Hal Higdon’s Key West

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It’s a small race on a small island, and that is one of the charms of the Key West Half Marathon. Everything seemed so, so convenient. Rose and I stayed at the Eden House, which was a small hotel on that small island. Only a couple of blocks to the start and finish lines of the small race, and only a couple of blocks more to everything else one wanted to do in Key West from visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house (where he wrote Farewell to Arms) to Harry Truman’s Little White House (where he saved the Western World). We parked our small car in the small parking lot of the small hotel and left it in that small space during the entire time of our visit, preferring to walk around the small island rather than drive around, or even bike around.

Well, we did take the Conch Tour Train that circled the small island, which is 4 miles by 2 miles by the way. Took 90 minutes. Actually, we spent more than that time, because we got off at Station 3 on DuVall Street to visit the Butterfly Conservatory. Butterflies fluttering around your head. I posted some pictures on my Facebook pages. Rose received two free passes to the Conservatory for winning her age group in the small 5-K that started 10 minutes after the small half marathon. I only placed 5th in my small age group, so if you’re planning to run in Key West next year, you might bring a fast spouse.

About 2,000 runners (and walkers) showed up to participate in either the small half marathon or the accompanying small 5-K. That does not sound like many, but Key West has only 24,000 residents, so runners made up nearly 10 percent of the island population. I won’t speculate on what percentage of visitors came to the small island to fish or sail or swim in tropical-warm waters or to drink beer. I might recommend Sunset, a local brew, which became my drink-of-choice during our most recent stay in Key West.

It was my fourth visit (as told in the blog entry above) and Rose’s second visit, so we felt no obligation to act like standard tourists. Among the most enjoyable activities of our four-day stay was the act of having breakfast. The evening of our arrival on Thursday, we identified a small bakery only a block from our small hotel. Except race morning, we arrived each day soon after he bakery opened at 7:00 AM. A small cup of coffee for each of us. Three Danishes to be shared 1½ each. We carried a small bag containing our breakfast back to our small hotel and sat on the patio before our room while devouring our feast. There was a cushioned swing on the patio, which I occupied more than a small number of minutes.

Add to our pleasure the fact that there was a small restaurant attached to (but not part of) our small hotel. Azur was its name, a dining spot that would not seem out of place among the fanciest of fancy restaurants on Chicago’s North Side. Small prices. And if you got tired of Azur (we ate there twice: once for lunch, once for dinner), there must have been two dozen bars with conch on the menu within a short walk from our small hotel. The first night, we ate with race director Barbara Wright and friends at the Half Shell Oyster Bar. Owned by Pat Croce, a former personal trainer from Philadelphia, Half Shell is one of the Half Marathon race sponsors. The open area in front of the restaurant at the harbor is where runners picked up their numbers and where I spoke in the open air Saturday evening before the race. Not a small audience, I might say.

The race, or races, began and started also in that immediate vicinity. The half marathoners started at 7:00 heading out on a course that took them past many of the same attractions passed by the Conch Tour Train. The 5-K participants (including Rose andher speed-challenged husband) started 10 minutes later, following the same course to approximately the 1.5-mile mark, then doubling back. We got to see the leaders, which always is fun. There was a stretch of uneven brick at one point in the course, coming and going, with a volunteer (one of 400 volunteers) warning us not to trip. A small crowd of people watching. A lot of the revelers from Saturday night must still have been in bed.

In finishing 5th in the 5-K, I managed to come across the line only slightly before the winner in the half marathon, Adriano Bastos of Brazil Bastos had won the Disney World Marathon in Orlando one week before and is an eight-time winner of that much larger event. Kim Brantley of St. Augustine, wife of Keith Brantley (1996 Olympic marathoner), won the women’s half.

There was nothing small about the experience. We (heart) Key West. Despite my identifying the Key West Half Marathon as a small race, it had doubled in numbers from the year before, almost reaching its 1,500-runner limit. I suspect the Key West Half will fill early for 2014. If you plan to run start thinking about entering soon.

And thank you, Barb for the invitation to be part of your celebration this year!

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