Wednesday, January 09, 2008

TR -US Virgin Islands

TRIP REPORT
St Croix, US Virgin Islands
12/29/07 – 01/07/08

St Croix International Marathon
St Croix, USVI
Tue, Jan 1/08
Marathon #296 – Country #88
4:11:46 - 1 AG – 3rd Masters

Before I get into this report on our latest adventure I had better clear up the confusion that some readers may have based on the closing sentence of my last report. In that Macau report I stated that I was getting ready to return to Asia in mid–Dec. However the Sports Manager needed some unexpected surgery in early Dec for a hip replacement and that factor along with the difficulty I was having recovering from jet lag enticed me to postpone the scheduled Taipei Marathon to Dec 2008. That postponement allowed me to provide support and nursing care to the Sports Manager and extra rest for my injured foot. The Sports Manager appreciated the care and the foot responded well to the rest and I was able to finally start adding some intensity/speed to my training miles.

Now to the story!

This race/trip had been planned and booked for over a year. I had to book that far in advance to use air miles because the USVI are a popular destination. In fact we had to stay longer than desired - 10 days - in order to get free tickets but I figured that the extra days of lodgings were cheaper than the expensive air fares during the Holiday season. Thus we arrived in St Croix (via Puerto Rico) on Sat and had three days to explore the island before the race.

St Croix is the largest of the USVI and has gentler terrain which permitted sugar cane crops to flourish under seven different countries and flags. We immediately noted that the island seemed less lush/tropical and less luxurious than the other islands but the upside was that it is more laid back and less expensive! Christopher Columbus landed at Salt River on St Croix in 1493 and claimed the islands for Spain. Denmark purchased the islands in 1733 and built forts to protect the islands from pirates (and rebellions by the slaves). The USA purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 Million!

After a few days of exploring the island and getting used to driving on the left (wrong) side of the road in an American (left drive) car I had determined that there weren’t many roads and I wasn’t too keen on running on the narrow two lane roads with no shoulders and lots of hills and curves! On Mon I picked up my race packet at the library in Christiansted. The marathon website had been easy to use and the race director and I had communicated several times so I was eager to meet and thank him. There were only 22 runners registered for the marathon (16 showed up for the race) and I met them all. There were 3 runners from the US, 1 from the UK and 1 from Italy (William Govi running his 676th marathon and 64th country) and the rest were locals. The race director drove some of us around the course to show us the turns and loops since half the race would be run in the dark! I found the race director, volunteers and local runners to be very friendly, hospitable and supportive. I asked the local runners where they trained and they pointed out a few sections of roads that did not have much traffic. The next challenge was pasta dinner. Like most Caribbean islands the USVI close down for Holidays and weekends. There were only four Italian restaurants on the island – two closed for New Years’ eve and the other two had private parties! We had to scramble to find a restaurant that would serve me any pasta – there was no hope of getting my normal spaghetti Bolognese.


Tue (New Years Day) was M-day. The race started at 5 am to take advantage of the cool(er) morning temps. Our condo was in the East end and the race was on the West end of the island. When I left our condo at 4 am the New Years parties were still going full blast (and loud) in the neighboring resorts and in the town of Christiansted. Needless to say the Sports Manager did not get up to cheer me on at the start! I was a wee bit concerned about drunks on the roads but fortunately they were still partying! The race started on the Queen Mary Hwy about 4 miles east of Frederiksted. It was very dark, HOT (77 F) and humid at 5am. Unlike most events that start on Crucian time the race started promptly at 5 am. The Hwy had few lights and it was pitch black – the only light we had was the headlamps from the support and police vehicles. Many times it was so dark that I could not see the road or my feet and I slowed down because I was concerned about tripping and falling! As I mentioned earlier I had managed to get in a few weeks of decent training and was optimistic that I could finish close to 4 hours? When I reached the first water station at 5 Km I was already hot and started drinking half the water bottle and pouring the other half over my body to cool down! I passed 4 miles in 35:08 – on pace for 4 hours! We reached Frederiksted around 4 miles where there were some street lights to help light the way but at 5 miles we turned south along Dorsch Beach and back into total darkness. By the time I returned to Frederiksted and reached 8 miles the sun was up and we could see. However my time at 8 miles was 1:13:05 with a split of 9:35 – I was slowing down! We passed through the town and headed North along many of the popular beaches and into a rain forest around 10 miles (1:31:47 and a split of 9:29). I knew right then that a 4-hr marathon wasn’t going to happen!

The 4-mile loop through the rain forest had lots of (gentle) rolling hills but more importantly the road was covered with a canopy from mahogany trees that shaded us from the direct sun! I passed the Half in 2:01:52. I knew the 2nd Half would be (much) slower because the sun was up and it was getting hotter! At that point I was running alone and I had seen all the lead runners on the loops and figured all the positions in the race had already been established. It killed any motivation/incentive to push the pace and accept pain because it wasn’t going to change my position in the race? But I decided to hold the pace as long as I could in the hope of finishing close to 4 hours? At mile 15 (2:20:08 and a split of 9:39) we turned east to climb a gentle 1-mile loop up a mountain and deeper into the rain forest. When I finished that loop and emerged from the canopy of the rain forest at 18 miles (2:48:50 and a split of 9:23) the heat of the direct sun hit me like a hammer. I struggled into town, made the turn and headed back for another/final loop through the rain forest. I reached mile 20 in 3:08:40 and a split of 10:00 and mercifully the protection of the rain forest canopy! I immediately felt cooler and decided to try to hold that 10-min pace for the final 10K which would get me across the finish line under 4:10. I was able to hold that pace until I emerged from the rain forest again at 24 miles in 3:48:23. Suddenly the direct sun wilted me like a prize flower and time was no longer a priority – survival became the priority! I decided to let the old bod dictate the pace in order to keep from overheating and I concentrated on keeping the old legs moving as I re-entered Frederiksted and cruised along the bay front to cross the finish line in 4:11:46.

I was happy with my race strategy and performance but was disappointed with my finish time. I really thought that I should have been able to finish closer to 4 hours! I waited around for the award ceremony and a ride back to my car at the start line. I knew I had won my Age Group because my only competitor was still on the course. However I was surprised to learn that I had won 3rd place in the Masters Division which gave me another award and $50 cash. That paid back my entry fee.

Now that the race was over it was time to celebrate and start the R&R! But since it was New Years Day almost everything on the island was closed. However we did find some bars and a nice restaurant to enjoy some Crucian rum and food. As feared the R& R was very boring. The Sports Manager could not do much walking so our exploring was limited to driving to sites or beaches. She also couldn’t enjoy the beaches or pool because she couldn’t spend much time in the sun due to the blood thinners required after the surgery. So her (our) activities were very limited. We did visit the site where Columbus landed in 1493. I considered snorkeling and diving but just never could get excited about either. There were several nice golf courses but I hadn’t taken any clubs or balls, etc so I didn’t even check the price. So we did get a lot of ‘rest’ and sampled a lot of Crucian rum – and I don’t even like rum? I also found a great training loop to run each morning – a 2-mile loop over some very tough hills from Cramer Park to Point Udall - the easternmost point in the USA. It was very tough but the scenery was so spectacular that you didn’t notice the pain from the hills?

Overall we enjoyed the trip but it was too long. St Croix is laid back and friendly but there is not a lot to do other than beaches. I liked the race. It is a nice low-key race with a good course and the local runners and volunteers were so friendly and supportive. They are hoping to grow the race in size next year and maybe add a half marathon.

Unfortunately the effects of the R&R and Crucian rum negated the benefits of the marathon and my challenging hill route because I gained 5 pounds and have been struggling to run the same pace in my speed workouts since our return? Fortunately I have three weeks to beat myself into shape before my next marathon.

Stay tuned!

Footnote:
As indicated in the race results this was marathon #296 and country # 88. More significantly it was my final country in N. America – at least the final country where I can find an official/organized marathon.
There are still 5 countries in Central America – Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua – that I need/want to run but do not have official marathons? I have leads on possible races in Guatemala and Nicaragua but no confirmation. Thus if any readers or their relatives/friends have any info on marathons in these countries it would be greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

bonnieluria said...

Hi Maddog,
I'm enjoying, if not gasping, reading about your race here on St Croix.
You're an inspiration at any age!. I've lived here for 7 years and you are right about it being laid back and friendly. The part about it being boring may not be so accurate. It all depends on who your host is.
You would have absolutely loved the tide pool baths at Annaly ( Northwest end of the island ) accessible only on foot through a gorgeous 2 mile walk. The pools are right out of a travelogue. And then the 2 mile hike to Jack and Issac Bay on the SE end is equally gorgeous and mostly uninhabited. When you come back next year, make sure you get to see those two places. If you have a peek at my blog under the heading Water Falls, you'll see the Baths at Annaly.
It's also true that nothing moves here on New Years but nature is available 24/7!!
You're an amazing example of what the human body and spirit is capable of!
Keep on the move!!!!!