2023 has been an incredible running year! Having completed Badwater 135 for the second time in July, the North Downs Way 100 in August and Spartathlon 153 miles in Greece in September, I was really keen to finish my year off with the Daytona 100. It is run by the legendary Race Director and inspirational runner Bob Becker who also hosts the Keys 100 (which I ran in 2022 and will be again in 2024) so it was looking like the perfect race to finish the 2023 season – and hopefully escape the pre Christmas madness in the UK and get some winter sun too!
The Daytona 100 is known to be a fast and flat (and very straight) 100 mile ultra marathon and it’s a fact that this is the race to do if anyone who wants to get a 100 mile PB. So, I decided to use it to see just how long I could sustain an increased pace and see what I was capable of if I pushed myself a bit harder. This was my Daytona 100 race strategy.
Registration in Jacksonville
The race starts outside the Lifeguard HQ, Jacksonville Beach on the NE Florida coast and hugs the Florida coastline due south with the Atlantic Ocean on your left and the meandering Intracoastal Waterway on your right for 100 miles through St Augustine and Daytona Beach until the finish line which is the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet. Back in the days before Bob took over the race, this event used to run 80% on pavements and sidewalks and 20% on the beach, including the iconic North Turn where the Daytona Motor Racing used to take place on the beach until 1958. The East Florida coastline along the race route has suffered some major coastal erosion from recent storms and the beach is much narrower currently.
Temperatures in northern Florida in November can be hot so I did the smart thing and put in some heat acclimatisation in the days before our flight out to Orlando just in case it was toasty. For the first few days in Florida before the race, it was really chilly. Bizarrely colder than UK weather I had left behind! Beautiful blue skies but really cold! We had been tracking the weather closely and were confident the cold front would pass through by race day. The forecast for the race was highs of 25ºC/ 77ºF and having run Badwater 135 and Spartathlon earlier in the year I was welcoming some warm weather running!
Start to Marathon distance
I was on the 2nd wave 6am start (there was also a 5:30am start) and after a race briefing from Bob and a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner we had a countdown and we were off! It was 30 mins before sunrise and dark and I wasn’t using my head torch, instead relying on the streetlights of the residential roads of Jax. The first 3.5 miles of the race are actually running north in the opposite direction to the finish line so it was good to get this out and back section done. It was now daylight and just starting to warm up. Temperatures were a mild 16ºC/ 61ºF and conditions were perfect. I started the race wearing my speedy bright Nike Alphafly’s which I hoped would propel me forward faster in my quest to run a 100 miles PB. I also had my signature Neon yellow race kit on and was feeling good.
Running back along First Street I passed the very festive ‘Lights of the World’ and ‘Deck the Chairs’ Christmas illuminations by Jacksonville Beach that looked beautiful as the sun was rising behind them. At mile 7 it was the first Aid Station and timing check point and I ran straight through. My husband Matthew, who was my sole crew member, was waiting for me at mile 8 where several other support crews were waiting for their runners.
Our Crew Support Vehicle
Along with my ‘run faster’ strategy, we had also decided that crew stops were going to be super swift, short and efficient as a lot of time can be wasted at crew stops. Less than minute later I was off again for an 8 mile section along Ponte Vedra Blvd which was a residential road lined with exclusive mansions all with immaculate grounds. Crew weren’t allowed in this section and no wonder! Matthew was waiting for me at Mile 16, Mickler’s Beach Park which was buzzing with support crews. I was feeling great and running at a good pace. The temperature was still rising with beautiful blue skies to enjoy the coastal scenery.
My nutrition strategy for the race was to have a Gu Liquid Energy Gel with caffeine every 10 miles until I couldn’t tolerate them anymore along with whatever solid / real food I fancied or Matthew managed to force down me! Now I was running on the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway which would be my running route for the next 84 miles! Sections of this highway were so long and straight, you could just see the road going on and on in front of you with no end in sight.
Usually, this race has a tailwind but this year was different, there was a headwind which was there for the whole race!
26 mile beach aid station
26.2 Miles to St Augustine (Mile 37)
Aid Station 3 was the GTM Reserve (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) and it was one of my most iconic and favourite aid stations of any race I have done, a small gazebo between the beach and the road on the sand at the marathon mark. I went through the marathon distance in 4 hours 13 minutes and met Matthew here who had parked across the road at the gas station and had a water bottle change, some pineapple, salt and lip balm and I was gone! 50k was 5 hours 6 minutes and an average pace of sub 10 minute miles.
It was now properly ‘hotting up’ and Matthew deployed our pressurised Hoselock water spray filled with icy water which was a great relief from the rising temperatures. The race is so flat with the only elevation being at the one mile long Intracoastal Bridge over the Tolomato River just after Vilano Beach. I ran strongly up the bridge and was treated to some incredible views at the top before I let my legs enjoy the downhill into the city limits of St Augustine.
It had now hit a midday high of 25ºC/ 77ºF and I was now starting to feel quite hot so requested the ice bandana from Matthew who was waiting for me outside Dunkin’ Donuts (after the official Aid Station at the Church of the Nazarene) with some donuts for me. I didn’t really fancy one but forced it down. Yummy. St Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in what is now the contiguous United States. Running through the city at 36 miles, I passed the Castillo De San Marcos National Monument and ran over the beautiful Bridge of Lions which is a scenic drawbridge adorned with marble lions. I was praying it didn’t go up for a boat to pass under and hold me up! The architecture in St Augustine was like being in Europe, not the USA! It was very busy too so I had to weave my way around all the people out on the sidewalks and crossings. I met Matthew on the South side of the city. He was running across 6 lanes of traffic to bring me things from the support car!
St Augustine (Mile 37) to Matanzas Beach, Southeast Intracoastal Waterway Park (Mile 50)
I was still feeling pretty good, the race field had really spread out by now and I was running on my own for most of the time. I had overtaken a lot of people in the early stages of the race with my pace. The mile 43 aid station and timing check point was on the sidewalk outside Publix Supermarket. There was a complex road crossing here and I was escorted across the road by one of the brilliant volunteers waving a red flag to stop traffic and was impressed that the aid station had a barbecue on the go! The Americans know how to do Aid stations!! Matthew made me a Hawaiian roll with cheese and I had a Diet Coke and it was back across the road, nearly at the half way mark. My pace was still just over 10 minute miles.
Mile 40 St Augustine
Mile 50 and halfway, the Southeast Intracoastal Waterway Park. I received a warm welcome from the volunteers including a sweaty hug with Mario, whom I met at Badwater 135 and is the Brazil 135 ultra marathon Race Director. I was delighted that I had run the first 50 miles in 8 hours 45 minutes, however I was starting to pay for it as my feet were hurting and I started feeling sick. I decided to take a walking break and try to reset. Matthew got my comfy Hoka Bondis out and ready and put a chair on the side of the road for me to change but I said I would try and do another 10 miles in the Nike Alphaflys and do a complete change at 60 miles. It was at this point in the race where I was constantly seeing the same support crew’s of runners who were running in my vicinity and it was nice having some camaraderie with them. We had decorated our support car, a huge Ford Explorer with Union Jack Flags, Team Laura Watts decals and new for the race, ‘MegaWatts’ stickers too. It was so distinctive to see it driving around and I loved it.
60 miles, preparing for night
Mile 60 (Hammock Beach) – Mile 69 (Flagler Beach)
Race rules stated you needed to start wearing your reflective vest and flashing lights by 5pm so we used the Mile 60 Aid Station and Timing check point 7 in the car park of the Publix Supermarket at Hammock Beach for a wash, a complete clothes change, shoe change and it was time to don the night gear. I was still moving well but feeling really really sick.
This is the point where my race changed. I was unable to eat. I tried to nibble the corner of a piece of gingerbread but I couldn’t swallow it. It was now time to grit my teeth and ride out this low. I was now adopting a run walk strategy but wasn’t stopping. Then, I fell over! I stacked it on a flat piece of pavement and cut my hand and my knee, bruised my hip and was embarrassed! Luckily only one person saw me!
Mile 69 was Flagler Beach, which was also the start of the alternate Daytona races. The 50 Mile and 50KM. I was flagging at Flagler Beach, it’s not called Flagler Beach for nothing! It was a warm Saturday night and this place was buzzing with lots of bars illuminated with neon lights, live music and seafood restaurants. It seemed a really cool place. We loved the vibe so much that we went back there for a post run dinner the day after.
The ocean was literally on my left side and you could hear the waves constantly throughout the race. In the darkness I lost a visual sense of where I was but my audible senses were heightened with the sounds of the ocean. It was still really warm, 21ºC/ 70ºF. Nausea was winning and I knew what was coming. I told Matthew and he recommended get it over with and upchuck to reset! I was in fact sick 13 times – I kept count! It was a relief to be sick and it usually it resets me but every time I tried to sip some ginger ale or water, it just came back up with a vengeance! It didn’t slow me down. I would just vomit and go! Poor Matthew was worried about me as the eating and drinking game was over and he went on a mission to find me an ice lolly as that was what I requested! He came back victorious with a fruit popsicle which was delicious, mission accomplished! The glamour of Ultrarunning.
Mile 74 (Gamble Rogers) – Mile 83 (Ormond Beach)
With less than a marathon to go. I got to Ormond Beach, mile 80 at 2220, 16 hours 20 minutes after I set off from Jax. Throughout the race I had been doing mental calculations of what my finish time could be. My dream goal had been to finish sub 20 hours and at this point I knew that wasn’t going to happen today. My realistic goal now was 22 hours so I was hopeful that I could still achieve this but feeling so wretched I just didn’t know if it would happen. I had a section now of power walking as I felt I couldn’t run anymore but I didn’t want to finish this race death marching. Time for a chat with myself.
This section was spent literally just moving forward and being annoyed I was still feeling so sick but I was still loving the race. In a slightly abnormal way, I love the pain cave, I love pushing my limits and this makes me feel alive.
Even though we were Brits abroad, we kept seeing people that I knew at either Aid Stations, on support crews or other runners as the ultra running community is relatively small even in a huge country such as America and the common denominator was either Badwater 135 or the Keys 100!
Mile 84 – Mile 97 (Daytona Beach)
After the Aid station in the car park of Ormond Beach shopping centre, I teamed up with fellow Badwater 135 finisher Remo as we left the Aid station together to run the Daytona Beach section of the race. It’s always a good idea at night in a town to pair up with someone. I was desperate for some ginger ale as we had run out and Matthew yet again spent his time going to dodgy 7-11s trying to find me some but nowhere had any. He came back with a sprite which was sugary and fizzy and a great second choice to ginger ale!
Remo’s wife Sarah and Matthew were around us constantly during this Daytona Beach section which was great knowing they were our guardian angels looking out for our safety! There were a few revellers coming out of bars and some homeless people outside 7-11s but it was very quiet with hardly anyone around and barely any cars on the road.
We ran past the famous ‘Daytona Beach World’s Most Famous Beach’ sign which looked beautiful at night and a brightly illuminated fairground and having run in such a quiet residential route for the past 80 miles, it was so nice seeing something different. It was very Christmassy, it was beautiful.
Remo went off ahead of me and I re-found a large amount of my mental strength and rhythm. With ultras, there are so many highs and lows and I was able to start running again for short bursts. The pavement was undulating so I elected to run on the road rather than the sidewalks especially as I had already stacked earlier. I didn’t want a second face plant on the sidewalk in my fatigued condition!
The last 15 miles are a bit of a blur but with every step forward I was one step closer to the finish line.
Mile 97 (Wilbur-by-the-Sea) – the Finish Line at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
As I entered the tranquillity of Wilbur-by-the-Sea, I could see the beams of light rotating high up from the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse illuminating the sky and I was re-energised to get this race done. I was so happy as it was still dark and I have never finished an ultra marathon in the middle of the night! I was on course for sub 22 hours and that’s all I focused on for the last few miles. At mile 99.5 Matthew passed me my large Union Jack and went ahead to mile 100. I was trying to imagine what the finish line would look like in the middle of the night. As I ran into Ponce Inlet Park I held up my flag and ran towards the finish line with Matthew filming me. It was quite a low key finish line but the wonderful staff and volunteers cheered me in and told me I had won an age group award. 100 miles. 21 hours 47 minutes. An official 100 mile PB. I ran more of this event in the dark (11 hours 47 mins) than the daylight (10 hours) which was a shame to miss a lot of the beauty of the beaches and the ocean.
Finish line with Matthew
Sunday afternoon we attended the Awards Ceremony at the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill and I was presented with an award for 1st Place Female 45-49 which was a book by Jimmy Buffett called ‘A Salty Piece of Land’.
I underestimated this race. A straight flat and warm 100 miler was much tougher than I expected.
I am still working on my nutrition and feel this was the cause of the sickness. (It could have been a dodgy donut or Hawaiian roll!) When I get that right, I will definitely get faster but that’s for the future. For now I am delighted with my time and finishing another 100 mile race. I absolutely loved the Daytona 100 race. I got a 100 mile Buckle, a lovely medal and a PB. I loved the fact it’s a December ultra marathon to escape the chilly pre Christmas madness at home. Great organisation from Bob and his team of fantastic volunteers. If you want some winter sun and a fast and flat ultra in December then this is for you. I’ll be back. Until then it’s the Keys 100 in May 2024.
Finishers buckle and medal at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Find out more about Daytona 100 Ultra