This weekend was the Keys 100 Mile Run from Key Largo to Key West. The race director Bob Becker is a friend who hooked me up with a very experienced ultra runner named Bill Andrews. I met Bill and his girlfriend Molly at their hotel in Key Largo on Friday afternoon to go over supplies and my duties as Bill's support crew.
Most ultra runners have a support crew for their races to provide drink, nutrition and clothing change supplies along the course. Usually the crews will have more than one person to help share the duties and allow crew members to pace with the racer late at night. While I had some nibbles to my pitches to friends to join me in this venture, no one ultimately agreed to join me. Thus, I would be a solo crew for my runner. The event also allowed for un-crewed runners for this 100 mile run. Molly would be running without a crew. The Keys 100 also contains a relay division and a 50 mile race division. I had friends running in the relay and another friend doing the 50 mile race.
Race start was at 6 A.M. Initially, Bill had me meet him every 4 miles, but as the day wore on into the hotter afternoon hours, we shortened the meet up points down to every 2 miles. At most stops, I would trade off his Camel-Bac for a fresh one with water and ice, and replace his goos. He carried his electrolyte tablets with him. Other than that, the main duty was to set up a chair and towel for sock and shoe changes whenever he felt the need to switch off.
The main problem with a race of this distance in our hot and humid South Florida weather is foot moister. Foot moister equals blistering at some point. Bill had duct-taped his feet the night before, but still had issues over the day. My main problem was that about 10 AM, my car blew a fuse that killed the electricity to the driver's door. Thus, for the rest of the event, my driver's side window was stuck complete open and the door was locked. AT every stop, I had to climb over to the front passenger door to get out of the SUV. I didn't mention this to my runner until after the event was over as I didn't want to cause him any more concern than he already had in trying to figure out his own needs as a runner.
About 1 PM, I picked up a crew member from another crew who had gotten separated from his runner. I figured we may be able to get him reconnected with his group during one of my drives up the road to the next supply stop for my runner. Unfortunately, his runner got so far ahead of us, that I could never reconnect him. After about 3 hours, I managed to connect him with a relay teams support car which were advancing at a somewhat faster pace than individual runner's support cars. It was nice to have company for those hot hours. Sean from NJ, if you happen to read this, I've got a pair of your prescription glasses that you left behind in my SUV.
Another nice aspect of crewing was that kept coming across the same runners and support crews during the day. I gave some assistance to some self supported runners where I could. I met a lot of very nice support crews and tough runners from around the country. I can see how this whole ultra scene gets to feel like a club. Everybody knew other runners and crews from other ultra events that they'd done in the past. A very social and friendly bunch.
My runner Bill is a genetic scientist who is working on research to try to cure aging of our genes. He is an advocate of vigorous exercise and has research to back up his claims that exercise keeps up biologically younger. He gave a lecture at the Race Expo about his research. As you can imagine, Bill is very intelligent. He is also very focused. While I tend to like to talk and joke occasionally during long endurance events, Bill didn't want extraneous chat during his resupply or sock/shoe changes. I took no offense and once I figured out his approach, we worked well together. Instead of going through a list of what his needs might be, I waited for him to tell me what he needed.
Four miles after the 50 mile check in, we got to the beginning of the 7 Mile Bridge that connects Marathon Key to Duck Key. During this 7 mile stretch, the day went from dusk to darkness. During the daylight hours it was easy to know about went Bill would show up based on the runners coming in just ahead of him. However, in the dark, it was harder to make out who the runners were that pasted by. In addition to that, I discovered that Bill ran better the farther he got into the race. For the second half of the race, Bill continually passed runners that had kept ahead of him during the daylight hours. He appeared to get stronger as the night wore on.
As I waited for Bill to come across the 7 Mile Bridge, I called his girlfriend Molly. She had gotten to the 50 mile check-in tent. She was having supply problems and blistering issues. She decided that the event was too difficult to do as an unsupported run. She decided to pull out of the race. Molly was later able to catch a ride and connect up with us at the 75 mile check in station. Thus, for the last 25 miles we were a support crew of 2.
With the cooler night air, Bill was not consuming water at the same rate. He started to have us stretch the support stops to every 5 miles down the road. On the first such stop, both Molly & I fell immediately asleep for a solid 45 minute nap. Good thing I set my watch alarm or we might have missed Bill as he ran by.
At about the 85 mile mark at about 4 AM, I started pace running behind Bill in the dark. Apparently, in these late night hours, sleep deprived ultra runners can start to get slight hallucinations and need a second set of eyes to warn them if they start to veer into oncoming headlights of cars. While Bill never wavered from his steady forward line, it felt good to be able to run with him for a while after being in the support vehicle for so many hours. The last 4 miles, Molly & I switched off and she paced with him for 3 miles. We left Bill a mile from the finish and set up to take his picture crossing the finish line. He crossed at 26:01 in 15th place out of the approximate 110 runners who started the 100 miles. A great finish in my book, particularly given the hot conditions during the day. About 2/3rds of the field simply could not finish.
In crewing a runner, I feel I've given back to the community which supported my efforts to compete, whether as race directors, volunteers, or friends and spectators cheering me on. I learned a boat-load of information and strategies for competing in an ultra marathon. I hope to run the JFK 50 Mile Run in late November, so it was good to see what it takes to get through an ultra event. I don't know whether I'll ever take on a 100 mile event, but I've seen that with the right preparation, good hydration, nutrition and foot care, it can be done. Congratulations to my runner Bill. I hope I made your life a little easier along the way.