Ragnar Florida Keys: Take 2

I had a bone to pick with this relay. When I ran here 2 years ago, I had a tough go of it. The heat destroyed me and the running part wasn’t any fun. In my opinion, relays are ALL ABOUT the fun, so this year I was determined to come back and enjoy some warm weather runs, beautiful scenery and have some redemption from the misery of that night leg in 2013. That mostly happened.

My sister-in-law Kate invited me to run this relay with a group of her friends from Roanoke, VA. They are all moms, most with multiple children and many who also have challenging careers (in my van alone: an OBGYN, a veterinarian, an attorney…). I wasn’t really sure what to expect because Kate told me that everyone on our team was “in it for fun” (not speed). I am a competitive person, but I am all about running a relay for fun, with no pressure, so that didn’t matter to me at all. What I learned once we started running was that these women had trained for this and they are runners! There wasn’t a single one of them who was throwing down anything slower than a 9:30-10:00 min/mile. I was really impressed because how in the world do they find the time??

There were two teams from Roanoke and we were named Star City Sole Sisters – Team Sugar & Team Spice. I was on Team Spice in Van 1. While there were many accomplished athletes (including several former Division I swimmers and a Kona qualifier in her first Ironman!!), I was the only one among both teams who had ever run a relay. Despite that, these women had their sh*t together. We had shirts, tank tops, pre-prepared van decorations (including LED lights!), laminated maps for each leg and wait for it…HOTEL ROOMS booked for showers/sleep after leg #2. I could go on forever about the prep they put into this race and the research they had done before arriving in Miami.

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Lights, magnets, peel-off star stickers and NO messy shoe polish!

We started at 9 a.m. Friday morning, which was also pre-arranged by our captain, who requested the earliest start time we could get. This worked out fantastic for the timing of our runs in Van 1…the best I have ever experienced.


Just before leaving South Beach Friday morning. From left: Courtney, Me, Katie, Erin, Laura, Kate and driver Heather.

Kate was our first runner and she kicked us off on a very chilly (for Miami) and windy run over the Key Biscayne bridge.

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Seriously though, isn’t she the cutest?!

I quickly took on the role of navigator and happily played that role for our rock star driver, Heather, for the rest of the relay. Finally around noon on Friday, it was my turn to run.

I was runner #4, which had the longest combined legs of the relay, with 24 miles total. I had welcomed the switch from a shorter leg back in January when Kate said one of the other girls had asked. I was ready for the challenge and since I have been running 35-40 mpw consistently for the last couple of months, I was “trained” for it.

Leg #1: 4M @ 7:38 avg.

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All smiles finishing up leg 1.

Coach gave me the instructions that run #1 should be easy and I would get some tempo miles in the second leg. Quite frankly 7:38 pace didn’t necessarily feel easy but it didn’t feel hard either. It was really difficult to hold back so I just kind of went with it. I got held up at 2 stoplights, fairly briefly (I stopped my watch). It was warm, but not scorching hot since there was a nice breeze and overall I felt good and happy. One thing though: I am always surprised at how slowly the miles go by in the first leg of a relay. I felt like I had run well over a mile and looked down at my watch to see I had only been 0.3. It must be a weird adrenaline thing from waiting around all morning to run.

I passed off the slap bracelet and noticed that my counterpart from Team Sugar was waiting alone at the exchange. Their van had gone to the wrong exchange and Kimberley was stuck there for over 30 minutes until they figured it out. Good wake-up call for me as a navigator!

Once our van finished with leg #1, we changed and headed to get a light lunch. We ended up stopping at Jimmy Johns, which hit the spot and filled me up (this is important for later). We used the rest of the downtime to navigate our way back from the wrong exchange (oops! but we figured it out in plenty of time) to the major exchange at the Homestead Speedway and then to relax and take advantage of clean bathrooms.

Around dusk, Kate was off again and Van 1 was back in the game. I tried to snack sufficiently while I was waiting for my leg, but nothing really sounded good and I was afraid of eating too much. Between lunch at Jimmy John’s around 1:30 and my run around 9:00 p.m. I ate carrots with hummus, a cutie, a string cheese, a Greek yogurt and a Picky Bar (I think). I didn’t feel hungry, but my appetite might have been supressed because I was a bit nervous about the long run and tempo miles that were ahead. Looking back, I should have eaten something more substantial because that just wasn’t enough food in an 8 hour period preceding a 12-mile run.

Leg #2: 11.8M @ 8:16 avg. 


Ready to run in the dark.

Originally coach prescribed a 3-4M warm-up + 10k tempo/time trial @ 6:50 – 7:30 + 2-3M cool down. When I started the run though, something told me that I should start conservative. I decided that I would try to run this progressively and hit the last 6ish miles at tempo pace. So here is how it went down:

Miles 1 – 7: 8:08, 8:05, 8:02, 8:01, 7:54, 7:52, 7:47 <–Pretty good, huh?! Going into mile 7, I was having a blast, feeling strong and was pretty confident that I could continue to drop the pace over the next 5 miles. It was warm & humid but there was cool air coming off of the water and I felt good. BUT…I didn’t bring any fuel or water with me (stoopid). This was generally a “no support” leg, but there were supposed to be 3 water stops (I only saw 2) and the van was was allowed to stop at one point (we thought mile 6) to support their runner. I was pretty hungry early in the run, but wasn’t worried because I *knew* I could get fuel from the van at mile 6. But when I reached mile 6, I was still on US 1 leading into a bridge, so I knew that wasn’t possible.

At exactly an hour into the run…to the second…I hit a WALL. It was dark so I couldn’t tell, but apparently I started up the incline leading into the big bridge and also became exposed to a massive headwind (even for this Chicago runner!). I felt like I was running through mud and it took all my effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And I still had to run up a 0.75 mile bridge. As you can expect, this happened:

Miles 8 – 11.8: 8:15, 9:04 (bridge), 8:47 (down then back up another bridge), 8:29 (down), 8:56

This might be one of the worst bonks I have ever experienced because there was no gradual degradation. I went from feeling great to feeling awful from one moment to the next. And to make it worse, the wind was blowing so hard across me that I kept getting blown over and stumbling toward the direction of the on-coming traffic.


The bridge at night, as taken by Kimberly while she ran the same leg. I remember the moon’s reflection off the water being nice, but by this point, I wasn’t seeing much but the ground.

It was miserable and all I kept thinking was “where is my van?”. It turned out that they weren’t allowed to stop until mile 10 and when they didn’t see me after a few minutes, they were worried they missed me and took off to the exchange. I was sad to miss them (and my bottle of Nuun!) but defaulting toward being ready in the exchange was the right call.

After I finished running, I was starving. Kate made me a PB&J that I scarfed down and I also ate some Cheez-Its (salt please!) and drank some electrolyte drink that someone handed me after I finished my Nuun. These were all very bad decisions.

In the next hour, my stomach started cramping and I spent the next 6ish hours in and out of the bathroom and struggling with stomach cramps (along with 3 other teammates who, coincidentally also ate string cheese earlier?). Thankfully we were able to get showered and lay in bed (whether I slept was questionable) for 3+ hours before we had to meet our van at the final exchange. I took Tums and Imodium and drank tons more water and Nuun.


Fresh off of our hotel naps while Kate was running leg #3. Everyone in this picture except Laura (in reflective gear) was fighting stomach cramps.

By the time my run came around again about 10:30 a.m., I was feeling 80% better, but the stomach cramping (and bathroom visits) were still intermittent. I wasn’t confident if I could run 2 miles, much less 8+. But I wasn’t going to give up my run altogether (Kate volunteered) and I knew if I started it, I would have to finish because it was supposed to be a no support leg.

Suck-it-up, buttercup! I tucked some toilet paper in my shorts and got my a$$ out there to run.


Kate and I just before starting my final leg. Forced smile.

Leg #3: 8.2M @ 8:36 avg.

The first two miles were very similar to what I experienced in this race in 2013. I got an intense side stitch almost immediately. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that if I back off the pace, relax and breath through it, the cramp will disappear at mile 2. So that’s what I did and sure enough, by mile 2, I felt better than I had all day. My body was tired, but I felt good. I maintained an easy and steady 8:34-8:44 pace and just plugged away one mile at a time. The van ended up being able to stop at about mile 5 and I think they were shocked to see me smiling and happy.

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Getting some Nuun from Kate. I think she was just as happy that she didn’t have to jump in and run the rest!

Just as I was passing a guy at mile 8, he decided that he wanted to race me to the finish. My competitiveness took over and I found myself picking up the pace. I rounded out the final 0.2 at a 7:21 pace, which felt like an all-out sprint, but he still had a slight edge on me to the exchange. Dudes and their egos.

Once our van finished, we headed straight into Key West to get food and relax until Van 2 finished up. We parked at a local high school and took a cute little trolley (and beerz) to the beach party. Open containers FTW.


Around 1 p.m., 29 hours and 7 min after we started the race, the rest of Team Spice arrived in Key West. It was a beautiful day for beachin’ but I felt bad for those last few runners because it was pretty hot!


Like I said…these girls had their planning down. Champs on the beach to celebrate the finish!


So lucky to call this girl my sister.

We didn’t stay at the beach too long because everyone was exhausted and wanted to get checked into our house. The girls rented two cute townhouses right next door to each other…one for each of the teams. That night they had food catered in at Team Sugar’s house. My stomach was still off for the next couple of days though and I wasn’t able to eat much.

Sunday we rented bikes and rode over to the beach…

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Key West is definitely not known for its beaches, but it was a beautiful day and it felt good to relax. That night we took advantage of what Key West IS known for and hit up the live music and party scene on Duval St…but not until after receiving our AWARDS:


Team Sugar was “Numero Uno” and Team Spice was “Almost First” in the female sub-masters division. {But also the fastest two all women’s teams overall!}

And finally after brunch and shopping Monday, it was back to reality and cold Chicago…


About Corey

I am a 30-something swim, bike, run addict married to my best friend and in love with my two schnoodle doggies.
This entry was posted in family, Food, friends, Goals, Race reports, Races, running, training, Travel, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Ragnar Florida Keys: Take 2

  1. Looks like fun! I’ll be in the area in July. Any awesome events like this going on then?

  2. Wow!! I can’t believe your second leg!! I am so sorry!! Sounds like overall you still had fun!! What bad-asses 1st/2nd place and it was all for fun!! 😉

  3. Ugh, your second leg sounds horrible! You had everything working against you at that point. Way to finish strong! Ranger was so much fun, I can’t wait to do another. I’m also super impressed with all of the planning for a group that had never run a relay before! Sounds fun and such a good idea to rent a place and spend another day or two relaxing 🙂

  4. That sucks that you and several of your van mates were struggling with cramps, not the best way to spend a day, esp when you’re trying to focus on the fun factor. Great job on getting 2nd place for female teams, what an accomplished group of women!
    I love when I see my growth as a runner in being able to apply something I learned the hard way in the past to a current situation, glad you were able to enjoy that 3rd leg once you got going 🙂

  5. Pingback: Bayshore Week 6: Recovery |

  6. elizabeth says:

    one day, i will do this race. I swear you left out the stomach issues AND the bling when we talked. and how badass these women are at planning!?!?! even getting houses and catered food!?! hate it wasn’t all around perfect, but still sounded like you did well and made the best of it.

  7. Great job despite all the issues! I’ve heard relay races are so fun!! And a lot of work and fatigue 🙂

  8. Pingback: Bayshore Half Marathon: The Race that Wasn’t |

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