With months of physical training and mental preparation, nothing can make the heat of the Seven Mile Bridge at 4 p.m. on a May afternoon bearable. Nothing. The first mile of it was fine, with a friendly face beside me, ice soaked towels wrapped around our heads, sunscreen protecting our arms and faces and a Camelbak filled with ice and Nuun electrolytes. That doesn’t last long. And, that was only seven miles of the 16 miles I ran during the Keys 100 last weekend with a group of five of my favorite running friends. My two legs following the bridge involved chafing in places I truly had no idea existed.
Standing in the elevator the night before, we met Cortland Wheeler, a 27-year-old athlete who has ran 100 miles once before. His goal was to tackle the whole 100 miles, on his own, in this heat, under 24 hours. After being subjected to a couple of our running “jokes,” he exited the elevator rather hastily.
The next day, about 13 miles in, we recognized the tall (and handsome) Cortland on the course. We were prepped to make more lame jokes when we quickly realized the look of desperation on his face. His support vehicle had missed the last stops, so we refilled him, and he was on his way. All the way until the Seven Mile Bridge, we leap-frogged him, chatting with him at times, passing him, or him passing me (I am super slow…). He met up with his crew again a few times, and they missed a couple more stops, so we refilled his waters and iced down his hat. Little did we know, he would be the first male finisher (19 hours, 16 minutes), and we chased him the whole way.
Things you think of when you’re delirious on a bridge include shirts for next year: “Honk! I’m hot,” legit hot, while wondering if Forrest Gump thought these same things, and why are there knives, screws, hacksaws, and random socks on the side of the bridge. You know how they say not to pick up a stray sock in the woods, I wonder what it means on a bridge? We contemplated jumping about four miles in and I even waved down a boat to ask if they’d scoop us out of the water — they would have been happy to.
Sometimes it takes a 100-mile, 20-hour race for you to really absorb the beauty and friendship of the Florida Keys. And, for my next trick: 100-mile Tour De Keys bike ride in September supporting MARC House. Better pump the tires on the beach cruiser.
The next ultra race in South Florida will take place Feb. 18 through the Everglades, for more info, www.evergladesultras.com.