is 6.8 miles long.

That's the name of the bridge, though, the longest in the Florida Keys, and one of the longest in the world, when it was built. The race is from the expansion joint on the north side to the expansion joint on the south side.
East to west, in cardinal directions, but things in the Keys aren't what you'd expect, mainlander.

The race occurs on a Saturday in April. The bridge is closed to traffic at about 0645, with the race starting approximately 0730. Runners have 1 hour and 30 minutes to get across the bridge, with school buses picking up stragglers. It is common to see people with shirts that read "Beat the Bus!"

Due to the need for crowd control, and the strictly enforced time limit, registration is restricted to 1500 people. About 1800 run the race, the extra 300 slots are reserved for local high school and middle school students. Registration is handled by a mail lottery. You send in a self-addressed stamped envelope, and in mid-February the registrations are mailed out. The first 1500 that come back are in the race.

Non-local teams have taken to using prepaid overnight FedEx envelopes, to ensure they get in. But even locals have a hard time. I received mine, and drove to Marathon that night, dropping it in the post box.

I didn't get in. But that wouldn't prevent me from running!

0400: Wake up. Drive to the start point, in Marathon.
0500: Arrive Marathon. Nap in car.
0630: Head over to registration, look at race bibs.
0645: Return to car. Eat. Select a bib from a previous race that was the right color and shape as today's.

Fortunately, I happened to have a neon green bib in my possession. I then spent the rest of my time looking for people I knew, and trying to make connections. I ended up talking to a small group from Miami, also bandits. They had a jogging stroller and a six-pack in a cooler underneath. The weather was perfect, about 70 degrees F, overcast, and 20 knots of tailwind.

I took up my usual slot, about 2/3 of the way from the front. While I am a competent runner, my preferred strategy is to start at a slower pace than planned, and ramp up over time. I like to catch people and pass them. Through the first few miles, passing people was easy. I stuck to the shoulder and dodged.

I don't run with a watch, so the timers at various points really helped. As I settled into my pace, the crowd thinned and we started to notice each other. White sports bra woman, sweaty guy, skinny kid, marathon-shirt wearing guy. As we passed the second water stop, I picked up a cup and splashed my face. I got a mouthful in the process.

And an ice-cold sponge. For my face and neck.

As the head of the pack surged up the Hump, I could see just how far back I was. I concentrated on staying on pace: Good breathing, good posture, good strides. I picked the runners around me, and slotted in behind them. When this got easy, I'd pass.

Some I lingered behind more than others.

Nearing the base of the Hump, we could hear the reggae band at the top. The beat helped on the incline, one of the few in the Keys. I leaned forward and shortened my stride. Volunteers were dancing and handing out water at the top, so I grabbed another one.

Down the incline, I chatted with a racer I knew. They say if you can't hold a conversation, you're running too fast. I was right at that limit, four steps to a breath, posture still good. I split off from my companion, maintaining a solid 8 minute mile.

Then yellow-tank-top passed me.

She settled in about 20 yards ahead. That's not right. I passed her at the top of the Hump. She passed me back!

I quickened my pace, and picked a person in front of her. Within a minute I was even with her, another two and I had gained 50 feet.

A minute later she was back up with me. We dueled for the next two miles, never more than fifty feet apart - she would push ahead, and I'd dig deep to catch and pass her. She'd do the same. I concentrated on keeping my feet in line, relaxing my shoulders, breathing through my belly. Until we crossed the six-mile mark, I really thought she was going to open the gap on me - my lungs were straining, my legs felt like lead, and my form had gone to shit. I focused on the finish line, and my pumping arms. And then she wasn't in front of me - wouldn't be in front of me - and I never saw her again. I crossed, with no official time, shuffled over to the water station, and hitched a ride back to my car.

That was the first time I ran the Bridge.

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