The above race results tell the story. ‘DNF’ – Did Not Finish! That should be the end of the story but I need to tell readers and other runners about the experience of the first-ever ‘Marathon Cruise’ - the Western Caribbean Challenge.
This marathon adventure/event seemed so interesting and exciting! An opportunity to run 5 marathons in 5 countries in 6 days while enjoying the pleasures of a cruise ship to guide you to the different countries. It was to be a new and unique experience offered by a friend and member of the Country Club. Ziyad or ‘Z’, as everyone calls him, created and offered this event through his Adventure Tour Company called ‘Z Adventures’.
The event would start in Miami where runners would meet and run a marathon in South Beach on Sun morning before boarding the Carnival Splendor for a 1-week cruise to the western Caribbean. I had already run marathons in 4 of the 5 countries so I only planned to run the marathon in Honduras. I tried to skip the cruise and fly directly to Honduras for the single marathon but it was difficult to get flights and I would have had to overnight at an airport in both directions. That itinerary would cost more than the cruise so I opted to take the cruise. However I skipped the marathon in South Beach where runners ran a 5.275K loop along Miami Beach, and joined them on the ship on Sun afternoon. The event had only been announced 4 months earlier so there were only 9 runners/participants for this first event. I was a bit dismayed and concerned to learn that only 4 runners were running the marathons since the Country Club requires a minimum of 5 finishers to qualify a marathon as a ‘marathon’. However for the race I planned to run there would be another CC member joining us in Honduras so it would ‘pass the test’.
Four runners were running Half marathons in each port/country and one spouse was walking 5K in each port. Two of the marathoners were running part of the distance on the ship (either on a track on a deck of the ship or on a tread mill in the gym) and then completing the marathon on land. Although this concept is not acceptable to the CC or any other Running Club, the RD and the runners were content to call their effort a ‘marathon’? I made it very clear that such a ‘marathon’ would not qualify or count as a marathon for any member of the Country Club nor for entry into the Country club!
The first day of the cruise was ‘a day at sea’ as the ship made way for Cozumel, Mexico.
On Tue the Splendor docked in Cozumel at 8am. I decided to run one loop of the (out-and-back) 5.275K course as a tune up for my race on Thu. I joined two Half-marathon runners on a course that started at the dock and ran north through town along the Sea. The course was not marked and there was no mark to indicate the turn-around point? The lead runner used a GPS to determine the turn-around point?
I returned to the ship for a shower and breakfast before going on shore again to enjoy a few beers and surf the Net while waiting for the other runners to complete their races. Everyone realized that it was going to be very difficult to run 3 more races in the next 3 days in this Heat & Humidity! I was glad that I was only running one marathon.
The next day the Splendor anchored off Belize and we were tendered into Belize City. I had decided to rest and save myself from the brutal heat and serve as official race photographer at the start line. The rest of the group – “the group of crazies” – as I affectionately called them, started at the Lighthouse in Belize City. We were supposed to be joined by another CC member, Klaus, who was flying directly into Belize to join us to run the marathon distance. Klaus had volunteered to mark out a 5.275K course but his flight had been delayed so the runners just had to take off and use their GPS to determine the turn-around point? After taking a start photo I retreated to an air-conditioned bar to drink beer and surf the Net while waiting for my comrades to finish their races. They are all looked like wet and beaten puppies when they finished and joined me for a beer.
On Thu the Splendor anchored off Roatan, Honduras and we tendered into the port. This was the one and only race I planned to run. There was good and bad news. The good news was that Z had arranged with a friend who lived in Roatan and managed a golf course at the Princess Bay Resort to mark out a 2.1K course along the golf course and also provide water at the start and end of the loop. One out-and-back loop was 4.2K so the marathon runners had to run 10 loops. The bad news was that the Splendor was only in port for 8 hours and it took 30 minutes for the tender and another 30 minutes to bus us to the start line at the Princess Bay Resort so we only had 6 hours to complete our races! More good news was that Klaus met us at the port and now there was 3 CC members plus the 2 other marathoners running their ‘strange’ race so in effect we would have 5 starters /finishers in the marathon.
We arrived at the Resort and started the race about 8:45am which meant we had about 6:15 to complete our races. Any longer and we would miss the ship! No problem for the Half marathon but it was going to be close for the marathoners due to the heat and humidity. It was already hot but the weather Gods were kind to us and the skies were overcast and cloudy for the first 3 hours which kept the sun from broiling us. There was a BAH (Bad Ass Hill) at the start/finish and I figured it was going to hurt running that BAH ten times! But the rest of the course was flat and on dirt service roads around a golf course. The road was muddy in many sections and covered in water at one section but we were able to detour around it on a fairway so overall the course was easy and good. The golf manager had indeed arranged for water at each end of the loop which meant we didn’t have to carry water.
One nice benefit of a short loop course is that you get to see and greet your fellow runners often during a race. I figured I needed to run each loop under 36 minutes to finish in 6 hours. I figured that was possible although it would be difficult in the heat and humidity. My friend and CC member, Brent from WY, was running smooth and easy but Klaus and I struggled right from the start. Klaus had completed the marathon in Belize the day before (he had to run the course solo after he arrived late) and was fatigued from that race. The day started out badly for me as I experienced an (unexpected) heart issue? My heart went into Afib at the start of the race and dropped to a dangerously low HR of 32 bpm and stayed there for most of the race. It is difficult to run a smooth and easy pace with such a low HR since the legs become fatigued and heavy very quickly and it is more difficult to keep my old bod cool in the brutal heat. I was determined to push/struggle though the problem until I reached the Half. When I did reach the Half in 3:08:16 I knew I could not finish in time to catch the ship. However Maddog played mind games with me and convinced me to struggle through 2 more loops and when I reached 30K in 4:38:25 I was certain I could not finish in time to catch the ship so I wisely gave up and dropped out of the race.
I was disappointed/demoralized! My last 3 marathons had been tough/ugly and definitely NOT fun! I believed my old bod was telling me emphatically “IT IS OVER”! Maybe it is time to retire?
Meanwhile Brent and Klaus were still struggling to finish out on the course. Brent barely made it across the finish line as we were loading the bus to go back to the ship. Klaus had to stop and he planned to run his final 4K from the port back to his hotel to complete his 42K. It was definitely a hard race for the marathoners with the artificial time limit imposed by the departure of the ship!
The next day the Splendor arrived in the Cayman Islands for the final port and race. Brent had planned to run the marathon but wisely recognized that his old bod did not have another marathon in it so soon in that brutal heat and humidity and decided to run a shorter distance. He and the other runners lined up in Georgetown where they were joined by a few new runners from Marathon Maniacs who were in the Cayman Islands to run a larger/formal marathon on Sun. I served as race photographer and then retreated to a nice restaurant/bar overlooking the harbor to enjoy a cool Caybrew and surf the Net.
As the Splendor headed back to Miami we gathered together for a final celebration and group photo and then Brent and I had a long discussion with Z about the first-ever Marathon Cruise. It is a great idea and we hope it can become successful but there are many improvements that need to be made.
For runners competing at shorter distances the problems are the same but the time required on the course and in the sun and heat is less so it is possible. This was proven by the 4 runners who completed a half marathon at each port. I tip my hat to them!
Z may contemplate changing the format of the Cruise Challenge to only offer Half-marathon races and shorter distances but I hope he keeps the marathon distance and advises marathoners to lower their expectations about the number of races they plan to run? The next cruise – the Southern Caribbean Challenge – will be better test since 22 of the 28 race participants plan to run marathons?
On the final ‘at sea day’ I retreated from the crowds and noise on the ship to my room to write my trip report. At this time I am in a quandary. Not only do I recognize/believe that my running career is over, but more importantly, I am no longer in denial and I am willing to accept that truth/fact because I no longer have the ‘passion’ and the races are no longer fun! However I have booked and paid for 3 more marathon adventures in the next 2 months and it unlikely I can get any refunds if I cancel. The next adventure is in 10 days in another Hot/tropical climate so that will serve as another test for my theory?
Footnote (Dec 22/15): I finally
visited my cardiologist to figure out what is going on and why I have been
feeling so poorly? After checking my pacemaker and the data stored on it, he
determined that my heart has been in ’heart block’ more than 30% of the time. Most of the episodes have been brief and the
heart was able to get back into synch. However during the Honduras episode it
stayed in ‘block’ for a very long time! He turned the pacemaker back on and
calibrated it to prevent ‘heart block’.