May 10 – 13/13
Basseterre, St Kitts
St Kitts Marathon
Marathon # 361 - Country # 116
Where to start? It has been more than 8 months since my last marathon and race report. When I concluded that report I wasn’t sure if I would ever run another marathon. The 2-month sabbatical that I planned to take after the last marathon turned out to be more than 5 months as health issues worsened. The auto immune disease (Ulcerative Colitis) continued to flare up and an aggressive treatment of biologic and toxic meds couldn’t force it into remission. I started suffering fatigue and shortness of breath again in the fall and to be cautious that the UC wasn’t the sole cause I visited my cardiologist and was not surprised to learn that my heart was back in A-fib again. After two cardioversions to jump start the heart back into rhythm failed the cardiologists decided that I needed an ablation procedure to try to prevent the heart from going into arrhythmia. I had an ablation on Dec 26 and 2 weeks later another cardioversion was necessary to get the heart back into rhythm. I became despondent because I was going backwards in health and conditioning. After the ablation I couldn’t run 500 ft without collapsing from fatigue and shortness of breath. Several cardiologists warned me that I COULD NOT and SHOULD NOT run another marathon. The UC still wasn’t responding to the meds so the GI doc increased the dosage and added another toxic drug to suppress the immune system to try to force the UC into remission.
I took another rest or sabbatical in Jan to let the heart have more time to recover. When I finally started to run again in Feb I could only run ¼ mile before collapsing from fatigue. I was determined to train slowly and wisely and in a few weeks I was able to run 1 mile before I would have to walk. Friends had informed me of a new/inaugural marathon in St Kitts in May and I wanted to run it but I had to be able to run at least 16 miles without walking before I would commit to running the race. By early March I had built my long run up to 10 miles without walking but that seemed to be my limit. If I tried to go further I would have to walk after 10 miles and I would become totally fatigued by the end of the run. When I still couldn’t run beyond 10 miles in early April I was about to give up on the idea/dream of running St Kitts but I reached a significant breakthrough. I was able to run 12 miles without walking or collapsing from fatigue. I built my long run up to 18 miles with a combination of run/walk and had enough confidence to register for the St Kitts Marathon. A second breakthrough came at the end of April when suddenly I was able to run 15 miles – and then 18 miles without walking. I felt confident that I could complete a marathon! By the time I left for St Kitts the UC was close to being in remission and it was the best I had felt in more than 8 months!
I arrived in Basseterre late Fri night and explored the island on Sat. I hired a taxi/tour guide for a ½ day tour of the island. We drove the marathon course during the tour and the half-marathon loop was very hilly with 5 BAHs ( Bad Ass Hills) which meant running them two times. By 8am the heat was brutal and by noon it was torturous! Originally the race was scheduled to start at 6:30 am but thankfully the race director had moved the start up to 5:30 am. I figured it would take me 5 to 5 ½ hours so that meant I would be in the HOT sun for at least 3 hours!
The island is not very big and can easily be toured in ½ day. We stopped at the cruise terminal in Basseterre to shop for my mandatory souvenirs: a souvenir teaspoon, a silver charm for the SM’s charm bracelet and postcards. I think I set a shopping record by finding everything within 15 minutes – in one shop! We then drove around the island with stops at an old sugar mill in the rain forest (where it was cooler), a 45-min self-guided audio tour of The Brimstone Hill Fortress (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Black Rocks – black volcanic rocks from a lava flow into the Atlantic Ocean, and a few scenic spots overlooking the beaches and ocean. The only thing left to do was a hike up MT Liamuiga (3,792 ft) but that will have to wait for another trip. Unless you are a beach person there is not a lot to see or do on St Kitts. I was completely bored after two days!
On Sat afternoon I met up with four friends and fellow members from the Country Club (an informal club of runners who have completed a marathon in a minimum of 30 countries) at packet pickup. There were only 12 runners registered in the marathon and five of them were CC members. There were a total of 60 runners in three races. The CC members got together for a pasta dinner and we met at 5 am in the lobby to walk to the start line. It was already HOT (78F) and HUMID (84%). Two of the CC members, Yen and Peter from Houston typically run 5 to 5 ½ hours so I figured we would run most of the race together and that turned out to be the case. When we reached the first BAH at 2 miles I tried to run it but quickly decided that since there was going to be a lot of walking in the race I might as well start right then. Peter, Yen & I stayed close to each other which helped because the course was on narrow roads with no shoulders and no traffic control. Water stations were located every 5 Km so I carried a water bottle/belt with me that I refilled at every station and I also poured a bottle of water on my body since I was already overheated by the time we reached the first water station. I walked up each BAH and ran down the descent. We finished the 1st loop and reached the Half in 2:29:17. The heat and sun were brutal and I advised Peter & Yen that we would be lucky to finish the 2nd loop in 3 hrs to break 5:30. The next 10 km was the worst section of the race! The sun was beating down on our backs and I felt like my back was on fire. I struggled to run 1 min and walk 1 min before my body would overheat and shut down. We reached the water station at 20 miles together in 3:51:43. While I was pouring cold water over my head and body in a futile effort to cool down Yen took off and I could never catch her during the final 10K. There was a slight headwind that helped a wee bit and I was able to increase my cycle to run 3 min and walk 1 min on the section that bypassed the airport. But after I passed the airport the heat got to me and I struggled to run 1 min and walk 1 min. In the final mile I had to suck it up and increase the cycle back to run 3 min and walk 1 min in order to break 5:30. I had expected the race to be ugly and HOT and it exceeded my expectations!
After I crossed the finish line I could not cool down and I developed a severe headache due to the heat (heat stroke?) so I walked straight back to the hotel for a COLD shower. It took a few hours for my body to cool down and the headache to go away but finally I was able to venture back outside for some greasy food and a cold beer. I joined Brent & Sue (from WY) for a lovely celebration dinner.
I was happy to leave early Mon morning and escape that brutal heat. Although I am disappointed with my time & performance – a PW (Personal Worst) for a road marathon, I am pleased that I was able to overcome my health issues and run a marathon again. And I continued my streak of running a marathon for 31 consecutive years and kept my World Record intact for completing a marathon in every country in N America. Now I am pondering the idea of running a marathon on a flat course with COOL weather to really see what kind of shape I am in and if I can break 5 hours?