After the events of Marathon Monday unfolded, I was very unsure of how to approach this race recap. It felt strange to give my euphoric version of a race just hours after the devastation surrounding the Boston Marathon. Since then, the strength, cohesiveness, and inherent goodness of the running community has given hope and support to a city in crisis. The more I thought about it, my experience on Saturday in the Keys is exactly why I am so proud to be a member of this community. We work hard to train together, race together, celebrate together, and come together when life goes bad.
We drove down to the Keys late Friday afternoon and arrived in Marathon well after race packet pick up ended. Larry (my husband) and I stayed at the host hotel about six miles away from the starting line. We had no idea what parking or packet pickup would be like in the morning, but were too tired to really care.
The nagging alarm started at 5:15 a.m. because we needed to leave no later than 6:15. I like to hit the snooze until Larry is ready to get his own hotel room or we are really going to be late — whichever happens first. I was up and ready to go in about 20 minutes or so. My better half? Not as sparkly a morning person.
We drove the few miles down to the starting line and were quickly directed to a parking spot. Packet pick up was not the chaotic scene I envisioned. We waited only five minutes. First lesson of the 7 Mile Bridge Run: Bring your ID. You will not get a bib without an ID. No exceptions.
The sun was rising as we scrambled back to the car to toss our race shirts and for me to slather up in Biofreeze. Coincidentally, our close friends parked directly in front of us. We walked to the starting line together, while they told us about past 7 Mile races.
Like the most of the Keys, the start was casual but beautiful. As far as the eye could see, people were happily running surrounded by tranquil aqua waters. I was soaking in my surroundings when the road under me began to move. Can you get seasick on land? Possibly. Lesson No. 2: 2,000 people running on a bridge creates a LOT of bouncing. It took a little getting used to, but was a fun change from boring, old, non-moving land. I might have felt a little differently if we were really racing hard. The first two miles were super packed in and we started off at a gentle pace.
As we were weaving through people, I thought about how lucky we were to be running this stretch of road. Some people do run this race for time. (There were some incredibly fast runners) I was not one of them this race. I was there to run with 2,000 friends in the sunshine in one of my favorite places on earth. I was there to run by my best friend’s side after months of not running together. Not sure if I could have possibly been happier during those first miles.
Halfway through the second mile is where the incline began. The bridge looked huge from a distance, (side note — I overheard a fellow runner say exactly that, and then “That’s what she said.” Priceless.), but the grade actually was not as steep as I expected. It did seem to go on forever. Once we reached the top, there were tons of volunteers with water, fruit, and water soaked sponges. Heading down hill was a breeze and at the bottom were more cheering volunteers and music with a local radio DJ.
The next few miles got hot as the sun rose, but the course support was outstanding. For only seven miles, I lost count of how many water stops we ran through. Tons of volunteers were along the whole course cheering, announcing times, and handing out wet sponges. Medical support was also posted all along the course.
The end of the race came up almost abruptly. (Secret fun race fact: the race was 6.8 miles.) More volunteers were on hand to give out medals, take care of runners, and give out waters. We met up with the rest of our group and walked down to the beach for pictures, beverages, and fruit. Lots of runners were cooling off in the water and hanging out. Final lesson of the race: get up early, before the bridge closes to traffic, and hide beers in the bushes at the finish. Our friends are geniuses.
Dozens of buses were parked at the finish to drive runners back to the start. We waited maybe two minutes to get on a bus and were quickly back at the start. Michelob Ultra hosted a great after party for runners to end the morning. After 32 years of organizing this race, the people in Marathon seriously know how to run on a race. I absolutely cannot wait until next year.