Updated: Sep 7, 2021
After doing a few 5ks I really wanted to push my limits and run further than I had before. I stumbled upon the 7 Mile Bridge run. Now even being a born and raised Floridian I had no idea this race even excited. Probably because I wasn’t a runner for a majority of my life but that’s just a minor detail. The run is exactly what it sounds like—-a 7 mile run across the 7 mile bridge that connects the Florida Keys. Technically the bridge is 6.8 miles but I understand not naming a bridge the 6.8 mile bridge. Marketing wise it’s a mouth full and doesn’t seem as impressive.
"Photo courtesy of the 7 Mile Bridge Run"
Now the interesting part about this race is not only the distance/location but the fact that there are only 1500 runners allowed which seems like a lot but in racing speak it's not. The reasoning for this is because race directors and the city have to shut down the entire bridge for the run and it is literally the only way to get from one side of the keys to the other by car. There are no side streets, alternative routes or any way by car to get from one side of the Keys to the other. For those who don’t know there is only one road in general to travel the Keys (The Overseas Highway) so shutting down this bridge basically makes one side earth and the other the moon, at least for a good couple hours.
The famous tag line for this run is “Beat the Bus”. You have roughly 2 hours to finish the race or you get picked up by a school bus to get to the other end of the bridge so bridge can reopen. No exceptions, no pleading, and no other option. The other claim to fame for this particular bridge is that it was featured in the 1994 movie "True Lies". Its towards the end of the movie when (Spoiler Alert!) they blow up part of the bridge. Fun fact, it was actually the old bridge they used for the movie---before you get visions of all the runners doing high leaps over a huge gaping hole.
(Here is a clip from the movie to give you a better visual---Warning: it has a little violence and language in it so best not to watch near little ones)
I had set my sites to run this race in 2017 but then got pregnant and decided that given the distance, heat and unknown factors it was the best decision for me not to run. I instead decided for this to be my big postpartum race. Something to give me a goal after the newborn/parenthood initial shock wore off. With the field size being so small it tends to sell out in under a half hour so I stalked the social media channels for months waiting for them to announce the sign up date. Set my reminders, my alarm clocks *yes, plural. I needed multiple alarms* and woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5:30 AM to make sure I was all signed into the site and ready to try for my slot.
Come 6 AM I hit refresh feverishly and began entering in my info not believing that the site hadn’t crashed yet. I got all the way to the end and hit submit before realizing I ACTUALLY had gotten in!!! I had already loosely started training but at the time of acceptance I had just under 3 months until race day. I had never ran a full 10k distance and was excited for the challenge. What followed was some decent training but no where what I imagined (is it ever?). I got sick a few times and was still having a baby that wasn’t sleeping through the night but just took it all as best I could.
This was my race that I had been wanting to do just for ME and whatever the outcome I was going to enjoy it or pass out from heat exhaustion....either way I would probably sleep really well after soooo win win, right?
I still wasn’t ready to be away from my little one for two full days and nights at this point so we packed up the car and took our family trip to the Keys (luckily not an insane car ride from where we live). After a hectic check in and a longggggg night it was finally race morning. I tip toed around trying not to wake the husband or the baby and made my way to the finish line. It was probably the most electric race start I’ve ever experienced.
Everyone was smiling, excited and blissfully unaware that once the sun came up it was going to be hotter than Satan's underarms (even in April it’s hot hot hotttttt). I soaked it all in and FaceTimed the only people that are up at ungodly early hours for no reason at all—my mom and dad. They were excited and wished me luck as the sun just barely started to peak out. Lining up with everyone was exactly what I imagined minus the guy dressed up as Forest Gump and the other guy in a leopard speedo blasting salsa music. Nice visual right?
Even with the interesting outfit choices I had just witnessed, the start of the race was the weirdest once we stepped foot on the bridge. With all of the pounding feet hitting the ground at the same time the bridge almost feels like it’s moving which gives you the uneasy feeling that you could trip at any second. Add that to me already being a klutz and I had to adjust quickly. Once I didn't feel like I was going to eat pavement, it was so magical as the sun started to come up and cast a warm light over the massive bridge and surrounding small islands. With no spectators you really just had time to appreciate the beauty of the scenery; crystal water just for miles and the serenity of long bridge. You almost forget your running a race....Almost.
Another euphoric bonus that set this race apart other than the actual setting is every mile they had a water stop AND ice cold water soaked sponges. If you have ever ran in the South FL heat then you know these are a god send. I took advantage of that every single mile and was feeling decent even with the heat index and temperature climbing with every step. That was until we got to the “hump”-----"DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN". It’s the highest point of the bridge and sits roughly 2/3 miles into the race. As I approached it looked like everyone was standing still. My mind started racing wondering if someone go hurt, if I was hallucinating, or if everyone was just really going that slow up the bridge. Turns out it was just a really trippy optical illusion but I’m also confident that everyone also was just going really slow too. That "Hump" is no joke!!! The race organizers really knock it out of the park by having a fire truck set up to spray all the racers with water part way through the race which gave me something to look forward to once that incline was over. It felt like a rain shower at the most perfect time and really helped push the last bit.
(The dreaded "Hump" that will make you second guess ever running a bridge again and then the glorious fire truck spraying you with water. Photos courtesy of the 7 Mile Bridge Run" )
I don’t remember checking my watch one time during the race but you bet my a$$ I counted every mile sign 🤣 I crossed the finished line exhausted, hot and elated that I officially ran the 7 Mile Bridge and "Beat the Bus". Somewhere I’ve driven over countless times—-I RAN IT! The finish line was a blur of water, medals and more school buses than I’ve probably ever seen. I barely had time to register that I finished as I loaded on a bus to be taken back to the start once everyone else finished. Eager to rest my tired legs I finally folded in the an available seat. After regaining my bearings I started chatting with my seat mate. I don’t remember her name or where she was from but I remember her and I talking about the Key West Half Marathon and how she was going to running it. I vividly remember saying “I don’t think think I could do a half marathon, maybe eventually. But I know I’ll never do a marathon”. Fast forward to that December and running my first half marathon with my sights already set on tackling the marathon distance. It’s corny but if running has taught me anything it’s to never say never. I was never going to be a runner, never going to run another 5k, never going to do more than a 5k, etc etc. All lies....every single one of them.
Counting down to another race soon and another bridge run on the horizon.