55 and Cloudy. Welcome to Key West

So ever since I discovered that the “race-cation” is a thing I’ve been thinking a little more about the “where” of my next race than the “what”. Last year we travelled to Nashville for the Rock n Roll Half Marathon, to the Montgomery Half Marathon, to The Colony, Texas for the Liberty By The Lake 10k and of course the 2 trips to NYC for the United Half and the TCS Marathon. When the kids were little and before we lived in Florida, we used to go to the Caribbean in search of warm weather in the depths of the frigid Northeast winters. Now that we’re living in Doug Jones country in Alabama I’ve been yearning to make that winter break again, and the Key West Half Marathon seemed like a perfect opportunity.
Ironically although I lived in south Florida for 15 years I have never been to Key West. My sons and my wife have been there but somehow I missed out. I was really looking forward to exploring in the warm Florida sunshine even if I was a little less enthusiastic about suddenly going from 30 degrees to 80 degrees for my runs. As luck would have it I did get to bask in the Florida sunshine without having to run a hot and humid race.
We got in very late on Thursday and were delighted to be awakened by one of Key West’s fabled roosters at about 5AM. We stayed at the Southernmost Beach Resort and it was really quite nice – we had an ocean view and a balcony, but not a lot of time to spend in the room. On Friday we walked up and down Duval Street, which is the main drag (no pun intended) and is pretty touristy. We took the tour at the Truman Winter White House which has been restored to its 40’s state down to every detail. It was pretty cool. Went by Mallory Square, had some oysters at the Half Shell Raw Bar (which is where the packet pickup was) and stopped by the Cuban Coffee Queen for a little post-rooster pick me up. Our dinner plans were to stay pretty casual keeping with the “Conch Republic” lifestyle, and you can’t get much more casual than B.O.’s Fish Wagon, a pile of driftwood with a kitchen and live music. The ambience was fun, the food, eh. After dinner we took a walk on the pier behind our hotel and spent some time gazing at the stars and the lights of the shrimp boats. Apparently shrimp are nocturnal so the shrimpers are out there catching the tasty critters at night.
On Saturday we went to Blue Heaven for breakfast on a big patio under a lush canopy of trees that happen to – wait for it -have roosters in them. It was lovely until a sudden downburst of rooster feathers landed all over our plates. After breakfast we took the tour at Hemingway’s home which was not furnished in the same detail as the Truman White House but it was interesting to see and learn more about the author’s storied life (spoiler alert – Papa didn’t mind having a few cocktails). I didn’t want to do as much walking as I did on Friday since I’d be racing Sunday, so we decided to go full “senior citizen” and hop aboard the bus tour of the island. We learned a lot more about the history of Key West (it was a Union city during the Civil War!) before stopping at Kermit’s for a frozen slice of key lime pie dipped in chocolate. It was sooo good, but maybe not the most highly recommended training food. By late afternoon the football playoff games were beckoning so we decided to go back to the resort and catch some of the action. The Lobster Shack was across from the Southernmost so we stopped by and asked what time they would be open till and they said 6. Around 5:30 we went over to grab a quick between games bite but they were already closed! It was just as well as we ultimately ended up at DJs Clam Shack where we had a big bowl of awesome chowdah and an excellent lobstah roll.
By Sunday morning summer was over and temps were in the low 50’s. I was glad that the race was going to be cool, but I wouldn’t have minded a little bit of Florida’s usual heat and humidity as we waited in the corral for the start of the race. Shivering makes me run fast so my first 3 miles were a bit below 8 minutes per mile, faster than my goal pace of 8-8:30. The race is an out and back down Duval Street to the southernmost point in the US, past my hotel and out to A1A; pretty much the territory we explored Friday and Saturday. The course is fairly flat as you’d imagine, a welcome change from my usual +200 foot altitude gains, but there was a pretty good headwind out on A1A along the Atlantic which made up some of the difference. Still, I was running at a pretty good clip, staying below 8:30 every mile but the last, which was 8:31. I thought I had a shot at a new PR (1:45) but after trying to keep up with some of the youngsters on the way back A1A I lost some steam. Things started to feel hard as we ran out on the Edward B Knight Pier, but I worked  to stay ahead of the 1:50 pacer. By the time we reached Kermit’s in the last mile or so I was cursing myself for not watching what I ate the day before. I did manage to finish under 1:50 at 1:49:51 – good for 5th place out of 83 in the old man group – so I was happy with the day and the weekend.

I would definitely recommend the Key West Half Marathon for a race-cation. It’s usually a good break from winter, there’s plenty to do over a weekend, and the course is flat and fast. Just be ready for roosters.

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