Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back from Barbados!

Did you guys miss us? We slipped away and went to Barbados for a marathon weekend - literally.  A lot of people took a lot of photos (including a professional photographer that also happens to be Tina's friend), but some are still traveling or will take time sorting them. Eventually the Run Barbados website will post their photos too. Results are on Chiptime (mine and Michael's). Sports Shooter had some shots of Michael and me at the finish line, but they'll only be available online for 7 days (just hit next or previous for all of them - I might buy a couple). For now, I'll just post the ones we took. Everyone who was on this trip is terrified of what I'm going to write (evil laugh), but they don't need to worry; I'll try to be tasteful. Settle in, it's going to be a long one.

I don't even know where to begin. I guess we'll start with our method of transport.  LIAT is the only airline that can take you from St. Kitts to other Eastern Caribbean islands. They're late a lot, lose your luggage, and just had a sickout. They can also be expensive. We didn't want that. So the other way to get around is to befriend Mike at Fly Windies. The only thing better than knowing someone with a boat, is knowing someone with a plane (and maybe a professional photographer). I had flown with Mike before (on a food shopping trip to St. Martin - see post), but some of our crowd were first timers on a plane this small - a 6 seater.  This was going to be harder for some people than running the marathon. Here we go!

Here we are looking toward Nevis. Dreary, but still pretty.

Then we could see the world's biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, off Basseterre.

Next up? The Strip!  Wave to the Shiggidy Shack Mr. X!

And there's Redondo. This uninhabited rock is part of Antigua & Barbuda, has a very strange history (author's becoming kings of the place, for example), and has good fishing in its waters (we've been told). We got real close to it. Real close. Sightseeing at 11,000 miles (or so) above ground!

Then it was time to get up close and personal with Montserrat and its still active volcano, Soufrière Hills. It wasn't spewing much on Friday, but there was a cloud over top.

We got a great view of the old capital, now under several feet of dried lava.

Then it was time to rise above the clouds. Every once in a while we got a peep view of Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique but then it was time to turn east toward Barbados. We knew it was there somewhere....The clouds kept getting lower and lower, so we kept getting lower and lower...

Thank goodness it cleared once we got over the island so that we, or even better Fly Windies Mike, could see where he was going. Wow, look at all the houses, we thought we were coming into California.

It did have a lot of farmland too.

and beautiful blue-green, reefy waters.

We had a nice soft landing, thanked Fly Windies Mike for flying us to the right island and safely, and high-fived Kat for not screaming once during the flight (although she did admit to thinking a few Hail Marys). We then picked up our van for 8 and headed for our hotel. Of course, before we got to the hotel, we had to stop immediately for a Banks beer. It's tradition; these guys have been doing this marathon for 3 years. Cheers!

I did not have one of those. While my nerves were ok, my stomach was not (even earthquakes make me nauseous; it's amazing I survived sailing for 3 years). I was quite relieved to stop moving and arrive at the hotel. Once we got there, we had a welcoming committee! Our friends Tina & Captain Ron, formerly of St. Kitts and now in Florida, were already there and waiting. So were Jen (St. Kitts) and her friend Brent (Canada). Yay!

We all stayed at the Rostrevor Hotel in the St. Lawrence Gap (kind of like The Strip of Barbados). Gray, but pretty.

Rooms ran from $55 to I think just under $100 and were really cute. All had kitchens (the most expensive rooms had a/c), had a great view of the sea and pool, and had huge balconies or patios.

Watch your room placement if you stay there though; there is some construction going on. Plus, because it's in The Gap, we could hear the music emitting from the bars there. Until 3am. Luckily that noise was muted by the crashing sea surf on the other side (both options kept me awake). Not that we and a bunch of runners from Trinidad (Trinis) were exactly quiet or slept much. We claimed this porch area for our own and then stayed up holding several conversations at once, louder and louder as the night rolled on. The first evening, we waited on the last of our group to arrive (about 11pm), Tanya and Charlie (formerly of St. Kitts and now in Canada), and by the end of the night (or early morning) some neighbors came out to join us intrigued by the crazy conversations we were having. I'll bet the non-marathon vacationers were quite happy when we left.

Once exciting thing we did that day was get our marathon kits. I'm an athlete!

We had a rather bland dinner (perfect for my upset stomach) but at a fun place before cheering Mr. X on for the Midnight Fun Mile (actually held at 10pm).

Michael actually ran it too, but unofficially. He was just curious if he could beat X, but couldn't do it on such a short distance. There were about 336 runners for that event. Each race started out rather somber with a silent minute to remember the marathon organizer, 51-year old Jerry Friesen who died while running on Nov 2nd (!!).  All received buttons with his photo, as well. The runners did Jerry proud by running so fast that they ended up in front of the timer truck and then almost got run over by it as it raced to get in the lead. Crazy! My picture of X coming across the finish line is blurred, but he looked strong.

The next morning, I enjoyed the sunrise.

We had bought some great French bread at the supermarket the previous day and I shared some of mine with the birdies.

Michael & I got up with the early crowd and went to  EarthWorks and On the Wall Art Gallery for a little Christmas shopping (and island sight-seeing).

Saturday would involve two races - the 3K (just under 2 miles) and the 10K (6.2 miles), starting at about 4pm. Later that morning (when the rest of the group was up and about), we drove the routes, including the 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles), just to get an idea of what we were in for. Bad idea!! Who put all those hills there? We weren't even at the 1/2 way point yet? Was that really only 13 miles?? Whose idea was this (Heather!!!!)? Never mind - I want to do the 10K instead! AAAGH!

Ron and Nat (the guys on the outside) ran the 3K and the other 4 ran the 10K (a first for most).

First the wheelchair racers went. Pretty sporty!

Then the 10Kers. Go Mr. X and Michaal (you can see X in the right-hand corner there)! Jen & Tina were in the pack too.

Then it was time for Ron and Nat to get their 3K on. Nat had run this last year, but has quit smoking since then. He was curious if he could beat his time from last year, without training. Nope. As a matter of fact some rather old people beat him in, and I couldn't help but take a picture of one of them.

At it turned out, we all had a number of older folks get by us, even Kat (the most serious runner in our bunch), so it goes to show age is just a number. Finally Nat came running past,

and not too far behind came Captain Ron. Way to go guys!

Next up was Michael and then Mr. X. That's right, Michael (running in 48 minutes 10 seconds) was a full minute ahead of X and was pretty darn excited about it. He also placed 4th in his age group, was 49th overall for the men, and 64th overall (in a field of 357). Running 6.2 miles, each one in less than 8 minutes and he doesn't work out?! The unfairness of it all. Oh well, good job to both.

Each got a medal just for running the 10K. More Banks beer (they should have sponsored us). It was hot out!

You'll note it was getting dark. Jen and Tina still had to come in and were probably appreciating not having the sun in their faces anymore. Of course, because it was dark, my pictures stunk, but Jen came in first, running her first (and maybe only) 10K in 1 hour 24 minutes. They were just happy they weren't last (about 30 people behind them) and even happier to say they'd done it (past tense). We're proud of our 2 first timers. Now if only they'd gotten their 10K medals - organizers ran out...

This sure looked like a good idea.

We really had a good time cheering everyone on (including strangers). We then went to dinner (still queasy). While the others partied on, the 3 of us doing the 1/2 marathon the next morning ducked out early(ish). It should have been 4 of us, but poor Heather's hip never got over that 12-mile run we did a few weeks ago. She was still a great coach and we knew she'd be running with us in spirit. I'm kind of glad we went to bed, because what happened after will have to stay in Barbados. Let's just say that the rest of the group met the man providing the medals to the marathon and he had some extras from all of the world. Several "ceremonies" ensued and hilarity reigned. What a bunch (a bunch of what I won't say). Jen kept the party going by checking out the Reggae Bar down the street. This is what time I attempted to go to bed (it didn't happen).

What time I got up. Oy.

Wake me up when this is over. You have to admit though, I was representin'

I give credit to our support group for getting up early with us so they could cheer us on at the start. Traveling with this group though was kind like being the Octomom or maybe the Pitt-Jolie family. There were so many of us that it always took an extra 1/2 hour to get anywhere.  Thanks to Nat for driving us everywhere!

Our van had team spirit though. Go St. Kitts!

The full marathoners (26.2 miles) went first - there was a surprising # of those crazy people.

Then we were up. That's Kat cut-off in the front. She was so fast Michael almost missed her. Michael didn't get a shot of Tanya who was fighting with her fanny pack, but she started out in front of me. I'm in the 2nd photo - green back, middle of pack. What was cool was that you had a chip in your # badge. We'd run across a mat and it would lodge our time out and in.

Next up the 5K (3.1 mile) runners. There's Mr. X again. That's right he ran Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It wasn't enough that he got the 10K medal, he wanted the Bronze Medal as well (a mile, 10K, and a 5K).

And then our supporters had to wait in the dark....

Mr. X was back in no time,

and then it was time to stock up on refreshments. That's right. Note time.


The breakfast of champions.

In about 1 hour 40 minutes here came Kat. She actually shaved over 9 minutes off her previous time. Whoop! Whoop! You'll note that the clock is set for the marathoners (not 1/2). Another person running less than 8 minute miles, this time for 13 miles. Sheesh! Great job Kat!

Then I came in. I actually felt awesome at the 1/2 way mark, but started to run out of steam by the 10th mile. By the time I got to a bridge that I thought would never come, I was walking through the water stations and jogging slower and slower. I was glad to have the St. Kitts & Nevis shirt on though, because it seemed to garner a lot of clapping. People along the route were really encouraging. Just when I thought I'd start walking again, I saw the harbor and heard some cheering and picked up my pace. I can not describe how it feels to see everyone smiling at you, rooting you on, telling you to go faster. What a rush! Captain Ron even cried for us as we ran across the finish line. Softy.

Tanya had been right behind me at the 1/2 way mark, but started to lose her mojo once the sun came up. She'd been training in Canada, so wasn't used to the humidity we got hit with in Barbados. She still kicked butt though and looked strong coming in.

We're done!! We're done!! The young guy next to Mr. X is Gianni (St. Kitts). He ran three races for the silver medal (1 mile, 10K, and 1/2 marathon) and did a fantastic job as well.

So Kat ended up getting a medal for the 1/2 marathon. Another medal for coming in 2nd for the Caribbean women and yet another award for coming in 3rd for her age group.

I came in 35th for women overall (out of 94), and 101 out of all 202 participants. That's right, I was exactly in the middle of the pack. I ran the perfect 10 minute mile, arriving 2 hours 10 minutes (I was hoping to match Heather's last year time of 2:04, but nooooo).  But guess what? I got a 2nd medal. For what? I came in 2nd for my age group. Ha - this getting old crap is paying off! Just kidding - actually the next age group up had better times than mine. But look at my fan club! You guys are the best!

There has been a bit of a controversy over the marathon winners, since it seems a couple of contenders were led off course, but I'm glad to say that where we ran, there was plenty of direction from organizers.  The fastest times were pretty amazing (people can run a mile in 4 1/2 minutes???) and the variety of people were interesting.

There! We did it! It's over!!!! Time to go to the pool. The sun stayed out just long enough to get the tiniest bit of color and then it started to go to crap (what is with this weather?).

A dip in the sea was in order too.

Considering no one had really slept yet on this trip, people were starting to run out of steam. No sleeping!

Since many had been drinking since 5:30 in the morning (or maybe Friday night), it was time to get more food in the belly (and give the people trying to enjoy the pool a break). I was finally feeling better, so enjoyed a great meal and even got a margarita.

Hey - no sleeping!

Two of our crowd (I won't mention who) had a pitcher of margaritas, got very rowdy, and were tossed out by us, before we all got thrown out. The decibel level decreased markedly. Once back at the hotel - Oh to see the sunset. I was so ready for this moment.

Everyone went out to eat one more time (and X went out on his own later), but I just didn't have it in me. I was exhausted and was zonked by 8pm. Finally, I slept through the noise and woke up feeling fantastic. Let's run a marathon!

All we had to do now was survive another plane ride back. And the airport - remember that octomom comparison? We kept losing each other (Where's Kat? The bathroom. Where'd X go? Food line. Anyone seen Fly Windies Mike?). We finally managed to stick together and headed for the plane. This time I took a motion sickness pill. Within the 1st 10 minutes of the flight, we had a wonderful aroma of popcorn when a bag of pre-popped popcorn busted open in the cargo hold. Mmm, yummy. All was well until we got to Martinique. We had sun behind us and some horrible looking clouds in front. Temporarily, it gave us some pretty rainbows.

And then it started pouring and the winds kicked in and it started to get a bit...bouncy.

We hit one air pocket that had us gain 2000 in altitude within seconds and caused us all to hit our heads on the roof despite our seat belts. Michael's sunglasses, on top of his head, cut his noggin slightly and he started bleeding. That sent us all scrambling for tissues or napkins (it also made us take the sunglasses off all our heads). Although it bled like head-wounds do, it wasn't a major injury (you can't see anything) and it covered up the fact that Kat said a curse word. Michael might not agree, but the "drama" as he called it was actually welcomed since it took our mind of any further turbulence.

Once around Dominica, we got under the blasted clouds

and could see that they had had a lot of rain. Look at all the mud coming off the island.

Montserrat's volcano looked a little more active than during our first pass. We even smelled sulfur this time.

St. Kitts wasn't looking too inviting either, with nasty clouds all around.

We had heard it had been raining since we left, and mud was off its shores too.

This sight, however, was welcoming. We're almost home!

Give the claps to Fly Windies Mike for another successful flight! Once in the airport, Mr. X decided to have a Kim Collins moment and piled all his medals on (including some that weren't his). I'm so bummed this picture didn't come out. You're not allowed to take pics in the airport so I had to hurry the darn thing. What a geek though.

And that was that! We had a great time and I feel really lucky to have friends like these. Would we all do this again? A resounding maybe!

We got back to find our clocks blinking, confirming the usual power outages, it took hours to upload this blog because our internet still sucks, and it's pouring outside. It sure was nice to break the monotony for a few days. It happens to be Nat's birthday today - so happy birthday to him! Wonder if that puts him in a new age category....