head to the car and freshen up back at my cousins hotel. Afterward we celebrate over dinner on the famous Duval Street. 

I make the exception of eating a steak dinner with Key Lime Pie. It worked like magic to restore my energy!

Brit finishing the Keys 50 (first overseas ultra)

I would like to thank all my American family Elaine, Lee, Craig and Ihssane for making the long journey down from Orlando to help show support and pacing at the weekend. My sister Sam for the driving and continued fantastic support at the race and with the blog. Sunday for being the best host and keeping everything calmly in check and the operation running smoothly in hot intense conditions.

*The hydrapak for my UtraAspire back pack was replaced quickly by Ultra Marathon Running Store.  There is unfortunately a small defect on about 20% of the packs. 

YouTube Keys 100 video:
Part one
Part two
Part three



  1. I love to read ultra race reports. Hearing the will power it took to overcome this challenge is really inspiring. Some day>

  2. Mike you will do just believe in yourself. Thank you for your comments and for following. Keep on running!


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