A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Paul Long: Running 100 miles in the Florida sun, heat is how some NKy residents spent a day (or more)

It’s safe to say that most people headed to Florida are looking for sand, sea, and sun — lots and lots of sun, a hot, glowing orb shining brightly across the broad ocean.

Except of course, if you’re headed across the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, the 100-mile route along Highway 1, propelled only by your feet. And you are out there, running for hours and hours on end, to the south and to the west, directly into the setting sun, with nary a cloud in the sky to break the raw, shimmering heat.

 Jim White running the Keys 100 with crew member Dianna Petry. (Photo from Jeff Harmon)

Jim White running the Keys 100 with crew member Dianna Petry. (Photo from Jeff Harmon)

Then perhaps, that glorious Floridian sun becomes just a tad bit overwhelming.

“We were looking for any two leaves that were close together, just so we could get a bit of shade,” said Jim White of Union, a retired Northern Kentucky police officer. “When there was a line of shade by the railing on the bridge walkways, we gravitated toward that.”

Otherwise, Jim and his running mates plowed on, running the 100 miles throughout the day and into the hot night, enduring the blistering heat even after the sun went down.

It was an accepted part of the Keys 100, a 100-mile run that White and two other members of the Northern Kentucky running group, Pain By Numbers, participated in over the weekend. White, 50, finished in 29 hours and 50 minutes. Charles Ray Bell, a truck driver from Delhi, crossed the finish line after 25 hours and 47 minutes. Melanie Wherry Owen, a health science researcher from Cincinnati, battled blisters and painful heel spurs before dropping out after 53 miles.

“There was no shade,” Bell said. “The sun was just beating down on us. It was so hot.”

Bell, 47, said after running 40 miles, he thought he was done. He trained well, having several back-to-back running days of 30 and 20 miles. But this was his first 100-miler, and he wasn’t prepared for the heat.

“It was so intense,” he said. “Brutal. I got to the 40-mile marker, and I thought I was through.”

Jim White getting a foot massage and dry clothes from friend and crew member Dianna Petry after his ocean swim. (Photo from Jeff Harmon)

Jim White getting a foot massage and dry clothes from friend and crew member Dianna Petry after his ocean swim. (Photo from Jeff Harmon)

But his savior was taking a break, sipping ice water, and sitting in an air-conditioned car for a couple of minutes. “I regrouped, and went back out. It took about three miles of walking, but then I started running again, and I was back in the game.”

Taking his own break about the same spot in the road, White — a veteran ultrarunner with two previous 100-mile races behind him, no longer could resist the lure of the ocean. With the help of his crew members, he skirted some of the corals, and took a dip in the clear blue saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I was sitting there saying, every time I saw the ocean, I wanted to be in it,” White said. “The run was more a mental battle for me than a physical one. (The swim) gave me a big mental boost.”

Both White and Bell credited their crew members — Jeff Harmon and Dianna Petry for White, and Emily Leising and Kyle Horseman for Bell. Crew members provide logistics and support for the runners, included getting their food and water during breaks, and ensuring their runners have enough to eat and drink. To help runners battle the heat, the crew filled bandanas with ice and hosed them down along the way. Sore muscles are massaged, and bruised and battered psyches are healed. Dry, clean clothes are provided along the way.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” White said. “It would have been impossible.”

Indeed, Petry ran some 20-plus miles with White, coaxing him along and pacing him during some especially trying moments deep into the run. Having a friend by your side, walking and running and supporting you, is invaluable, White said.

“I had not planned on running, but I ended up doing 21 of Jim White’s 100 miles with him,” Petry said. “I admit I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t trained. I’ve not been able to cover these distances in over two years. But I knew he needed me. I am so grateful for this experience. Of course there were ups and downs, extreme heat, hunger, sleep deprivation, pain, but every single one of us accomplished major goals and were an integral part of the team. We even picked up some new friends along the way, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness friends and complete strangers pulling for each other to complete the impossible.”

 Charles Ray Bell finishing the 100 mile Keys race with two new friends. (Photo provided)

Charles Ray Bell finishing the 100 mile Keys race with two new friends. (Photo provided)

Meanwhile, Leising and others took dozens of pictures and videos, and reported back home to other members of the Pain By Numbers running group about the run. Leising referred to her work as reporting for ESPBN.

For both men, the final hours of the run was special. White said the reception of the Key West community was extraordinary. Running through the total darkness of the night was the highlight of the trip, he said.

“I knew that when I got to any deserted bridge,” he said. “It was a moonless night, and I could see a spectacular display of stars. I saw shooting stars. From horizon to horizon, all I could see was stars. Several times, I just stopped and took it all in. For a few minutes, it took your mind off the running and the pain.”

Bell said around the 75-mile marker, with about a marathon still to go, he met two other runners — a young man in his 30s doing his first ultra, and a veteran Key West resident who knew the course well from running it several times. The trio ran together through the night, and finished shortly after the sun rose on the next day.

“He had done this before, and he had a plan,” Bell said. “We just followed his lead and became his students. We ran for a mile-and-a-half, then we walked for half-a-mile. We did the last 25 miles like that. We wound up finishing together and crossing the finish line as one because that’s how we made it through the night.”

Paul Long, on the road (Photo by Kris Payler Staverman)

Paul Long, on the road (Photo by Kris Payler Staverman)

Paul Long writes weekly for the NKyTribune about running and runners. For his daily running stories, follow him at dailymile.com or on Twitter @Pogue57

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