The Barbados Marathon in the Caribbean was my first open marathon since Boston 2014. With a focus on the Ironman and chasing my Kona dreams the last few years, it felt like a long time since I had run a pure marathon. I knew about this race from our friends who ran it in 2016 and enjoyed the hot tropical experience. I had no intentions of running a marathon this year, but after a tough day at Ironman Lake Placid, it sounded like a perfect opportunity to do something fresh and exciting.
We were having beers with Jess and Chris one August evening at the Stone Corral and they asked us if we wanted to join them and run the marathon in Barbados. Why not? Everything sounds great over a couple beers. That night we secured our resort condo and flights to Barbados! I still had the Ironman Worlds 70.3 in Tennessee in a few weeks but the marathon wasn’t until December. Plenty of time to get myself ready!
Run Barbados Marathon Weekend is a really super, well organized race event. The race director does a fantastic job with various races all weekend long. Friday is a mile run. Saturday is a 5K and 10K. Sunday is the half and full marathon. There is something for everyone. And for those up for a challenge, you can race four events including the half marathon on Sunday. Jess and Chris opted for doing the “Quad” and successfully ran all four races. Scott did the half marathon and ran very well. I ran the full marathon and I’m so grateful I had a very good morning out there. Thanks to Jess and Chris for a great experience! And thanks to my coach Lisa for once again helping me arrive at the starting line healthy!
A week after recovering from the Ironman Worlds 70.3, Lisa started my marathon training which consisted of much less running than I did for previous marathons. Instead she supplemented my limited running with bike trainer rides, weekend mountain/gravel bike rides and plenty of swimming. It’s hard to say if this worked as well as my previous traditional training from running coaches. Barbados was very HOT and extremely HUMID. My time was a half hour slower than my personal best marathon time back in 2013 during cool weather. I would have run much faster in cooler autumn temperatures but I am not sure I could have run a sub 3:10 marathon. All the Ironman racing (halves and a full) might have taken a lot out of me this year. I didn’t have the long build up with many long runs ranging from 22 to 26 miles. My longest run was only 22 miles. I was hoping to run a 3:30 or faster marathon in the heat but ended up with a 3:37. Still I did my best out there and felt I was smart about my pacing. I was the 6th women (including elites) and 12th overall out of 95 men and women who signed up. Last year my time would have gotten me second place but the women’s field had more elites show up this year.
We flew into Barbados the Friday afternoon before the race. Not much time to acclimate but I had been diligent about doing hot Bikram yoga once a week and sitting in the sauna after swimming. We had time to pick up our race packet in Bridgetown that evening in our rental car. Traffic was brutal so it took a long time to get back to our resort. We also hit a well-stocked grocery store on or way back to get a few necessities for the night.
We were very fortunate to stay in a very upscale, boutique resort right on the beach called Oceans Two. Chris and Jess are timeshare members and were able to use their discounts for our condo which made the vacation a really great deal. The condo/suite was beautiful with a full modern kitchen, living space, bedroom with a king bed and a spacious bathroom/shower. The marble floors and granite countertops really made us feel like we were living like kings. The only problem with our room was that it was on a very noise corner of the building. Service trucks were in and out below our room. And a loud jazz club kept us up especially the Friday night before our marathon on Sunday. But what’s a marathon without a good story.
Saturday morning Scott and I did a small run with a few strides down the St. Lawrence Gap round 9:30am. There was some traffic on the narrow roads, but not too bad. Running earlier would have been smarter. Our next task of the day was doing a bigger shop at the Massy Grocery Store a few minutes’ drive from the resort. Then it was time to relax all afternoon. Marathon preparation felt so easy compared to the complexities and logistics of getting ready for an Ironman. So, my stress levels were much lower. I tried to take a nap in the afternoon, but with marble floors in the rooms, noise from other rooms kept me up. It was still smart to stay inside the rest of the afternoon and evening and just focus on fueling myself well for the race and staying off my feet.
We were up very early the next morning for a 5am race start. After our oatmeal, banana and sports drink we met Chris and Jess in the resort lobby at 3:45am. We were able to convince a local police officer that we were allowed to park close to the race start since we got there just before 4am. This really made life easier that morning. At 4:30am I did a quick warm-up run of about a half mile. It was already 80F degrees and extremely humid. I felt very slow and sluggish on the first part of my warm up and felt concerned with not feeling well. But I knew this could be partly due to nerves. I may have eaten a little bit too much the day before, but in cooler weather I do very well with generous carb loading. I wonder if eating a little less in the heat would have been smarter? Would have I felt better? Perhaps…
We all lined up together. This was the first time starting a race in the dark. It was also the first time starting a race where I was hot and sweating lightly on the start line. Scott liked how my back was glistening from the sweat. A very friendly woman named Helen from Ireland started up a conversation which helped calm my nerves. We were both feeling concerned about the heat and humidity. Then we were off.
After a few seconds of running I felt cooler and much better. My first thoughts were, “I love to run, this is where I belong”. What a relief! But I knew this was going to be a new challenging experience close to the equator, so I played my cards conservatively. I knew that I had to start off with a pace of 8 minutes/mile that morning. Lisa thought I could start at 7:45s, but not when it was that warm in the morning. I wasn’t feeling badly but wasn’t feeling awesome either. I’m a slow starter so I just relaxed and appreciated this very memorable experience. I enjoyed running with such a diverse running field from Barbados and all over the world. There were many runners around me for the first couple miles and it was fun to “people watch”. Scott was ahead of me for a bit which is typical when he starts a race. But I slowly caught up to him during mile two and told him to take his time in the heat.
Miles one and two were both run at paces of 8:02. My pacing was pretty good considering I couldn’t see my Garmin and it was pretty dark. There was a huge bright full moon and that made running through Bridgetown very fun and festive. I’ll never forget running over the main bridge and seeing the big orange moon straight ahead. Mile three took us out of downtown Bridgetown and it was still pretty flat and mellow. I wanted to make sure the first 10 miles felt somewhat easy and relaxed which is one of the golden rules of marathon racing. My pace was an even 8 minutes on mile 3.
Mile four took us up the major hill of the race and I was still feeling fine running up it. It wasn’t anything too steep but was much more challenging on the second lap. My pace only slowed a few seconds on this mile and then it was fun to run back down the other side. The sun was starting to rise and I could see the neighborhoods and views of the ocean here and there. It was such a nice morning and most Barbadians were still sleeping. Miles 5 and 6 continued to go well with some minor rolling terrain. At this point it still felt very feasible and everything was going smoothly. Miles 5 and 6 were a 7:58 and 7:59 and I was almost at the turnaround feeling confident and trying to appreciate the experience. The turnaround was uneventful and I was happy to head back on this first lap. I was a quarter of the way done. I like to break a race up into chunks which helps mentally.
I was actually feeling a bit better on the way back. On the way out, I felt a bit more weighted down and I could feel sloshing in my stomach after I took water from the aid stations. On the way back, this situation improved much. My paces increased and I even felt good running up the small rollers and the longer hill. Miles 7 and 8 saw paces of 7:52 and 7:53. I was so happy to see Scott looking good just before his turnaround. Mile 9 was just a little slower back up the hill but then I was able to run comfortably a couple more miles around a 7:50 pace. The sun was rising and so were the temperatures but I was still moving well at miles 10 and 11.
The next two miles were back in Bridgetown and feeling a little bit harder. I was still able to maintain just under 8-minute miles but I knew the next lap was going to be much more challenging. On mile 12 I ran by last year’s winner Amy and we chatted very briefly. She had been very sick leading up to the marathon and dropped out just before miles 13. That is so unfortunate and I feel for her. It’s always difficult when you can’t finish. But I had a lot of work ahead of me so I just focused on myself going forward making sure I was eating my gels and taking in water at all aid stations. I must say I was very good about taking my nutrition as planned.
Pebbles Beach near race start/finish
After starting the second lap, I could feel the heat of the morning sun and knew it was going to be very hard on the second half of the marathon. But I was ready to face the challenge. After all, I am a 2x Ironman and have faced much tougher circumstances. Miles 13 through 17 were still strong paces ranging between 7:51 and 8:06 minutes. There is a long stretch before the main hill that is very sunny but I was still running well. However, I knew my heart rate was rising and my effort was increasing as well. I was not looking forward to the main hill. And as expected, I had to slow down my pace as the heat was now taking its toll. This was mile 18 and I knew I had 8 more miles. My pace slowed to an 8:16 on mile 18 and then an 8:20 on mile 19. After that everything started to gradually slow down for me.
Mile 20 was close to the turnaround which surprisingly came sooner than expected. But I was getting hot and my pace had to slow down in order to get myself back safely without overheating. Miles 20 and 21 saw paces of an 8:38 and an 8:32. Not terrible but my quads were also starting to slow down due to a heavy build-up of lactic acid. I had clearly not done enough long runs. While the heat was becoming a problem, the bigger issue was my legs were becoming bricks and I just couldn’t get them to turnover fast enough. It was during this time that I caught up to the 5th place woman and then she stayed behind me for almost the rest of the race before passing me on the last mile and a half and beating me by about a minute or so. She was very nice and we both encouraged each other. However, she had more than me at the end of the race. She was also about 10 years younger too.
With 5 miles to go I knew that if I could stay around 9-minute miles or less I’d still get done before 3 hours and 40 minutes. My 3:30 time goal had already gone out the window. I told myself I can run 5 more miles and just took it one mile at a time. Miles 22 and 23 were hard and getting hotter. I was running in that long, flat, sunny stretch that felt like a lifetime. But Jess had warned me about this section and I just soldiered onwards. My paces were around 8:50s and I was OK with that. It was frickin hot!
Miles 24 through 26 were very difficult with the heat and my brick-like legs. They were even slower but my heart rate felt like it was just under the maximum. I knew I would overheat or have to walk if I tried to run faster. I know my body and what I can do. I was giving it my all without putting myself in danger. Running back through town was such a relief but those miles felt never ending. It was sunny and oppressive and I couldn’t wait to cross the line. After 26 miles my Garmin still clocked .46 of a mile and that stretch felt like it would never end! Where was the finish line!! Finally, it was a relief to see it! Scott, Chris and Jess were cheering me on as I was about to cross the line. Scott snapped a few photos and I happily finished my 5th open marathon.
My body wasn’t completely devastated and I didn’t collapse or do anything dramatic when I crossed the finish line as in past races. It was really nice to finish strong and know I did my best out there. It was hotter than hell and the humidity was off the charts that morning. But I persevered and proved that I could run well even in the heat; even without a full 6 months of marathon training. The Barbados Marathon goes down as a success for me!
Jess, Chris and Scott all ran very well that morning in the half marathon and it was so fun to see them all during my race. Scott has had difficulties in the heat but that morning he ran strong, safely and well under 2 hours. He is my champ!
While we never had much time at all to acclimate to the hot tropical climate in Barbados, we now had the rest of the vacation to relax and enjoy the beautiful island. I was thrilled to be done with my final race of the season. I had remained strong and healthy for 2 half Ironmans, a full Ironman, a half marathon and a full marathon. Perhaps we do get better as we get older!
Run Barbados Marathon Weekend is an epic event that I highly recommend. The volunteers were great and it felt like there were aid stations at each kilometer. The course is very pretty with plenty of views of the ocean. The people of Barbados are amazing and so friendly and helpful. I would definitely go back and run again in beautiful Barbados.
For my half marathon training we both ran the GMAA Green Mountain Half Marathon in South Hero Island, Vermont. I didn’t do a separate blog post but it does deserves some mention. This a super, well organized local event and I also highly recommend doing the half or full marathon that takes place in mid-October. While the weather cooperated with precipitation, the winds were crazy that race morning. This is an out-and-back race along Lake Champlain. On the way back the wind was so strong that I felt like I was running in place during several spots. I kept thinking that it felt like running in a hurricane on some parts right on the lake. High winds are normal for this race but it seems like it was extra special for us that morning! However, it was still a fun race.
I didn’t run fast that morning. With a time of 1:35, I was about 5 minutes slower than my last open half marathon in 2015. But the rolling terrain and high winds probably made me a couple minutes slower. And I wasn’t quite feeling like I was in marathon shape yet. I have learned there is a difference between Ironman and marathon shape. But I still had a decent training run and ended up as the 4th women overall. And because most of us top women were over 40, I was given first place for the Masters women. I will always try and do one half marathon in preparation for a full marathon. This one did the job well. I’m sure we’ll be back again someday. Thank you to the GMAA for a great morning!
At the moment we are enjoying two months of downtime. There are no training schedules and nothing too demanding. We have been enjoying our fat bikes and doing some winter trail running on the snowy trails by our house. Ironman training will start up again on February 1st with Lisa. By then I’ll be ready to go, feeling freshly motivated. Ironman Syracuse 70.3 in June and Ironman Copenhagen in August are our big races for 2018.
Happy New Year and hope to see you out there on the trails, roads, and pool!