Jo and I participated in the 2012 Cruise to Run in the Caribbean this week. This is an event that brings runners together from all over the world for a week of races and organized runs on 5 different islands in the Caribbean.
Considering the sudden blast of winter weather we were about to receive in Philly, the timing couldn’t have been better.
The trip started with a morning flight from Philly to San Juan, Puerto Rico. This should have been the easiest part of the journey, but we were delayed on the runway for 3 hours so they could de-ice the plane. They were quite meticulous about this. As I said earlier, the timing of this trip couldn’t have been any better.
The view outside my window on the plane!
Several of our friends were staying at the La Concha Resort in San Juan before the cruise. This was a stunning resort with sweeping views of the Caribbean and white sand beaches.
Jo and Karla on the beach in San Juan.
On Sunday morning, I got up early and was joined by our friend Karla for an easy run up to Fort el Morro, that sits on a high point of the island near “Old San Juan”. This was an out and back run, totaling 7 miles.
It was still dark when we set out, but very warm and humid. There were two significant climbs along the way and I was feeling a little drained when we finally got to the fort. We paused for a few minutes to enjoy the view before turning back.
On the return, the sun was up and in full force. With about a mile to go, I began to feel very dehydrated and was scanning the area for an available water source. I was surrounded by water on all sides, yet I found myself worried about passing out if I couldn’t find water!
We eventually found a small community park, and a water fountain positioned right next to a Gatorade machine. (Note to self…never run in strange places without carrying money).
Day 1- St. Thomas: 5K Prediction Run
The night before arriving at St. Thomas, we all met on the ship for packet pickup and our briefing. There were about 300 runners participating in these events. After scanning the room and meeting a few runners, it was pretty evident that this was a pretty representative cross section of the running community. We had people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experience. It was a very eclectic group.
St. Thomas was a 5K prediction run. I had never done a prediction run before, but I was well aware of how they worked. I struggled with my prediction for a long time before finally settling on 27:10. This time is considerably slower than my 5K PR, but I felt like it would be a comfortable pace that I would be able manipulate during the run.
The course started near the port and wound its way along a congested access road before connecting to a more significant roadway. This was an out and back course with rolling hills. The local police had stopped traffic for our race, which brought me much relief, because if you’ve ever traveled to the Caribbean, you know how insane they drive there. Quite frankly, I’m astonished by the lack of vehicle related fatalities in the region. It’s pure insanity.
I enjoyed the run and casually chatted with other runners along the course. It felt great to stretch my legs out and soak in the warm morning sun. The run was exhilarating and felt effortless.
At the finish line, the time clock had been turned around so we couldn’t see our time before we crossed the timing mat. As I crossed and ran down the chute, I glanced over my left shoulder and saw the time read 27:13, 3 seconds off my prediction. I knew my time was closer than 3 seconds because there was a delay between the time I crossed and the time I was able to view the clock.
After finishing, I turned around and ran back out onto the course with Karla. We found Jo right away and Karla turned to run in with her. I continued on until I found our friend Helene Horn running with Laura Yasso. I turned with them and ran back to the finish line.
Running with Helene and Laura. I love these women!
Awards were given to the top 10 runners with the closest prediction. The 10th place runner was 4.2 seconds off his time. Based on that, I assumed I would be in the top 10. By the time they got to the 4th place finisher, the time was floating around 1 second and I began to question if I had made an error when I wrote down my prediction. But Bart Yasso called my name for the 2nd place spot. I had missed my prediction by 7/10 of a second. I was amazed not only by being so close, but also because that wasn’t good enough to win! I was less than 1 second off my time, yet somebody was even closer. The winner beat me by 1/10. Amazing!
We all received fantastic medals and a gift bag from the local tourism authority.
After the race, we spent the rest of the day lounging in the sand with other runners. The beach on St. Thomas was stunning and we all had a blast!
Karla and Jo hanging out with Sarah Reinertsen. She's the first female above the knee amputee to complete an Ironman. She was running with us all week and she's an amazing athlete and a very cool person.
Day 2- Tortola: Hill Climb
The race in Tortola is very short, probably about 6K, but we tackle a 947’ ascent in only 1K.
This race intrigued me and I was eager to run hard and get to the top first. The first man and woman to the top are crowned “King and Queen of the Hill”. I’m no stranger to steep runs, so I felt like I might have a chance.
The race starts off in the city on flat asphalt roads. But after a short distance, we make a turn behind some homes and slam right into what appeared to be an asphalt wall. Writing about it will never bring justice to just how damn steep this road was. But I will say this…common engineering principals would not allow for this road to have been built in the United States. While running up it, one word kept coming to mind….”RETARDED!” As I chugged my way up the road, that’s all I could muster. RETARDED!!!!
Each switchback in the road brought the possibility of the end, or maybe even just a flatter grade. And each switchback only brought calf crushing disappointment.
I was not going to be crowned King of the Hill on this day. I could see the leader just ahead of me, but I simply couldn’t pull myself up the hill any faster. My legs were rebelling and my lungs were searing. It was pure pain, driven by ambition. And it was fruitless.
When I finally reached the summit, I counted 9 other runners on top. My consolation prize was the beautiful view from the top of the hill. It was truly stunning. I spent the next half hour cheering on other runners until we all made it to the top.
View of the ship from the top.
After the race was over, a small group of us dropped off the backside of the mountain and took a long route back to port. The descent was treacherous, but beautiful. We eventually reached sea level and ran along the waterfront for a few more miles before reaching the port. The run was tranquil and refreshing. It was a gorgeous day to be running in Tortola.
The rest of the day was spent resting on deck while I washed away my disappointment with many, many cold beers.
Day 3- Antigua: 13K Run to Fort Barrington
Antigua brought us the longest organized run. There were no awards and the event wasn’t timed. But despite this, there are enough competitive runners in our group to make every “run” into a “race”.
This run started downtown and worked its way to a beach resort at Fort Barrington. The locals had arranged for a lead vehicle with an enormous sound system mounted in the back, pumping island music as we ran. This made for a very cool scene. The run finishes at the resort and we can turn for the return run, or take a bus back to the port.
Jo and I before the race.
By this point in the week, I had sized up most of the other runners and I knew who the front runners would be in each event. And when the race started, I dropped in behind the fastest runner on the trip, a talented woman named Amanda.
Amanda and I ran through the neighborhoods, twisting our way along until we ended up on a rural road leading into the nearby hills. It didn’t take long before Amanda was pulling away from me effortlessly.
As we were running, the local kids were heading to school and they all took notice of our little race. Some cheered and gave support, while others just seemed to be very confused by the whole spectacle.
And for the rest of my life, I will never forget one child in particular…
As I ran past young boy, while still chasing Amanda, he looked at me with regret for my situation, and says to me, “Hey, you better hurry up. She’s beating you”. As I turned to look at this little boy, I could see the confusion and genuine concern in his eyes. This made me laugh out load with what little air I had to spare at the time. But I still wanted to choke him a little. Just a little.
My ego wants to tell you that I was allowing her to get away. But that’s just not true. I never stood a chance. I was running a 13K at my 5K pace, and I was doing it in the heat and through the hills. I was killing myself. It wasn’t long before a few other runners started to pass my sweating, wheezing, spent shadow of self. I had been schooled!
We eventually made it to the resort and ran the last ¼ mile on the beach. Above us was the abandoned fort looking out over the water. It was a beautiful place.
I was the 7th runner to arrive at the beach. We refueled, rehydrated and enjoyed the beach for a while. Gradually, we began to run back to the port in small groups. We ran at a more reasonable pace and chatted along the way, taking the time now to enjoy our surroundings.
After getting back to the port, Jo and I took a taxi to a resort several miles away and planned to spend the rest of our day at the beach together. The driver we hired assured us it was the nicest beach on the island. And as we rounded the corner and headed down onto the beach, I had to agree. I believe it may be the most stunning beach I have ever been to.
We relaxed and enjoyed a multitude of the local beers. It was a delightful way to burn our time in Antigua.
Day 4- Dominica: Trail Run
Dominica presented the most adventurous run on the itinerary. This was the only trail run on the trip, and I had been really looking forward to this day.
The adventure however, really started on the bus ride to the trail. After traveling around the coastline for a while, we began to head into the mountains on very narrow, very steep, very rugged roads. I was amazed that the drivers could navigate those roads in these monstrous vehicles. The road got steeper with each sharp switchback and I began to doubt our odds of actually getting to our destination. But our driver was truly a master of his craft, and we all eventually arrived, safe and sound.
We were running section 10 of the Waitukubuli Trail. The trail is a total of 150 kilometers and is broken into 13 sections with trail access at each section. The trail is an ongoing project and isn't fully complete.
The sign at the trail head claimed a 6.4K trail, with 2000’ of total ascent, and rated the section as “EASY”. I was immediately unclear as to how they define 2000’ ascent, over that distance, as “EASY”. I suspected they have some bad ass trail runners in Dominica.
Without much fanfare, we were off. The trail is really a roadbed, mostly overgrown and too steep or technical to drive on. But it was wide and very runnable.
The 2000’ of climb all comes in the first 1.5 miles. I was able to run most of this, but some sections were extremely steep and I was reduced to a hike in those spots.
The trail was magnificent. The area was very wild and I am pretty sure we were probably the first people to ever really run this trail section. I could hear wild pigs off in the jungle and I could see parrots flying overhead. I have run 1000’s of miles of trails and very few can compare to the raw beauty of this one. I felt exhilarated running here and I was soaking it all in.
The hill eventually topped out and we began a pretty rough descent. The trail was soggy in some sections and the mud made for tricky footing. I was running up near the front, so the trail was relatively undisturbed still. But I was worried for the runners in the rear, because I knew the trail was going to get churned up and these muddy spots were going to be an absolute bitch later in the race.
The descent leveled off and eventually turned into asphalt. We wound down the mountain through the banana orchards and citrus farms. The scenery was almost surreal. The sights and sounds were all foreign to me, but I was loving it. From the perspective of an avid trail runner, this was heaven.
I eventually (and regrettably) found the end of the trail section. I was the 5th runner to arrive and was warmly greeted by the others. There’s just something about trail running that brings people together and keeps the spirits high. We all remarked on the beauty and difficulty of this “EASY” trail section. It was amazing!
Bart Yasso Finishing his run!
Day 5- Barbados 5K
Barbados is another timed event and a lot of the fast runners were looking forward to it. I’m not a fast short distance runner, but I felt like I might have a shot at an age group award if I could muster a little extra effort. I had a pretty good understanding of who the competition would be, so I was hopeful.
However, I did not account for all the local runners that wanted to sign up and join the race. Slowly, runners began to arrive and warm up for the race. While there were a lot of teenagers in the race, there were also some very serious looking adults from the island that were registering. This was really throwing a wrench into my plans for another medal! Our little race gradually began to look like the 5K Olympic Time Trials for Barbados! DAMMIT!!!
Me and Jo before the gun.
It was sweltering when the gun went off. The leaders set a blistering pace and I was simply trying to keep them in sight. Meanwhile, trying to determine if anybody around me might be in my age group.
This race stared at the beach, went out to the main road and headed left. There was a turnaround and we ran pass the starting point to another turnaround, then back to the beach. This course allowed for a clear view of the entire field twice.
I was powering through the heat as fast as my legs would carry me. But by this point in the week, my legs were pretty used up. I had run every event at full throttle, and it had taken its toll on me.
I blasted passed the first water stop without taking aid. I vowed to not do that again, as I instantly began to feel the effects of the heat and the boiling asphalt.
I took a quick sip of water at the second table, but never even slowed to make sure it all got in my mouth. After hitting both turnaround points, I could see I was well off the lead, but didn’t have a clear idea of my position or my age group standing.
I swear this was the longest 5K in the history of road running. The end seemed impossible to reach. When it was finally in sight, I had nothing left for a kick, so I just coasted in and passed over the timing mat with a 23:11 finish. Much slower than my normal 5K time. I had originally intended to run out and find Jo so I could pace her in, but I had quickly lost interest in that idea and settled for a cold bottle of water instead.
Me and Karla after the race. She smoked me by a full minute!
I recovered at the finish line and cheered for the other runners as they crossed.
The finish times were quickly posted. I ended up finishing 6th in my age group. 3 local runners had showed up for the sole purpose of edging me out of my rightful age group spot. DAMMIT!!! The winner and most of the top 10 finishers were also local runners. Barbados has some talent!
After the race, we relaxed right there on the beach. We enjoyed the sun, water, and local beer until we dried the bar up entirely. It was a great way to end a great trip.
The final day of the trip was devoted to relaxing and reminiscing while we made our way back to Puerto Rico. We all shared stories and spent time enjoying the company of other runners.
Me and Bart.
and Jo at Dinner.
Karla and Jo having fun!
This adventure comes one week before I travel down to Texas for the Rocky Raccoon 100. I feel great and hope to do well in that race.
This trip was amazing and I would recommend it to anybody that wants an exciting and unique running experience. The trip for 2013 will sell out quickly and it will include a different itinerary. I plan to book as soon as the trip is finalized.
Now onto my Texas adventure on February 4th!!! Happy trails!