Venti, Women Continue Their Domination at Keys 100

2016 Keys 100 Overall Winner Aly Venti on the course last Saturday. (Photo: Teddy Allen)

The very first Keys 100 race back in 2008 was won by a woman, so we should have known then what was to come. It was a small fledgling race with only 20 starters in it’s inaugural year, and only seven managed to finish. Alisa Springman, a well-accomplished and prolific racer who would go on to finish 27th at Badwater that year, was the overall champion. But the result, while a good one, didn’t seem indicative of the dominance that female runners have displayed at the event over the last decade.

Now in it’s ninth year, the Keys 100 has grown to become the state’s largest and most iconic ultra and 146 runners started the 100 miler on Saturday, in what many are saying was the hottest race on record. In a performance that can only be described as dominant, women swept all three individual events last weekend and there should now be no doubt that when it comes to the Keys 100….female runners reign supreme.

Leading the way was former Miami resident, Aly Venti, who now lives and trains in Bathsheba, Barbados, who returned after a one year absence and once again gave a phenomenal performance. The 2015 U.S. National 24-Hour Running Team member fought off a bevy of male competitors and persevered through course conditions where the heat index was well into the 100’s at it’s peak, to become the first two-time winner in the 100 mile event. She held off a late charge by Fort Myers resident Cortland Wheeler and finished with a time of 18:27:35, well short of her course record of 14:42:45, but impressive given the attrition rate at this year’s race where 45 percent of the starters did not finish.

Venti, who routinely records colossal 200 mile training weeks, was unaware until the last five miles how close Wheeler was, and finished the race running with fiancé and crew chief, Teddy Allen to seal the win. In a statement to Tracey Outlaw of the U.S. National 24 Hour Running Team FaceBook page, she talked about the course conditions: “I’ve run this race before, I’ve run Badwater, I train in the mid-day sun in Barbados, but NOTHING could prepare me for the heat yesterday. It was wicked hot! I was hoping to try and run a fast time but at about mile 10 I realized that wasn’t going to happen and went into survival mode to just finish.”

Venti accepts her winner’s trophy from race director Bob Becker (Photo: Winston Fletcher)

The hot, humid conditions slowly whittled down Venti’s competition. Dan Waldschmidt of Greensboro, SC, ran with Venti in the early going before succumbing to dehydration around 40 miles and Sarasota’s Pat Hrabos, who finished third in the 50 mile event last year took the race lead at around 60 miles before having to drop due to chaffing he described as “terrible” 10 miles later. Other early leaders like Puerto Rico’s Luigi Dessy, who was sixth at Badwater in 2015, also eventually dropped out and Venti was left to hold off a fast-charging Wheeler who recorded the fastest split of the day from 50 to 75 miles and the third fastest from the 75 mile check point to the finish. Key Largo’s Dan McHugh also ran a strong second half and moved from 25th place at the first time check to third by the finish and proved that in the Keys 100, a slow, but steady pace is the most prudent approach.

However, as great as Venti’s performance was, it was only part of the story of female dominance last weekend. Finishing ninth overall was Portland’s Jameson Clover, who while running her first 100 miler, handled the extreme heat admirably and finished as the second overall female. In the 50 mile race, nine of the top ten spots were held by women including an impressive 45 minute victory by Sara Maltby of Richmond Hills, GA. Completing a podium sweep in the event were Addie Green of Port St. Lucie, FL and Jennifer Maher of Miami. The three capitalized on the absence of Sarasota’s Katalin Nagy, who has twice finished second in the 50 miler and was dealing with an injury, and became the first trio of women to take the top three overall spots in any individual event at the Keys races. Alice Henley of Ft. Lauderdale completed the three race sweep by women when she took the 50K title in 4:33:35, but she was pushed to the limit by Lauren Hendrix of Ballwin, MO, who finished less than three minutes behind her to take second place.

This isn’t the first year that female runners have dominated at the Keys 100 however, there is a long-standing history of excellence by women at the event. In 2014, when Venti won and set the female 100 mile course record, 48-Hour American record holder Traci Falbo finished third and Nagy, fourth, and all three ran under 16 hours for the distance. That same year, four of the top five places in the 50 mile race were held by women including a victory by Hungary’s Anita Vajda.

In 2013, Brenda Carawan was the overall champion. A year earlier, Venti finished second in her first Keys 100 miler to the legendary Mike Morton and Tatyana Spencer finished a close third, less than six minutes behind Venti. In 2011, Pam Reed finished third in the 100 and Jennifer Vogle finished second in both 2009 and 2010.

Another notable performance at this year’s event was Jacksonville-area ultra coach and Daytona 100 race director Dave Krupski finishing the race for a six consecutive year. Krupski by his own admission had a difficult race, but the 2015 Badwater 135 Top 5 finisher became the first runner to finish the Keys 100 six times.

In all, there were 80 finishers in the 100 mile event out of 146 starters. The 66 DNF’s were a testament to the brutal heat on the course and the 45 percent drop out rate was a big spike from 2015 when it was 31 percent and 2014 when it was only 22 percent.

For full results of the 2016 Keys 100 see: http://mcmtiming.com/keys100-ultras/