Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Great Train Run - Barbados 2012

As we huddled in a chilly* parking lot at predawn waiting for a band of lit up aliens to come forth through the cane field, it was time to go over the checklist one more time...
Flashlight. Check.
Extra batteries. Check.
Water bottle tightened. Check.
Sunglasses for when the sun actually rises. Check.
Fear of breaking an ankle in a remote sugar cane field. Double Check.
On the third Sunday of each year hundreds of hikers (and a handful of runners!)  get together and trek 26 miles across the island of Barbados along the old train track.  The train ran for 30 years hauling sugar and people from the capital of Bridgetown all the way to the remote and jagged east coast and the tiny town of Belleplaine.  For this run, the "train" of humans makes the "stops" of the old railway station, picking up new hikers or runners and meeting their support cars with food, water, etc.
After too much deliberation, our group decided to pick up the "train" at the Windsor station and run to the Three Houses Factory station - just about 12 kilometers.  It's an easy distance but none of us are trail runners and we're all prone to overdoing absolutely everything so we were trying to be reasonable.  No one needs an ankle injury!
We reached out to Ralf Luther from the Ufukuzo running group and he was beyond helpful in mapping out the terrain, meeting places and approximate times that his group would be at our "stop".  Ralf and his group run the whole 26 miles of trail each year so needless to say, his knowledge was much appreciated!
Aww.. my running gals at the Sunbury "stop"
So there we stood in the dark.  The four runners, our three friends on mountain bikes with BIG lights and our support car, all awaiting the arrival of the runners had started in Bridgetown.  We were ready to wave good morning, jump into their group and then be left behind as their faster and more experienced "train" pulled away.  Soon their bobbing lights started to appear and we were surrounded by a cheerful group of runners.  A little water and snack and then it was time to get our trail on! All Aboard!  
Trail running is a completely different running animal.  In the dark it takes a ton of concentration to make up for a lack of experience in picking your way over rough terrain.  I loved it!  Lights bouncing, our friends on bikes doubling up and back to make sure we knew when the big holes were coming, quietly bounding across the rocks and making our way around mud puddles.  I have to say, it was pretty zen to be singularly concentrated on the small circle of light in front of your feet.
It wasn't long before our eyes adjusted to the twilight and we could turn off the lights.  Then the run became a battle of watching the ground vs. looking around to see all the new places.   Barbados is lovely on any given day on (almost) any given road but the silence and closeness to earth of a trail run is something special.
We made it to our intended endpoint in a little over an hour with everyone happy and healthy.  Ralf encouraged us to go one more leg because it was short, mostly downhill, and incredibly scenic.  He was right on the money!  The leg from Three Houses Factory to the beach at Conset Bay was only a couple of miles but we ran a good chunk of it along the ocean through cut rock filled with huge trees and vines.  The ground was covered with leaves in the colors of fall.  Dawn and I kept looking at each other with the "get a load of this!" look.   I could see how the train had made it's way through this cavern - it must have been amazing for first time passengers.
Just out of the cut rock we got a nice downhill glide back to sea level at Conset Bay and our friend Charmaine was waiting to take us home in the support car.  (Can you ever possibly thank your support crew enough?  No. Huge thanks to Charmaine, Reggie, Nicolas and Lyncoln!)
In the end, we were in the middle of the pack and didn't get left behind at all - though I'm positive the Ufukuzo crew would've dusted us if this has been a race instead of a "run"!  We said our goodbyes and then walked out onto the beach to watch the remaining runners make their way along the rocky coastline.  Part of me wanted to continue on but a little voice inside my head reminded me that there will be another Great Train Run but only one Western States pacing opportunity.  Save the ankles at all costs :)

Happy me!  Rachel in the distance navigating a pile of rocks...

For more information on the 2013 Great Train   Run or Hike, contact Ufukuzo or The Barbados National Trust.  I highly recommend it!
Runners heading up the coast.
 The spires are from the old train tracks!

*yes, once you've been here a few years and your blood is thin as air from the constant heat, it does feel "chilly" on a winter morning before the sun rises.  I swear.. it's like 78! Brrrrrr  

Photos courtesy of Lyncoln Gill via bicycle :)

1 comment:

  1. OH WHAT FUN!!!! Maybe we can do some of this in December...??? Way to rock the Portland Running tank...very appropriate. :) As I read this, it is raining/snowing/windy/COLD. I am not your 78 degree comment. ;)