It was with much anticipation that Jo and I crawled out of the frigid Wasatch Mountains and headed into the Caribbean for a week of running and racing.
We had participated in the Cruise to Run adventure last year and were happy to be a part of it again this year. We were looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and getting a chance to run under the warm Caribbean sun.
The adventure starts in San Juan Puerto Rico, where we all gather a day or two before boarding our ship.
View of Old San Juan with the fort visible in the background.
I woke up early on the morning of our departure and headed out for a run to the Fort San Filipe del Morro. It's a nice 7 mile run from our shabby, overpriced hotel. I set out at sunrise so I could avoid the hottest part of the day.
After running this same route last year, I learned my lesson and brought a handheld bottle with me. After running in extremely cold temperatures for a few months, it's easy to forget how quickly I can become dehydrated. I was taking no chances!
View from the front of the fort.
Observation turret overlooking the coast.
Beautiful view of the coast from the fort.
Before heading back to the hotel, I met up with my friend, John West. I had met John on this trip last year and he eventually went on to pace me at the 2012 Leadville 100. It was nice to see John again and we caught up as we ran back to our hotels.
Our next stop on this trip is St. Croix. Each day presents a different type of race (some people like to call them "organized runs", but if I'm with a group of runners on a defined course, it's a race.). In St. Croix, we were scheduled to have a 5k prediction run. The goal for this race is to commit to a predicted finish time and see who can come closest to their prediction.
It's fairly well documented that I'm NOT a fast 5k runner, so this type of race eliminates a lot of pressure. While I'm not fast, I'm pretty good at setting an accurate pace. I came in 2nd place in this race last year and was hoping for another good finish.
Coming into St. Croix
View of the port area
Homes and villas in the valley
In the following picture, Bart Yasso is explaining the race rules, which include a ban on all watches, GPS devices and MP3 players. We're not allowed to have anything with us that can aid us in pacing or timing ourselves.
As the race started, I found my friend, Cathy Hopkins. Like last year, she and I had predicted similar finishing times, so I decided to run along with her and chat for a while. Cathy is an amazing athlete and I really enjoyed getting a chance to run with her.
The course was very flat and led us through a rural part of the island. We passed through farms, lined with Mahogany trees and tropical plants. It was a nice change of scenery.
It eventually became apparent that all my chatting had gotten in the way of my ability to manage my pace. I felt like my first mile was too fast and then began second guessing the pace I should use to finish the race. I eventually abandoned any sincere interest in winning and just eased into the finish.
Elvis and friends coming to the finish
Coming back from some bonus miles after the 5k
I had predicted a (very slow) finish time of 27:17. This seems random, but it's actually very well thought out. I missed my time by 28 seconds and came in at 26:49. That may be a decent finish in general terms, but I was WAY too far off my time to make it into the top 10 predictions.
It's all inconsequential because I had a great time on the run.
After the race, Jo and I found a nice beach and a great beach bar, down in Cane Bay. We threw our towel down, bought a few beers and spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun! It was a beautiful day.
Beach at Cane Bay
Beach at Cane Bay
Our next adventure took us to St. Maarten for a 5k boardwalk run with an option to extend to 8k. I chose to extend my run.
Runners at the start, getting ready
Jo, getting all set for the start!
When the gun went off, a few of us, including Elvis, jumped into the lead. We were following a lead runner that was local to the island but we were also being directed along the course by the police. Because there were officers on the course, I assumed it was safe to pass the leader. After making the pass, Elvis and I were sailing along, well ahead of the other runner's. We continued to run for a while before realizing nobody was behind us.
Let me clarify...
I somehow managed to get lost during an URBAN 5K!!! I'm no stranger to getting lost in trail races, but this was certainly a first for me.
Elvis and I chatted about it for a while and decided to turn around at 1.6 miles and retrace our steps. This would take us back to the start line, where the final 3k loop picks up.
This was a solid plan!
Then I got lost on the way back. Hopelessly lost. I was zig zagging through the port area trying to find a sign of a race in progress. I stopped, listened, looked around...nothing!
So I continued to run in what SEEMED like the right direction. I eventual spotted a few runners as they crossed a street in front of me. I fell in behind them and made my way back and ran the 3k loop to finish my race.
My 8k race had become 9k.
After finishing the run, Jo and I met up with Laura Yasso and a few other PA trail runner's and we headed out for a trail run along the coastline.
Directions to the trail head were conflicting and spotty, so once again, we were running around, adding bonus miles to our planned run. But let's be honest...we're running on a beautiful Caribbean island. There are worse places to be lost.
We eventually found our trail and headed out.
The trail was mostly smooth, single track, but there were a few rocky and technical sections. It was a beautiful place to run and we took our time and enjoyed every bit of it.
Looking back toward the trail head.
The four young Amish runner's were in this group. These young guys are all very strong and talented runner's and they're great company on the trail.
Additionally, it's always great to run with Laura Yasso. She has an amazing running resume and has had top finishes in some of the most iconic ultra marathons in the country. She's been an amazing resource over my short ultra running career and I've really enjoyed our time together.
Single file up the trail
Laura Yasso taking in the view
Checking for stragglers and enjoying the view
Hidden cove along the trail
A bit of rocky uphill
The trail was a constant series of ups and downs and a great mix of footing. It would be the perfect trail for training if it wasn't at 60 feet above sea level.
The final hill!
Our trail adventure was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It was quiet, scenic and very fun. There were at least 12,000 tourists in the area that day and the 8 of us had this entire trail to ourselves!
Back on board...ordering a recovery beer!!!
Our next stop took us to Antigua for a 13k road run. The route took us from the downtown area and wound us through some farm country and ended at Fort Barrington. This is one of the many forts that surround these islands.
Coming into Antigua
Heading to the start line
Jody Friesen in the pace vehicle
It was a hot morning for this race, but there was some intermittent cloud cover that helped take the edge off. In spite of that, I was still sweating as I stood at the start line.
Elvis, once again in the lead
Trying to catch "The King"
My favorite part of this course is the first mile which runs us through downtown and passed all the schools. The kids come outside or hang out the windows for a chance to watch the race. It makes for a pretty cool atmosphere.
Local school kids watching the runners
After a few rolling hills, and a lot of asphalt, we turn onto dirt road that takes us to the base of the hill that houses Fort Barrington.
Coming to the Fort
Runners coming back down from touring the Fort before running back
Bart Yasso Cooling Off
Some of my favorite women. Helene Horn, Sarah Reinertsen, and Jo Agnew.
I lingered at the fort for a while and watched most of the other runners come in. I refilled my handheld and began a slow a run back to town. The clouds were gone and the sun was blazing, but we were getting a nice breeze off the water to keep us cool.
Me and Cathy Hopkins headed back to town.
After the run, Jo and I got a cab and headed to Valley Church Beach. We had visited this beach last year and loved it. It was a favorite spot for locals and had a very small crowd and a nice beach bar. On our trip last year the beach was almost empty. But like most great things, it has become very popular and is no longer secluded or private. We shared the beach with 300 other tourists.
Nonetheless, the beach was still stunning and the beer was cold. I can't ask for much more.
View at Valley Church Beach
Sampling the local beer...Wadadli.
Our next destination was St. Lucia for the Vigie Lighthouse run. This is an island that we had never visited before and we were excited to check it out. I had heard a lot of great things about it and it lived up to its reputation.
Coming into St. Lucia
This was an 8k run that started near the port and ran around the nearby airport and up a fairly steep hill to the Vigie Lighthouse. The course stays flat until the ascent to the lighthouse.
Chasing Elvis down early!
After I got around Elvis, I was in the lead but being paced by one of the locals. I was running with purpose and he looked like he was just gliding along without effort. I was still able to hold a conversation with him without throwing up, so I definitely had a bit more in the tank.
Right before the ascent to the lighthouse, I got passed by one of the runners from our group. He was being paced by one of the locals too. I think they were only running with us at our pace out of respect, because these guys could have buried us whenever they wanted.
I pushed myself up the hill and finished strong. I enjoyed a cold bottle of water and waited on the others before turning back toward the port. The view from the lighthouse was pretty awesome, so I enjoyed lingering for a while.
Me, Jo, Sarah and Brook enjoying the sights and the rainbow in the background
After chatting and resting, I headed back toward the port, keeping an easy, relaxed pace. I took the time to enjoy the things that I missed on the way to the lighthouse.
View from the hill below the lighthouse
After the run, we headed to Choc Beach. After asking around, we were assured that this beach would be fairly empty and it had a great bar and restaurant on it. Unlike Valley Church, we were pleasantly surprised that the word on the street was accurate. We had most of the beach to ourselves.
Jo testing the water
Taking advantage of another local beer. Piton, named after two peaks on the island
Our 5th and final stop is Barbados. This is a 5k that is also open to the public and draws a lot of very fast locals. This is also the hottest island and a course with the least amount of cover from the blistering sun. The course is flat, but the extreme exposure makes it challenging.
Coming into Barbados.
Jo getting ready to kill this race!
Some of the local talent. They take running seriously on this island
As soon as the race started, I knew I was going to have a bad run. My legs felt heavy and stiff and my turnover was terrible. This is almost definitely a result of running so hard the previous day, but I'm sure that running these short races every day had taken a toll.
I was expecting a sub 21 minute race and abandoned that notion within the first 100 meters. I still applied a lot of effort, but I wasn't getting the benefit that I should have. With no way to improve the situation, I just kept rolling along as best I could.
The way this course is laid out, we get to see the other runners twice during the race on out and back sections. It was a lot of fun to see everybody and cheer them all on. It's also nice to see who is beating me and who is gaining on me.
Near the end of the race, my legs loosened up and my turnover started to improve. But by then, it didn't matter.
I crossed the timing mat at Brandon Beach in 23:30.
Because I run so many 50 and 100 mile races, people assume 5k's are easy for me. They aren't.
Bart Yasso Crossing the finish line
After this race, we had a long awards ceremony accompanied by local entertainment and cold beer.
in 2012, our group drank every ounce of alcohol in the bar. The owner was forced to go to a nearby bar and replenish his supply, but he still couldn't keep up with the demand. Fortunately, he was far better prepared for us this year and nobody went thirsty.
Bart and Sarah managing the awards ceremony
Stilt Man! This guy must have a killer set of abs!
Cassius Clay (yeah, he was once a professional boxer) provides our fire eating entertainment!
Mamma Sally and Bart sharing a dance!
Laura partying with the Amish!
The Amish had reason to celebrate because they cleaned up at the awards ceremony. They all placed in their age groups and had stellar performances.
Jo, Johnathan Lantz, Amos King, Laura Yasso, Jake Beiler and Elam King
Me and Sarah Reinertsen enjoying the post race festivities
After the ceremonies ended, we decided to stay right on Brandon Beach and enjoy our last day on the islands.
The locals take a lot of pride in their Banks Beer. I tried a few just to form my own opinion
All the pretty ladies
It was great to see so many friends and to meet a lot of amazing people. This trip draws people from all walks of life and all ability levels. It provides us all with a unique opportunity to meet people and have experiences that we would otherwise never have.
Unfortunately, this may be the last year of Cruise to Run, but there's a chance it may be back in 2015. I certainly hope it makes a return because this is a great way to see a lot of islands in a way that most people never will.
I came away from this week of running with a firm understanding that I need to run more short races. I did pretty well every day, but I definitely have room to improve in the short distances. Speed work is nonexistent in my world.
I want to especially thank Jody Friesen for putting this adventure together. It takes a lot of hard work and the logistics involved are overwhelming. Jody did a fantastic job of making this happen for all of us.
Jo and I have a weekend off but will be heading to Moab for the Red Hot 55k on February 16th. We cant wait to see some of you there!