Monday, January 21, 2013

Key West Half Marathon, Key West, Fl. 1/20/13

Each year, Sidney rents a single engine plane and logs a bunch of flight time getting us to this race. This trip is a perfect combination of our interests. He focuses on logging flight hours while mine is on logging miles.  He doesn't actually even bother to train for this.  He does run regular 3-4 milers 3-4 times per week with Enzo. He may randomly log a longer run with me and Enzo if we have time.

We got a late start flying down to Key West due to some freak winter weather dumping snow in the southeast. Since we couldn't leave on Thursday as planned, Sidney, Enzo, and I ran 7.5 miles of hilly trail and Sid declare his training complete :).   Friday we left for Boca Raton, visited with him mom Saturday and arrived in Key West at close to 7 p.m Saturday night.  We had enough time to get our bibs, check into our hotel, and wait for a table at Blue Heaven.  They told us a 45 minute wait and it was already getting late.  We were so tired that we figured since the race was doomed anyway so we might as well have a glass of wine.  By 11:30 we finally settled in for the night with a 5:15 am wake up call for the morning so we would have enough time for coffee, to walk Enzo, and then get to the race on the other side of the island.

We were at the race location 6:20, parked, and got ready.  We then realized we were parked illegally.  We moved to the garage and finally got on the porta-potty line with 15 minutes to go.  With 6 minutes until gun time, we only had time to make out way through the crowd to get up as far front as possible.  It was impossible to get up front.  We had a start mat and B-tag on our Bib, so we just settled in about 1/4 of the way deep behind the start line.

What this race means to me:
Early January 2007, I had my last infusion of my year long (once every 3 weeks) infusions of Herceptin.  This was the last injection of my cancer treatment.  It is an a immunotherapy drug aimed to reduced my extra high (a greater than 50% chance) of recurrence risk down to the average amount cancer recurrence risk.  It has a 3 week life span once infused.  Despite the reports that this infusion had few side effects, it made me feel terrible, effecting my joints and my memory.

I had decided back in October 2006 to run that race (I believe my friend Kerry who was training for her Team in Training Tri had suggested we do it, then she couldn't go).  Sidney signed up with me.  I knew that if I had completed all my infusions on schedule by this last weekend in January, I should officially be "cancer treatment free" with all the drugs out of my system.  I wanted to celebrate my survivorship in a special way and we decided to go to paradise and run out butts off.

Sidney didn't really train for it, but I was only able to get my run/walk training mileage up to 10 miles with 2 minutes of walking each mile.  I hope to break 2 hours 30 minutes that day in 2007.  Sidney ran the race with me.  We ran all the way to Mile 2 and then walked one minute at that mile marker and each mile thereafter.  This was the longest distance I had ever covered on foot in my life and my first half marathon back.  Sidney encouraged me to kick in the finish since there was a girl trying to pass us. He didnt want her to pass me.  He finished just 3 seconds behind my 2:01:29.  I could not believe I ran that fast!

Each year, with the exception of 2010, Sidney and I return to Key West to run this half.  To keep things historically accurate, Sidney doesn't train for it.  We used to start together, but as I became more serious about racing, he encouraged me to try to run my best from the gun.

Ironically, this race is always my absolute worst half marathon of the year.  It is usually very warm and unbearably humid especially in comparison to the NJ winter weather that I run in.  In the past I tended to take my rest periods from hard training/racing during December - January and found myself alway heading to Key West untrained and out of shape.   My lack of acclimation, lack of preparation,  plus my natural intolerance to oppressive humidity generally crumbled me by mile 7 of this race each year.  Yet year after year we return, knowing that we are going to suffer.  Year after year Sidney and I finish this race and immediately discuss how next year "We are gonna train for it!" . . . and then we don't.

This year was the first year I showed up in shape. Streaking and trying to hold close to a 9.5 mile per day average has keep my mileage up all winter.  I just raced my PR 5k and 50k in the last month. However, it didn't seem matter because this was turning out to be the warmest most humid year and the biggest race ever.  In the past, (beside that one freak year when the temps were in the 50's), the race usually starts mid-60's.  This year it was 70 at the start.  The humidity was ridiculous and I knew I was going to suffer.  I recieved a message from Alanna wishing me luck and I responded something about it being too hot and we are just going to take it easy.

The gun went off and over 30 seconds later we crossed the line.  Because the start was in a narrow area there was no way to get running right away.  After a few seconds of shuffling behind people, I finally decided to just weave my way through.  Sure this method wastes energy, but it also saving me time.

After about a half mile, I was finally cleared to run more freely.  As I tried to drop my pace, I could feel how hard it was to move through the thick humid air.  I had my Garmin, but at Mile 1 when I split it rather than show me my split I got a message that advised me that my database was full and I needed to delete stuff to store info.  If I waited longer, my split would have flashed up but I didn't want to spend 20 seconds staring at my wrist.  I split each mile, but never looked at my splits.  Unfortunately I only was able to record 6 miles of the race.

The race used a new course. It was now an out and back which meandered us through mallory square, through twists and turns of some shady streets past the Southernmost Point Buoy before sending us up the shade-less coast from  mile 3 through the turn around and then back.  

Once out of the pack, I was able to hold about a 7:15 pace comfortably but moving faster than that was too hard to sustain.  I settled on the fact that I would not be setting any PR's today.  I hoped that as the temperature rose I would be deep enough into this race to manage to run under 1:40.  I believe my best Key West half was a 1:41, despite running a 1:34 the fall before that one.

The miles through the streets went fast.  The turns, although slow by nature, kept the course interesting and shadiness of the streets helped.  But once we hit mile 3, we were on the long stretch up the cost.  I liked the idea of a turn around because it allowed me to get some information about where I was in the pack and I could see Sidney on my way back.   My slow start allowed me the opportunity to pick off ladies the entire way up the coast.  This was motivating.  I felt I was moving very steady and I did not have to make any adjustments to my speed to pass the women I passed on the way.  When I looked at the Garmin data it shows me moving between 7:09 and 7:19 for the first 6 miles, with an average pace of 7:12.  Mile 6 was my slowest and this was just as I started to feel the head and the sun beating on me.

I was over heating so much that I was grabbing two cups of water at each stop, one to drink and one to dowse myself with.  The water stops were plentiful.  In addition to water they had mixed accelerade, which I though tasted horrible and actually spit it out.  I had taken a gel right before the start and had one more on me.  I was able to take my gel at mile 6 without any issues.  I actually did not feel like I needed it, but since I could tolerate it, I took it for insurance purposes.

On the 3.5 mile stretch back along the coast, the sun was out and it was kicking my butt.  The only person I could see was a guy in a black shirt and grey shorts.  I  focused on him and I worked hard to catch him.  I started to pass him but realize I was getting tingly and goose-bumpy and a bit light headed.  I had to back down. He commented "Are you pacing off me?"  I laughed, tried to say something witty but can't remember what that was.   I looked ahead, and there was literally no one in front of us that we could see.  I said "Look, We are winning!"  He laughed and looked behind us, saw no one in the distance and said "Actually, I think we are the only ones here!"

If we were not passing runners coming towards us, we would have been running completely alone.  I looked back and I could not see another man or woman for minutes.  It was odd.  The guy in black/grey picked up the pace.  I tried to hang with him, but I could feel it was too fast for 5 miles to go.  We started to catch a guy who was walking.  He said "Hey, we are going to pass someone... they are starting to drop now!"

He was right, they were dropping.  I told him "Go get him!" I had to let him go or I would be dropping too.   He didn't get very far ahead of me and I was able to still stick with him from just a few yards behind.  Together we managed to reel in and pick off several men in the last 4 miles of the race.

However by mile 10, I started suffering.  It wasn't just the heat.  It was my feet!  I had been concerned about my feet because I tried out a new pair of Pure Drifts after just one run and hoped they would feel good for a half.  The shoes were actually perfect. They are incredibly light. I keep the insole in so the drop was 4 mm, which I know is fast for me.  I didn't even notice I had shoes on.  They responded perfectly with my high-arched forefoot striking style of running.  I plan to wear them in as many races I can.

My foot problems resulted from my socks getting soaking wet from all the water I was dumping on me to stay cool. In most hot races, the water evaporates.  However Key West is one the most humid race I run.  In really humid conditions, nothing evaporate.  My lightweight shorts didn't even dry out during the run and got so heavy they were falling  down.  When I tugged them back up, the tugging pulled the safety pins through the dissolving soaking wet paper bib that carried my chip.  OMG!

Any water that collected in my shoes stayed their and my socks became soaked.  The dampness loosened the KT tape I use on my feet to keep my plantar fasciitis in check.  The tape balled up creating hot spots just under the balls of my feet. OUCH!  Each stride I took up on my toes was burning a blister bigger and bigger into the skin of the balls of my feet.  I had to sit back on my heels to avoid the pain, which is just unnatural, slow, and sluggish for me.  With 3 miles to go it was too early to tear up my feet.  I could probably tolerate tearing skin for about a mile, but not 3.

The course was marked in kilometers as well and it was nice to start to click of K's instead of Miles.  After the 5k, we returned to the streets.  I welcomed the shadier parts of the course, but the turns were killing my blisters.  I was truly in a lot of pain.  The last time I burned my feet up like this was chasing Enzo down the hot black-top in mid-day summer heat while barefoot when he escaped from the yard on 4th of July.

I held my position with only 3k to go.  There was no one in sight behind me. But I missed my 10k split and had I had no idea what my time would be.  About mile 12, I saw my garmin reading 1:27.  I was surprised to learn I had a great shot at 1:35 if I hurried.  I sucked it up, got back up onto the blistered balls of my feet into my fast running stride, the pain passed quickly, and I started to reel in the guy in black and grey.  With less than a mile to go, he then picked it up again and I knew I wasn't catching him.  But I also knew I was going to hold my spot as 6th woman!

I looked down and saw my bib was now dangling by one safety pin and my black shorts were covered in paper pulp.  I can't understand how a bib that meant to carry timing chip cannot withstand being doused with water.  What happened if it rained?    I tried to tuck it in my shorts but it awkward and I just hoped it was going to work when I crossed the line. (It did!).

I pushed in the final stretch and finished right behind the guy in grey shorts I followed for the last 6 miles.  He and I exchanged congratulations.  I commented about the only thing on my mind at that moment, that my bib was falling off and I hope it worked.  He laughed, said his did too and he had to carry it with him for most of the end of race.  LOL!

I waited for Sidney, who regardless of his lack of actual training for this event,  always manages to run the whole way at a comfortable pace.  We asked two volunteers when awards for the half would be and we were told 11:00 am.  It was 9:00 am so we returned to the hotel to shower, eat breakfast and check out.  At 11:00 we returned to discover they already announced and distributed awards.  I picked my 3rd place Age Group award and Sid, Enzo, and I headed off to the airport to head north with out first stop being Myrtle Beach.

Chip Time: 1:34:57
6th place female
1st in Age Group
28 of 1119 Overall


  1. I always enjoy reading your RR's! Congratulations on winning your AG and being the 5th OA female! There is just no way to be ready for that heat and humidity, and still you rocked the HM. Way to go Shannon!

    What did you do with Enzo during the race?

    1. Thanks Tony. I think next year I will have to sit in the sauna to prepare. ;) Enzo stayed in the air conditioned hotel room and slept until we got back. He is ok on his own for a few hours and is happy to sleep while we are out.

  2. Down here we have the 3 H motto... "Hell: hot & humid." I think you do eventually get acclimated to it, but it still sucks the life out of fast racing. Of course, then I go up north and can't handle anything under 50*. Haha.

    Congrats on an excellent race! You never stop amazing me with your racing and fast time. Keep up the good work! :)

    1. I was thinking about you down there! I used to live in miami and travel home to new jersey for my herceptin infusions every 3 weeks. I was racing 5k's then. I was always almost a whole minute (22-23 to 21-22) faster at the 5k in NJ than in FL. I figured that you would crush a cold race if yo came up north ... but I guess acclimation works both ways.

  3. just read your post on Multi Days...about training slower. I totally believe in that concept...and sometimes lose myself when running with my buddies who don't know how to train slow. I usually end up with an injury when this happens. would love to know more about your ideas on training!