On January 11, I ran Move-a-thon TCI on the island of Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands. This event included a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon. The marathon is relatively new. I think this was the third year.
I belong to two clubs where the goal is to run marathon in different countries. They each have rules regarding what counts as an official marathon race. One requirement is that there has to be a minimum number of finishers. For Marathon Globetrotters, the minimum is 10.
Last year, the marathon only had seven finishers. That’s not enough for it to be considered an official race. This year, several members of Marathon Globetrotters were interested in running the marathon, but only if enough other people ran it. As of last June, six members of either Marathon Globetrotters or the Country Club were signed up. Everybody else was on the fence, waiting to see who else would sign up.
I decided to commit to the race. The same day I announced that in the Marathon Globetrotters Facebook group, another member also announced his commitment. Within a few days, several others indicated they were seriously thinking about it. As it became increasingly likely that we were likely to get at least 10 runners, other members registered for the race. We just had to reach “critical mass.” Then others registered. Before long, we had 15 members signed up. That didn’t include any local runners. It was just the club members we were aware of. With so many members signed up, the race quickly took on the feel of an unofficial Marathon Globetrotters reunion.
The Turks & Caicos Islands are southeast of The Bahamas and north of Hispaniola. Providenciales has an international airport, which is about 570 miles from Miami. Multiple airlines fly there, so it’s relatively easy to get there from the United States. It’s a popular area for snorkeling. This is the view I had of the west end of the island from the airplane.
As international destinations go, this is an easy one, if you’re traveling from the United States. They use the US dollar as their official currency, they use the same style of electrical outlets as the United States, and the official language is English.
Thursday, January 9
Delta has one daily flight from Atlanta to Providenciales. Knowing there wasn’t another flight if I missed my connection, I gave myself as much time in Atlanta as I could. That meant taking the first flight of the day from Minneapolis to Atlanta. I was on this same flight in November, when I had to get to Atlanta in time to connect to a flight to Havana. I knew exactly how early TSA opened up the security lines in the Minneapolis airport. I also knew exactly how early I had to get up. Yeah, I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted.
I arrived in Providenciales in the afternoon. I met my friends Lichu and Paul, who arrived on a later flight. Then we went together to pick up my rental car. I don’t usually drive in other countries, but the Turks & Caicos Islands don’t have much in the way of public transportation, and taxis aren’t as abundant as they are in some countries. I had to adjust to driving on the left side of the road. Fortunately, I did that recently on a trip to England and Wales.
From the airport, we drove directly to Graceway IGA to pick up our race packets. While we were there, we did some grocery shopping. Then we continued to our hotel.
Providenciales has an abundance of beaches. There are numerous large beach resorts, but they’re incredibly expensive. I stayed at Hotel La Vista Azul. It’s not on one of the beaches, but the room rates were more reasonable, and it was less than a mile from where the race started and finished. Lichu and Paul were staying in another building that’s part of the same hotel/resort complex.
The first thing I did was turn on the air conditioner. It was set to 25 degrees Celsius, and I couldn’t set it any colder. Someone from maintenance was able to get it working after playing with it a little. I’m not sure what he tried that I didn’t, but it worked fine after that.
I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Turtle Cove, so I could have pizza in another country. The smallest size was 12 inches, so I had leftovers. I also brought back some garlic toast. Fortunately, my room had a mini-fridge and a microwave.
I tried to get to bed early, but struggled to get to sleep. My room was cold enough, but I underestimated how warm the blanket was. After tossing and turning for a few hours, I finally got up and re-made the bed to remove the blanket. After that, I eventually got to sleep. Fortunately, I didn’t have to get up early.
Friday, January 10
I started the day with no plans. As it turns out, I didn’t need any. Several other members of Marathon Globetrotters and/or the Country Club were staying at the same hotel/resort.
First, I bumped into a runner who is a member of the Country Club and joined him for breakfast at a nearby café. Then I walked to Children’s Park, where the marathon starts and finishes. I noticed there weren’t any street lights along that section of the road, but there was a sidewalk, so I didn’t have to walk in the street.
The temperature didn’t vary much during the day. In the morning it was in the upper 70s. In the afternoon, it would get into the low 80s. The humidity was high, but not as bad as I thought it would be. There was usually enough of a breeze that you didn’t notice it too much.
While I was walking, it started drizzling. It only rained for about five minutes. There seemed to be two or three rain showers each day, but they never lasted long.
While I was at Children’s Park, I decided to check out the beach.
When I got back, I bumped into two Marathon Globetrotters. I went with them to the post office and a few souvenir shops. Then we drove most of the marathon route. I took note of areas with wide puddles and a section of the course with potholes. That’s when I decided to start the race carrying a flashlight.
We joined two more Marathon Globetrotters for lunch. As we were leaving, we bumped into another Marathon Globetrotter who had just arrived. Even though I already ate, I joined him for lunch next door at a bar & grill overlooking Turtle Cove.
Later, I bumped into Lichu and Paul in the pool area of the resort. I spent the rest of the afternoon talking to them.
Between leftovers and groceries, I had more than enough food for a meal, so I stayed in and had dinner at the hotel. At the time, I didn’t feel like I ate that much, but later I felt like I overate.
I went to bed early, but had trouble sleeping again. This time, I needed to get up early, and pre-race anxiety just made my insomnia worse. I couldn’t have slept much more than an hour that night.
Saturday, January 11
Saturday was race day. The race started at 5:00 AM. That’s common for marathons held in tropical climates. I’ve run marathons in Hawaii, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Costa Rica, and they all had start times between 5:00 and 5:30. For the first hour of the race, we were running in the dark, but it limited our exposure to direct sunlight.
The race organizers provided a shuttle to pick up international runners at their hotels. Having already walked to Children’s Park, which was only 1,200 meters away, I was comfortable walking there again on race morning. Several other runners staying at La Vista Azul joined me for the walk to Children’s Park.
We made a few attempts to take a group photo of runners doing the marathon, but there were always a few runners in the bathroom or getting ready. This was the probably the most runners we had in one photo. I think there were about 20 of us running the marathon.
It was 77 degrees at the start. The humidity was high, but I could feel a strong breeze. I was hopeful that the breeze would keep me from getting too hot.
The course was a 13.1 mile out-and-back. For the marathon, we had to run it twice. I liked this layout, because it ensured I wouldn’t be alone in the second half of the race.
Based on my recent results at the Savage Seven, I was reasonably confident I could break four hours, even in this heat and humidity. I set four hours as my minimum goal, but that goal seemed kind of soft. I wanted to have a more ambitious goal to keep me motivated.
One possibility was to try for a Boston qualifying time. For my age group, that’s 3:35. I expected a time in the 3:40s. With a good race, I could maybe get into the high 3:30s. I thought 3:35 was a real stretch, but I wanted to at least see what that pace felt like.
This was a small race, and I knew at least half of the other runners. Most of them weren’t going to be running fast. It occurred to me that if I was the only one going all out, I might have a decent shot at winning the race. I heard a rumor that there was a runner who could break three hours. I couldn’t compete with that, but you never know who runs well in heat and who doesn’t. I kept winning the race in mind as another possible stretch goal.
I lined up in front, and started out with the lead pack. There were several runners starting at about the same pace. I assumed most of them were doing the half marathon. Within a few minutes, the pace felt tiring, so I backed off a bit. Three runners pulled away, but there were others still with me.
Most of the course had street lamps. We also had the light of a full moon. Most of the time, I could see well enough without using my flashlight. Then we reached a spot where I had seen wide puddles the day before. I temporarily turned on my flashlight to get a better look. Rain during the night had made the puddles grow to the point where the water went all the way across the road. I knew it would be shallow in the middle, so that’s where I ran. I was able to get through without getting my shoes too wet.
There were five aid stations that we passed along the route, plus one at the eastern turnaround. Since we passed them multiple times, we had plenty of chances to drink. They all had water. Some also had vitamin water and/or electrolyte drink. Most of them only had water in bottles. The first time I reached an aid station, I slowed to a walk while I drank from a small bottle. The volunteers said, “Keep going. Toss the bottle. We’ll pick it up.” Some aid stations had cups. When I could, I drank from a cup, so I wouldn’t waste too many plastic bottles.
They didn’t have every mile marked, but some of them were. There were enough mile markers that I could occasionally check my pace. I reached two miles in 16 minutes. That was a little faster than the pace I would need for a Boston qualifier. The pace still felt tiring, so I backed off a little more. Three more runners moved ahead of me.
With our race packets, we were each given a band with blinking lights that clipped to the back of a shoe. As the lead pack pulled away from me, it was only the blinking lights on their shoes that allowed me to see them in the distance.
The next mile had several turns. There were course marshals at each corner to direct us around the turns. Going around all the turns, I gradually lost sight of most of the runners ahead of me. Then I noticed one runner seemed to be getting closer. Over the next mile or two, I reeled him in. As I passed him, I went back to not being able to see the next runner ahead of me.
After running past the shops and resorts at Grace Bay, we eventually ran through a gate labeled Lee Ward. Now we were running through the Leeward Settlement. This section of the road had numerous potholes. It also wasn’t as well lit. I tried to turn on my flashlight again, but it wouldn’t turn on. Yes, this was the same flashlight I used for the Savage Seven. It doesn’t work well in high humidity. I used the same flashlight for this race only because I didn’t expect to need it much. Since it wasn’t working anyway, I put it in my fanny pack for the rest of the race. At this point, it was only about 20 minutes until dawn.
As I reached some potholes, I noticed they were all filled in with water. That made it easier to spot them, since light reflected off the water. If I was careful to avoid all the puddles, I would also avoid the potholes.
Driving around the island on Thursday and Friday, I noticed lots of fairly tall speed bumps. I also had to watch out for those. In one spot, I was so focused on the potholes that I almost tripped on a speed bump.
At the far end of the Leeward Settlement, I ran through another gate. I stepped carefully over a speed bump, only to step into a puddle.
Right after that gate, we turned onto the Leeward Highway. After turning, I saw the six mile sign. My average pace through six miles was 8:05. I didn’t slow down as much as I thought. I was still on a Boston qualifying pace, but it didn’t feel sustainable.
From there, it wasn’t far to the eastern turnaround, near the ferry dock. As I got closer, I saw the five leaders coming back from the turnaround. Four of them were together. The fifth was trailing them. As the first four came within sight, I looked carefully at the colors of their race bibs. Two of them were green. Those runners were doing the half marathon. The other two had orange bibs, like mine. They were doing the marathon. The fifth runner was on the opposite side of the street, where there wasn’t much light. I couldn’t see his race bib clearly.
Up until now, I had optimistically assumed that all the runners in the lead pack were doing the half marathon. I knew there might be someone fast doing the marathon, but I was surprised to see two faster marathoners. I knew at this point that I wasn’t likely to win the race.
I made the turn and started heading back. Shortly after re-entering the Leeward Settlement, I passed the runner who was in fifth place. The four leaders were already out of sight. My pace still felt too fast. I was pretty sure it would break me if I tried to hold it. I had to decide if I was going to try to keep pace with the leaders. I wasn’t likely to catch them, but if I fell any further behind, it meant giving up on winning the race.
Consciously, I knew I should back off the pace, knowing I would also be giving up on both of my stretch goals. Subconsciously, I wanted to stay close enough to the leaders that I could cling to some slim hope that they would come back to me in the second half of the race. I think my subconscious won that battle.
Soon, I started to see the next few runners. They were still outbound. I recognized most of them. Over the next five miles, I would see all of the other runners in the marathon.
In areas with wide puddles on either side of the road, it was no longer possible to run between them. Now we had to go onto sidewalks to get around the puddles, in case a car was coming.
Now there was more traffic. I wanted to run the tangents, but I sometimes had to keep to one side, because a car was coming. Most of the drivers were courteous towards the runners. Some went as far as to wait before driving through a puddle, so they wouldn’t splash water on runners who were on the adjacent sidewalk. Not every driver got the memo, however. One of the drivers honked at me and then yelled, “Get the f*** off of the road.”
I was noticing the heat and humidity much more now. Where was that wind I felt at the beginning of the race? It seemed to be gone. At one of the corners, I saw a banner blowing in the wind. The wind was at my back now. That’s why it wasn’t helping to cool me off.
I also started to feel my intestines rumbling to life. I needed to make a bathroom stop, but I was hoping I could hold off until the end of the race.
When I reached the 10 mile mark, I was shocked to see that my average pace was 8:01. I actually ran faster from six to ten than I did in the first six miles. I knew this pace would break me, but I couldn’t resist. By now, I had passed another runner. He was doing the half marathon. There were only three runners ahead of me, but two were doing the marathon.
I started to see more runners ahead of me. They weren’t going as fast, and I didn’t recognize them. The 5K and 10K races started 30 minutes after the marathon. I was past the turnaround point for the 10K, so I was beginning to overtake runners who were in the second half of the 10K. Now, if I was gaining on a runner in front of me, it wasn’t necessarily one of the three leaders. Eventually, I also passed the turnaround point for the 5K, so I started to see those runners as well.
At aid stations with bottles, I drank as much as I could and tossed the rest. Just after going through the last aid station of the first lap, it occurred to me that I should be pouring water over my head to cool myself off. That worked well on the last day of the Savage Seven, but until now, I didn’t think of it. I made a mental note to do that on my second lap.
In the last three miles of the first lap, I struggled with the heat. Here, I finally slowed down. In the last mile, I saw a runner coming toward me. It was the leader of the marathon. I still had a few minutes to go to finish my first lap, and he was already on his second lap. The second place runner was about a block behind him. Their lead on me was larger than I expected. There was no realistic chance of catching them.
I had a similar lead over the runners behind me, so it seemed clear that I would come in third. I didn’t need to worry about other runners. Now it was just a matter of what time I could realistically run. At 10 miles, I was still on pace for roughly 3:30, but by the time I finished the lap, it was barely on pace for 3:35. Running a Boston qualifying time probably wasn’t a realistic goal either.
As I began my second lap, I knew I needed to slow down a little, but I tried not to slow down too much. Whenever I grabbed a water bottle at an aid station, I drank what I could and poured the rest over my head. That helped. I was running into the wind again, which also helped.
I once again started to see some of the other marathoners. Now I was outbound on my second lap, while they were inbound on their first lap. For now, the runners I was seeing all seemed to be having a good race. That would change.
There was one port-o-potty along the route, excluding the ones in the start/finish area. I would pass it a total of four times. As I saw it for the third time, I decided to stop. I did my business as quickly as possible. I don’t know how much time I lost, but I felt much better after stopping. It was time well spent.
I continued to see runners who were still finishing their first lap. Some I could tell were already struggling with the heat.
When I reached the Leeward Settlement again, I had a much easier time seeing the potholes and speed bumps. Then I saw the leader coming back. The second place runner was right behind him. I was still several minutes away from the turnaround, so they were about a mile and a half ahead of me. I didn’t realize I had lost that much time. They seemed to be accelerating. Clearly, they were way out of my league, which made it easier for me to focus on just finishing as best I could.
I made the turn and started heading back. When I reached the 20 mile mark, I could see I had fallen off my earlier pace by about seven minutes. The bathroom accounted for some of that.
There was much more traffic in the second lap. For the rest of the race, I had to run on the sidewalks, because of all the cars. That meant constantly stepping over curbs as I crossed side streets. That was uncomfortable.
Coming back, I once again saw all of the other runners in the marathon. The first two still looked strong. Then I saw a woman who was also staying at La Vista Azul. I told her she was the first woman. She seemed surprised. After passing a couple more runners, I saw the second place woman. It was only fair to also tell her how she stood. I didn’t know it at the time, but that lit a fire under her to compete for the win.
I usually had to choose between drinking vitamin water from a cup or grabbing a bottle of water, so I could drink some and pour some over my head. At one aid station, the volunteer handed me both. I drank the vitamin water, which was ice cold. Then I poured the whole bottle of water over my head. It didn’t seem to cool me off. It just rinsed salty sweat into my eyes.
I continued to see other runners who were outbound. Now they all seemed to be struggling, but they were determined to finish.
The next time I reached an aid station, I again found that pouring water over my head didn’t seem to help. The bottles of water were on a table in the sun. The water was warm now.
As I ran past the port-o-potty for the last time, I was glad I stopped earlier. I would not have wanted to wait this much longer.
The last two miles were a bit of a struggle. I knew I was slowing down, but I got it done. I finished in third place with a time of 3:38:36. For at least half of the race, I was focused on stretch goals that proved to be unrealistic. Although I didn’t achieve either of those goals, my time was still at the fast end of what I thought I might do. It was a solid time for the conditions, but I did it the hard way. I ran positive splits by six minutes.
After the race, I remained in the finish area for about an hour and a half, so I could see some of my friends finish. I saw the top two women finish fairly close to each other. The woman who was previously in second came in first. She looked like she used every ounce of energy she had to do it.
I wanted to see more runners finish, but I also wanted to have some lunch. I walked back to the hotel and ate the last of my leftovers. There was a gelato shop inside the resort, so I also had a gelato shake.
I needed time to get cleaned up, shower, and cool down. When I felt like going back out, it was raining hard, but it only lasted for about five minutes. When the rain stopped, I spotted Paul and Lichu and talked to them for a while. I got back indoors just before the next rain shower.
I joined several of the other runners for a post-race dinner at a pizzeria near the marina at the east end of the island. The food was good, and we had some great conversation, but it took forever to pay the bill. When I got back to the hotel, I was ready to crash. I got to sleep quickly and got a full night’s sleep.
Sunday, January 12
I didn’t need to get up early, so I slept as late as I could. I didn’t need to check out until 11:00, so I took my time having breakfast and packing up. I was thinking of walking down to the beach, but changed my time when I heard the rain. I opened my blinds and saw it was pouring again. I think the amount of rain we saw this weekend was unusual for this time of year.
After checking out, I met Lichu and Paul, and we drove back to the airport together. There wasn’t enough time to go for a restaurant before dropping off the rental car, but I was able to have lunch at the airport.
The airport was unbelievably crowded, but while I was there, I saw two other friends who were flying out at about the same time. My flight to Atlanta was on time, but I still have one more flight. I’ll get home late.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Average Pace: 8:21
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 399