Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Great Train Race Recap - 2013

It's probably best to write about a race while your legs are still sore, your lower back is still aching and your battered toenails are deepening to a purply black.  In other words... while you still have perspective.  Memories of the crappy parts are fading fast - hurry!

Stage 1 - Bridgetown to Salters
We arrived at 4:15 a.m. to get our numbers and check in with the race coordinators.  It rained several times during our wait in the dark and all I could think was could we pretty please reschedule this rain for 10:00 a.m. on the east coast?

I couldn't help feeling the difference of a large marathon start v. the Western States start v. this start.  A band of maybe 30 runners heading off across the country of Barbados.  The same adrenaline in the legs but so much quieter and personal.

Marks knee after day break
The first real "issue" of our race happened in town.  The runners were strung out in a long line as we made our way through the tight neighborhoods, gravel trail and major roadways.  I stepped off a trail section onto a major road and suddenly I heard a big crash - runner crash - a yell - water bottle and headlamp scraping the ground - my husband scraping the ground.  I turned back and there was Mark, entirely laid out in the middle of the road, reaching for his knee.  Our friend Carl was pulling him up as I rushed back.  Honestly, I was freaking out.  Mark has had a few surgeries on his right knee and it's his "achilles".  The right knee was bleeding and looked even more wobbly than usual as he started shuffling after the fall.  But he shuffled, so on we went.

Stage 2 - Salters to Windsor
We check in with the aid station volunteers at Salters and they are the perfect group.  Everyone is smiling and encouraging.  Two gals are standing there in the dark holding a rope light, making it a cheery clearing in the sugar cane.

Dawn is starting to break and the frenetic energy I feel in the Bridgetown stage is subsiding.  These are the cart paths I know and it's time to get Mark's fall out of my mind and get my breathing under control.

Stage 3 - Windsor to Sunbury
It's time to see our crew!  Rachel is waiting at Windsor with our car full of goodies and we're right on time.  The fall hasn't slowed us down, in fact, we're running ahead of our pace.  I happen to think this is awesome because I know that Mark has underestimated how long some of the east coast portions will take us.  Quick refuel on water and we're off!

Stage 4 - Sunbury to Three Houses
More gals start showing up in our "crew"!  It's staring to look like Lilith Fair and I love it!

Suzanne popped up in a cow pasture to take this pic
The runners who are splitting the course are making their transition at Three Houses.  The station is 22km into the race but is more notably the place where the course changes from flat cart path and cane fields to single track trail, open fields of ankle cracking potholes, rocky coastline, beach jaunts, etc.

We're both feeling great but it's time to get our acts together.  New BenGay ankle wrap, fill the water bottles with Delta E, eat something, carry something to eat, tighten the laces, hug your crew, apply lipgloss and hope for the best.  

Stage 5 - Three Houses to Bath Beach
My most favorite and least favorite parts of the course are contained in this stage. Ironic that we're crossing an entire country and these two things are wedged together within a mile of each other.

Favorite:  The "tunnel of trees" is a 1 km stretch of what Barbados used to look like - lush foliage, rope-like vines and waves crashing into the coral coastline below.  It's like another world in there!  A downhill, cool, leafy path  - with a few large roots and rocks thrown in for excitement.  I love it.

Least Favorite:  The newly constructed "trail" from Conset Bay to Bath Beach. This short connector was necessary due to high tide on the beach and I can safely say that I'll pray for low tide next year.  The trail is full of vertical dirt slides, winding through thick and low-hanging foliage and ends with a glorious rappel down a 25 foot cliff onto the beach via little yellow rope. A ton of "f-bombs" were launched in this section.  My left ankle was making itself heard - loud and clear.
Easy does it...

Stage 6 - Bath Beach to Martins Bay
We had a decent stop with the crew in Bath.  It was shady and the magic cooler towels were doing the trick.  I was really assessing what had just happened to my ankle.  We also had a chance to take a good look at Mark's knee.  It was definitely swelling.
Approaching the shady aid station in Bath
This stage is absolutely gorgeous!  Winding trail, lots of shade and many panoramic views of the rock formations of the east coast.  Rugged, wild and perfect.

Stage 7 - Martins Bay to Cattlewash
This is the last part of trail running on the course.  This is Mark's least favorite stage.  This is where the trouble started...

This stage is very scenic but for the most part, the shade is gone.  The barely single track meanders up, down and all around a stretch of grassy, rocky, coastline.  The sun was starting to beat down and Mark and I were getting into a bad pattern.  I was so focused on the trail and my ankle that once I started picking up speed, I'd "wake up" about 10 minutes later and he was so far behind me that I had to stop and wait.  It took me a few times to realize that he was cramping up.  Of course, the more I stopped and waited, the more my legs ached (poor babies thought the run was over) and thus the cycle began.

I took a few good hits to the ankle in unseen potholes due to looking over my shoulder so eventually, I got smart and got behind my man - we were going to finish this thing his way and together.  Period.  When his cramps got the best of him, we walked.  When he could get things into a slow jog, we jogged.  The battle within me was raging.  Every competitive bone in my body had to be calmed down.  I needed to watch the ground in front of me, protect my ankle when possible, and be mindful of the condition of my husband.  We were alone on the trail.  At the last aid station Rachel's car was registering 96 degrees and there's no shade in sight.  It started to feel serious.

We sort of limp through Bathsheba where we've asked the crew to meet us again.  Water water water.  I fill them in on Mark's condition and then we make the last little leg to the official stop at Cattlewash.

Approaching the crew car in beautiful Bathsheba
Stage 8 - Cattlewash to Belleplaine
I had asked my friend Reggie to run the last 5.2k with us in advance.  He was ready to roll but we were not. It had become a game of wills.  Mark's will to continue while his knee expanded and legs were cramping and my will to stay put and not sprint to the finish in a desperate attempt to just be DONE.  My God it was ugly.  It's never easy to the see the person you love in pain but listening to every wince and sharp intake of air at each step was pretty much unbearable.

At Barclay's Park, my sweet Rachel got her four-month-pregnant-self out of the crew car, put her running hat on and said "That's it! Reg is running with Mark and you and I are running this in.  Now."  But I couldn't do it.  We let the guys get ahead of us and I told her that Mark and I were finishing together come hell or high water.  And this was my high water mark.  Prolonged sun exposure and baking pavement in the dead zone of Cattlewash was an easy price to pay to finish with a man who would never leave me out there if I was in trouble.  A lot of deep breaths, several tears, and a lot of love got us to the end.  Together.

All the ducklings heading for the finish
At the finish!
Now that the dust is settling and we've looked at our race more objectively, we probably would've finished somewhere around 5:30 by negating at least one of the earlier crew stops and estimating our pace without the cramping.   But until next year (and Mark's new salt tablets!) our time stands at 6:14. And that's A-OK, considering less than 20 people can claim rights to running the entire course since the event started.  I'm proud to be among the 20!

Ralf Luther and Eric Clarke of Ufukuzo did a fantastic job of educating all of us on the trail and worked over and above any race fee we could've paid.  The volunteers at the aid stations were friendly and encouraging and even our medals were special.  In my opinion, this "footrace" could become a signature event in Barbados in years to come.  It's a big, beautiful, wild, challenge!

New Year's Goal #6 - CHECK.


  1. This was obviously no easy run Lauren and I am so proud of you and Mark! It so special that you ran this whole thing and finished together. This you will hold on to forever!!! I hope the wounds are healing and you are enjoying those post event days of resting and recalling every moment over and over. What an adventure!!!

    1. It really was a special day and a special race. I highly recommend it! Thanks for all of the support throughout Angie. Your encouragement and confidence has gotten me through an awful lot these past few years!

  2. PS...I love the second picture where you look like you are skipping! So Happy! :)

  3. Congratulations! What a great story!

    1. Thanks Karen! It was such a good Barbados vibe - remember those? :)