A lot of folks go on vacation to relax. While the concept sounds reasonable, my idea of relaxing on vacation doesn't always fit the mold. Sure, I like to lay in a hammock or sit on the beach for an hour or two here and there but when I go on vacation, I want to explore, I want to be active and I want to see/do/eat and drink things. For me, running is one of the most relaxing parts of my daily life. It allows my mind to wander, my body to sweat, my muscles to stretch and gives my senses a workout. When I am on vacation, I want to see as much as I can and feel like I am part of the environment I have traveled to.
Over the years, since I started distance running, I have traveled to and ran in locations such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, DC, St John, USVI, Richmond and most recently - Miami Beach and Key West. I trained for my first half marathon by running laps around the Charles River in Boston. I trained for my second running of the Marine Corps Marathon by running the course in Washington, DC during a visit. I attempted to run the 8 Tuff Miles course alone in St John (took a wrong turn, duh!)- the views were amazing. However, I often forget to blog about my experiences while running during my travels since they aren't actually associated with races.
So before I forget, I wanted to share some experiences from my most recent vacation. Michelle and I recently traveled to Miami Beach - South Beach to be specific, for 3 nights/4 days staying right off Collins Avenue in an apartment on the beach. We than drove down to Key West for 5 more nights.
While in South Beach, I took the opportunity to run all three mornings we were there since the boardwalk along the beach was right in front of our apartment. Personally, I love running the boardwalk in SoBe. It's scenic with the ocean to one side, the tropical plants and art deco architecture to your other side and all the beautiful people out for their own runs. If you want to see how female American and European models stay in shape and show-off, this is the place to run. However running through Lummus Park can be a bit disturbing each morning as well since that's where the homeless guys take their morning showers in the same showers beach goers use the rest of the day. Over the three days we were in SoBe, I ran a total of about 12 miles. After factoring in a couple bike rides and lots of walking, I managed to lose a couple pounds before we moved on to Key West.
The drive to Key West from Miami was scenic but not as amazing as I expected. I guess my expectations were set a bit too high and considering Hwy 12 in the NC Outer Banks is my norm, the Hwy 1 drive through the Florida Keys was average. In hindsight, we wish we had stopped to do some sightseeing or even to go snorkeling. None the less, it was a great experience and nice teaser for my next visit to Florida for the 2012 running of the Ragnar Relay Florida Keys.
We arrived in Key West for day 4 of our vacation and checked into our house. I had a rental car to drop off at the airport so our first morning there, I drove to the airport, dropped it off and decided to run back to our house. It was about a 4 mile run and took me along the eastern side of Key West past Smather's Beach and the various other small 'beaches' in Key West. There is a nice bike path that I followed as I made my way back to Old Town Key West. As I had been told, the beaches of Key West aren't very impressive. While Smather's Beach is nice looking with palm trees and white sand, the water was pretty nasty.
Another morning, I was able to ride a bike down to the Southernmost Point, a popular tourist spot marking the southernmost portion of the continental United States. From here, I went for another run following the shoreline out and back to Smather's Beach. Again, not overly scenic but a good workout along the bike path.
The final day we were in Key West, a nasty rain front came in from the eastern Caribbean and soaked the lower Keys all day. The forecast that morning was for nothing but rain and more rain. Michelle was content to stay in and relax so I headed out for a run around Key West in the rain. I wasn't totally sure on my planned route or how far I would go. I decided to head through the middle of Old Town towards New Town and then east towards the shoreline. I carried water, cash and an ID which was a good move. 5-6 miles in, I made my first stop at Kelly's Caribbean Bar, Grill and Brewery. They are the only brewery in Key West, we had already been once and were less than impressed. I went with their wheat beer this time as the rain really started coming down. It went from a light rain to a downpour. Honestly though, I was fine. I was drenched in sweat as I would be on any warm weather run so the rain didn't make any difference at this point.
After my pint, I headed back out into the rain. By now the streets were starting to flood and finding places to run that weren't 2+ inches deep was tough. I managed another mile or so and ducked into Sloppy Joe's Bar for my next stop. Sloppy Joe's is a tourist bar, famously known for being a Ernest Hemingway hangout. It's smack dab in the middle of cruise ship tourist central. I snagged a pint of Dogfish Head 60 Minute and stood in the doorway watching the rain come down and the streets flood. At one point, the water was at least 5 inches deep and the wake from cars driving by was washing into the bar. Most of the people in the bar with me were off the cruise ship that had ported for the morning. None of them were dressed for the rain storm and it was funny but sad to see them wading through the nastiness of the water collecting in the streets. One interested lady offered to take my photo as we chatted about the rain storm. When my pint was gone, so was I.
My run continued up along the docks of Old Town Key West until the roads were so flooded that the sidewalks had become impassable. Apparently, this is the side of the island where all the water run off ends up. My next stop was back across Old Town - The Green Parrot, known as the first and last bar on US Hwy 1. Less of a tourist bar than Sloppy Joe's or Captain Tony's, I grabbed a happy hour special Budweiser pint, killed it, got another pic taken by another curious bar patron and headed on my way. I ended up back on the other side of the island again to watch the waves crash onto the dock near Key West's South Beach (not all all the same as the South Beach Miami). Now 9 miles in, I made my way back to our house, checked on the Mrs, had another beer and headed back out for a few more miles.
There was a Cuban place I had seen in the middle of town that looked pretty awesome. It was a lunch window connected to a laundromat and they were supposedly the real deal. I ran there from our house, in the rain and got a sandwich. The place is called Sandy's Cafe and holy sh!t, the sandwich was aMAZing! The slow cooked pork on the Cuban Mix sandwich almost made me forget about NC eastern whole hog BBQ for a few minutes. I had a cafe con leche and fries on the side, ordered another sandwich to go and ran back to the house with lunch for Michelle. All in all, I covered 11 miles, enjoyed 4 beers, lunch, a coffee and did it all in the pouring rain. Not a bad way to kick off my final full day in Key West. My total mileage for Key West was around 18 miles adding up to roughly 30 miles run during our vacation in Florida.
Unfortunately, the South Florida beer scene is lacking in local beers and bars that serve craft beer however we found that there is certainly a growing desire for them. Our favorite bar in Key West was not part of my run however it was a daily stop all five days we were there. Krawl off Duval, a local craft beer watering hole has a great tap selection, cool bartenders and even cooler customers. We really enjoyed stopping in here each evening for happy hour and the Dogfish Head 120 Minute on tap never stopped flowing.
Cheers Key West, see you again soon!