Running St Lucia Marathon
Pitons Peak Marathon
Castries, St Lucia
Thu, Feb 2, 2017
Marathon # 382
Country # 131
This would be my 2nd attempt at running a marathon on one of the Caribbean Cruise Adventure tours organized by my friend Ziyad Rahim of Z Adventures.
I participated in the 1st WCC (Western Caribbean Cruise) two years ago and sadly did not finish (DNF) in Honduras. I had health issues during that race and knew I could not finish in time to make the ship departure so I wisely withdrew from the race. This time, I decided to fly to St Lucia and join the tour group to run the race. This would allow me as much time as needed to finish the marathon.
Since the ‘retired’ Sports Manager – aka Nicole’s – birthday was on Feb 3, I invited her to come along so we could run a marathon, celebrate her birthday and explore St Lucia. I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to go along?
We arrived in St Lucia on Jan 31. Hewanorra Airport is located near Vieux Fort on the southern tip of the island. Our hotel was located in Rodney Bay near the northern tip of St Lucia. It is only 70 Km but the roads are narrow, 2-lane and in poor shape. And cars drive on the left (wrong) side of the road! The max speed limit on the island is 40mph and it is difficult to reach that limit due to the condition of the roads and the many curves and hills. The entire island is mountainous with only a few areas/villages located on flat sections.
We reached the capital city, Castries, in 90 minutes and 15 minutes later arrived at the Bay Garden Hotel in Rodney Bay. Rodney Bay has many upscale/luxury houses/condos and lots of good restaurants & shops, and the only luxury Mall on the island. Even though the marathon was held in Castries, I figured (luckily & wisely) that we would enjoy staying in Rodney Bay more. Castries is dirty, congested and just not nice!
After checking in, we walked to the Mall to buy water/beer/wine/soda etc. and then explored the area around the hotel. Since it was dark and we were tired, we enjoyed Happy Hour and dinner at the hotel.
On Wed. I drove into Castries to find the start line for the race. Most of the runners were on the cruise ship, and would be shuttled from the cruise terminal to the start line. The marathon course was an 800m loop located on a flat road next to the runway of the city airport. It was a dead-end road with not much traffic. An out-and-back loop measured 1.6Km or 1 mile and that meant 26 loops! After checking out the course, I drove over to the cruise terminal to shop for my mandatory souvenirs. At least that part was easy, and I found all souvenirs within one hour. It’s usually not that easy or quick.
After returning to the hotel, Nicole and I decided to check out the Garden Bay Beach Resort located on the beach in Rodney Bay. As part of our hotel group, we had access to the Beach Resort and its beach/restaurants/bars/spa. They even provided a shuttle to the resort which was about 1 mile from the hotel. The Beach resort was nice but not worth the price – twice the cost of the hotel, and if you include an all-inclusive package it was four times the price of our hotel! We checked out the restaurants at the resort, and nearby, for a nice birthday dinner later in the week. We found a small Italian restaurant for a nice/quiet pasta dinner to prepare for the race.
Thursday was ‘M’ day. An unusual day for a marathon – but then again the cruise members would run 6 marathons in 7 days – one marathon at each port where the ship stopped! Thankfully, I left the hotel early to make sure I would arrive with lots of time for last-minute preparations for the race. It took 45 minutes to drive 5 miles into Castries in the morning rush hour! I only had about 15 minutes to get ready before the runners from the cruise ship arrived by shuttle. Another friend, Rich, from NC had also flown into St Lucia, and he was already at the start line.
Of course we had to take photos of the Country Club members (there were 8 members) and other runners, etc. and finally the race started at 9am. It was HOT!
Normally, a marathon in the Caribbean will start at 4 or 5am to take advantage of the dark and cooler temps. But the SCC is limited by the ship schedule. Since the ship arrives in most ports around 7/8 am the race must start at 8/9am which means everyone must run in the hottest part of the day. It was brutal!
Since I did not have to worry about a time limit like the cruise members who had to be back on the ship by 4pm, I decided I would run slow & easy. I started with a strategy of ‘run 7min/walk 1min’ that allowed me to complete a (1 mile) loop in 13/14 min. Since we all had to run 26+ loops (or 52 laps of the 800m loop) we had a benefit of meeting/greeting each other often. I even managed to run/walk a few loops with my friends from the Country Club. However, after a few hours in the heat, the conversations and cheers started to diminish? Thank goodness half of the 800m loop was shaded. There was no shade at each end, and that part of the course was like running in a sauna.
Z had organized the race with help from the St Lucia Tourist Bureau who provided police support (for traffic), Red Cross (thankfully not needed), and there was one water table set up at the start/finish line.
By the time I reached the Half in 2:56:40 my loop interval had increased to 15 minutes. I had already been lapped by most of the runners – but I didn’t care! At 16 miles my loop interval had slowed to 17 min/mile. My legs were shot due to a lack of training because of a nasty cold I picked up on the way home from Qatar in Dec. Apparently, many of my friends had suffered the same cold with the same symptoms and results – a lack of energy to train/run. My cycle dropped to ‘run 5min/walk 2min’ and I hoped I could maintain that cycle until 20 miles, and then I could walk the final 10Km if necessary?
When I passed 20 miles in 5:01:16, my loop interval had slowed to 19 min/mile and I was struggling to hold that! The heat was brutal. Most of my friends and other runners had already finished the race. There were only about five of us left on the course! I tried to run/walk but now there was more walking than running. At that point I no longer cared – I just wanted to finish!
At 24 miles my left abductor started to cramp, and I was concerned about it locking up which would mean a painful final 2 miles, so I stopped to massage and stretch the abductor to get it to relax. I decided I would walk the final 2 miles to prevent the leg from cramping. When I returned to the start line at 25 miles, the last of the cruise members were departing for the ship. They felt bad that they had to leave me alone on the course, but I told them to go since I would have to walk the final mile, and that would take about 20 minutes.
Fortunately, there was still a local race volunteer who was accompanying me on a bike, and he stayed with me until I crossed the finish line in 6:51:08. A new PW (Personal Worst) for me for a road marathon! I am not sure how much longer (or how many marathons) I can (or want to) run if this is going to become the norm?
But at least I finished Marathon # 382 and Country #131! And I completed a marathon for my 36th consecutive year!
I returned to the hotel for a cool shower. I figured a cold beer would be good but it tasted terrible. I felt really bad. I had not eaten all day but couldn’t stand the thought of food. There was a free ‘rum punch’ party at the hotel before dinner. I drank one. It tasted terrible! And I still felt crappy, so I went to bed without dinner or any food that day – and slept 12 hours! I felt alive again in the morning, and enjoyed a huge breakfast.
Nicole and I decided to explore the island. We drove to the northern tip passing through Gris Islet where the locals live. A stark contrast to Rodney Bay. Then we drove to Soufriere on the southwest coast. Soufriere is a small fishing village nestled at the foot of the Piton Peaks. Outside of town there is a Nature Reserve with a Botanical Garden with waterfalls – and a volcano. It is a very scenic area of the island – but a bitch to get to! The roads are in terrible shape with potholes large enough to lose a car. There is no flat coastline so the roads go up/down/over/around Mountains. Nicole became so car sick that when we arrived in Soufriere she was unable to eat lunch at the Petit Peak Restaurant. We did walk around Soufriere for a few minutes, and then decided to skip the Nature Reserve and head back to our hotel to rest and prepare for dinner.
The drive back didn’t seem to be as bad, so Nicole was able to recover, and enjoy a nice birthday dinner at a French restaurant (Jacques) overlooking the Rodney Bay Marina.
On Sat (our last day), we enjoyed another great breakfast and then headed south again to the airport on the east coast. We figured we should give ourselves lots of time for the drive, and we could drive past the airport to explore Vieux Port, and enjoy a nice lunch before arriving at the airport. Vieux Port was a surprise and disappointment! It is a small, poor village strictly for locals. We were certainly out of place but nobody bothered us. However, we quickly retreated back towards the airport to find a nice restaurant located on a beach, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a few beers.
We were glad we had stopped at that restaurant. The airport was a zoo with four airplanes departing for the USA between 3 to 4pm? There was no room to sit at the gates, and no seats available at the two bars/restaurants! But we made it on our plane and landed in Tampa at midnight. Arrived home at 2am knowing that we were hosting a Super Bowl party later that day!
I have two more marathons booked – one more in Feb and another in April. Both in tropical (HOT) climates! I hope they go better than this last one? I have no plans for another marathon after April!
More photos of St Lucia can be viewed in an album titled St Lucia on Maddog’s photo website.
A few days after the marathon in St Lucia, I learned why I struggled so badly to finish the race?
I tried to resume training but become totally fatigued after a few miles. I thought I was just tired after a tough race? However, after a few more days I realized that it was more than that. I couldn’t run more than a few minutes before becoming totally fatigued and short-of-breath. I had a good idea what the problem was but preferred to go into denial and keep thinking that “I was tired”. Finally, I had to come out of denial, and call my cardiologist, and tell him that I believed my heart was in A-fib again. He asked me to come into the office that day and an EKG quickly conformed that I was right – unfortunately!
I was supposed to depart that weekend for Africa but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I had to go to the hospital for another cardio version! The cardiologist jump started my heart back into rhythm and advised me NOT to go to the Seychelles and NOT to run the marathon. For one of the few times in my life, I decided to follow his advice and reluctantly cancelled the trip.