Monday, December 8, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cayman Islands Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the Cayman Islands Marathon.  This race is in George Town, on the island of Grand Cayman.  Although I planned this trip months ago, it turned out to be exactly what I needed this week.  A week ago, I ran in cold, wet and windy conditions for the last three days of the Seattle Quadzilla.  After running for hours with hands that were so cold I couldn’t move my fingers, it was a nice change of pace to run in tropical conditions.

I stayed at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort.  This was the host hotel for the race.  The expo was there, and they had shuttles to and from the race.  By staying at the Westin, I could avoid renting a car.  I saw the downtown area and a few other parts of the island as I ran the race.  The rest of the time, I stayed at the resort.  Instead of an on-the-go sightseeing vacation, this was a beach vacation.

To get to Grand Cayman, I had to make connections in Atlanta.  Delta only has one flight to Grand Cayman each day.  It leaves Atlanta at 10:55AM.  While it would have been possible to fly out of Minneapolis on Saturday morning, I would’ve needed to take the 5:30 AM flight.  That would’ve meant getting up at O dark thirty.  Even then, a winter storm in Minneapolis could have endangered my connection.  Instead, I flew to Atlanta on Friday.  I spent the night in an airport hotel and took their shuttle back to the airport Saturday morning.

My flight to Grand Cayman arrived at 1:30 PM.  It took about 30 minutes to get through the immigration line.  I took a cab to the Westin, arriving in plenty of time to check in before heading to the expo.  The expo ended at 3:00.  Had I been late, I could still have picked up my packet at the Westin’s courtesy desk.

When I got to the resort, I was surprised how comfortable I felt.  The temperature was in the low 80s, but there was breeze that made it feel cooler.  When I consulted the forecast for Sunday morning, I saw that we would also have a breeze during the race.  That was encouraging.

There was a pre-race pasta dinner at Breezes by the Bay, a downtown restaurant.  They had shuttles, but I didn’t want to use up too much time getting to dinner and back.  Instead, I explored the resort.

After getting settled in, I went for a dip in the Caribbean.  The water was a nice temperature for swimming.  It was a little cool, but not cold.  I knew it would feel good after the race.  Next, I tried out the hot tub.  Although the water was hot, the breeze from the ocean kept me feeling comfortable.

Later, I had dinner at one of the restaurants at the resort.  I found one with a Jamaican pizza.  Wherever I travel, I eat pizza.  The Cayman Islands are so close to Jamaica that the U.S. embassy serving the Cayman Islands is actually in Jamaica.

I had to get up early on Sunday.  The race started at 5:00, so we could start running before the sun came up.  Shuttles to the start left the Westin at 4:00.  I set my alarm for 2:45, but I was already awake.  Because of the time difference, it felt even earlier to me.  Now you know why I didn’t want to get up too early on Saturday. 

When I woke up, it was 84 degrees.  I was only going to warm up a few degrees during the race.  The biggest difference between the early miles and the late miles would be radiant heat from the sun.

The shuttles dropped us off in downtown George Town around 4:15.  They had a gear check, but I didn’t bother checking a bag.  It was warm enough that I wouldn’t get cold in my running clothes.

Since this was an international race, I wore my Marathon Globetrotters singlet.  My friend Sandy was also staying at the Westin.  Sandy needs one more country to qualify for Marathon Globetrotters.  She’ll qualify in The Bahamas in January, where the club is having its annual meeting.

Sandy and I met a few other Marathon Maniacs while we were waiting for the shuttle.  When we got to the start, we took a group photo.  During the race, I saw another Maniac.

The course was a double loop.  Each loop had an out-and-back section that was about three miles each way.  There was also a half marathon that did one loop of the same course.  The course was fairly flat.  That was important.  I discovered in Costa Rica that it’s easy to overheat running hills in hot humid weather.

I didn’t think 3:30 would be a realistic goal in such hot conditions, but I wanted to break four hours.  I started at a pace that felt just a little bit easier than usual.  I didn’t know how long it would take for the heat to wear on me, so I had to be a little bit careful.

It was dark, so it was difficult to read my watch.  When I passed the first mile marker, I think it said 8:02.  I felt surprisingly good, but continued to run cautiously.  I didn’t see the next two mile markers in the dark.  At four miles, I couldn’t read my watch.  I reached five miles in 40:45, an average pace of 8:09.  It’s probably good that I didn’t always know my exact pace.  It forced me to focus more on how I felt.  I ran according to “perceived exertion.”

There were plenty of aid stations.  At first they were about a mile apart.  Later, they seemed to be about half a mile apart.  They had water and Gatorade, and the volunteers were great.  In general, this is a well-organized and well-supported race, but it’s worth noting that some of the volunteers were getting things ready as early as 2 AM.

Spectators were sparse, but every so often we would pass a big group of spectators who cheered enthusiastically.  I was impressed that anyone was out cheering when it was still well before sunrise.

After about three miles, we were on the out-and-back section.  Going out, I could see the leaders starting to come back.  After the turnaround, I could see other runners who were still outbound.  By this time, I was settling into an average pace of about 8:20.

I wore a hat that has a flap which covers the back of my neck.  After about 10 miles, I started pouring water on top of my hat and letting it soak through the flap and into the back of my singlet.  Other than staying hydrated, that was my main strategy for coping with the heat.  At first, I alternated between aid stations where I drank Gatorade and aid stations where I poured water on my head.  Later in the race, I started doing both at each aid station.

The out-and-back section ended at roughly the 10 mile mark. After that, we followed a different route through downtown than we did in the early miles.  There were lots of turns, but I just followed the runners ahead of me.  For the first loop, the marathon and half marathon were together, so I was always in a crowd of runners.  In the second loop, it would thin out considerably.

I finished the first loop in 1:48:56.  I was happy to break 1:49.  That meant I could break four hours by running the second half in 2:11.  Conveniently, that works out to 10 minutes per mile.  It was after sunrise now, but I still felt OK.  For the time being, I was confident that I could continue running each mile under nine minutes.  Of course, with the sun on me, I could easily blow up.

On the first loop, I could see that we were running along the coast, but it was too dark to see much.  In the second loop, I was able to enjoy the ocean views.

On the outbound leg of my second loop, I had two voices in my head.  One was saying, “Manage your effort carefully.  Don’t blow up in the heat.”  The other was saying, “You’re on a good pace.  You’ll probably place in your age group.  Don’t ease up too much.”  When I listened to the first voice, I eased up a little and let other runners pass me.  When I listened to the second voice, I stayed with the runners around me.  My mile times became a bit erratic, ranging from 8:15 to 8:42, depending on which voice I listened to.

As I reached the turnaround, I realized that there weren’t as many runners ahead of me as I previously thought.  After that, there was only one voice in my head.  I had less than seven miles to go, and I was competing for my age group.  I viewed everyone ahead of me as a potential competitor.  I tried to gradually reel in the runners I could see.

In the next mile, I passed two runners.  Then I passed two more, but I had to work harder to do it.  I ran that mile in 8:12.  There wasn’t anyone else right in front of me, so I ran the next mile by myself.  It was harder to maintain the effort with nobody to chase. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I ran than one in 8:09.  That was my fastest mile since the first five miles.

I clicked off a few more miles in the 8:09 to 8:10 range.  There weren’t many more runners I could pass.  Pretty soon I was just trying to finish strong.  I knew I was going to break four hours by a wide margin.  Now, I was only thinking about placing in my age group.

As I re-entered the downtown area, I had to pay more attention to the turns.  I didn’t always have another runner to follow.  As I entered the last 1.2 miles, I realized I had a realistic chance of running negative splits.  For most of the race, I assumed I would slow down in the second half.  At first I did, but I sped up again in the last seven miles.

I crossed the line in 3:37:42.  I ran the second half 10 seconds faster than the first half.  The second half was hotter.  I’m not sure how I did that.

There were different styles of finisher medals with different color ribbons for each race.  This is what the marathon medals looked like.

Post-race food included lots of fruit, Caybrew Light, and things I don’t usually see, such as plantain chips and rum cake.  As I was just looking over the fruit choices, a volunteer from the massage tent asked if I wanted a massage.  There was a long line, but they were all runners who had done the half marathon.  When she saw I was wearing a marathon bib, she moved me to the head of the line.  That was nice.

I needed the massage more than I realized.  I always worry about my hamstrings getting tight, but I discovered I had knots in my calves.  That’s not surprising.  I’ve had calf cramps at other hot races.  I’m lucky they didn’t bother me during the race.

Next, I found out where results were posted.  I discovered I placed 16th overall and first in my age group.  The awards ceremony wasn’t until 11:15, so I watched other runners finish while I waited.  I saw all of the other Marathon Maniacs finish.  I also saw a few runners finishing their first marathons.

One of the sponsors was Subway.  I received my award from someone in a Subway sandwich costume.

During the awards ceremony, I discovered that the second place finisher in my age group finished about 20 minutes behind me.  I guess I didn't need to push so hard in the last seven miles, but I don't have any regrets.

Here’s another post-race pic taken after getting back to the Westin.

I spent the rest of the day at the resort.  After lunch, I noticed one of my hamstrings was getting tight.  Soaking in the whirlpool and stretching helped a little.  Swimming also helped.

I didn’t fly home until this afternoon, so I was able to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and relax at the resort all morning before heading to the airport.

After struggling with the cold conditions last week in Seattle, I told people I wouldn’t complain about the heat and humidity in the Cayman Islands.  I’m definitely not complaining.  Despite living in a cold climate, I seem to handle heat better than cold.


  1. Nice report; thanks for including me. Here's a link to my race report:

    1. I enjoyed seeing your photos. I wanted to carry a camera, but I was afraid to get it wet.

  2. Thanks for sticking around. It was great seeing you at the finish!

    1. It was nice seeing everyone finish. I don't usually get to do that.

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