Yesterday morning was the 8 Tuff Miles
race. It was an incredible experience.
I first heard about the run back in October when we were researching heading to St. John for the winter - it was one of the major local events listed on every St. John website and calendar we found. As a still very tentative runner, the prospect of building up to this race seemed like a worthy challenge.
The thought of competing in such a demanding and organized race excited me, and also thoroughly intimidated me. Less than a year ago I never would have considered myself a "runner" of any sort, and I had never competed in a race any more organized than the "Black Rock City 5K" at Burning Man this past year.
Learning that it was officially a "Run / Walk / Jog" race took the pressure off, and Cherie and I signed up together in December. Running in the "Turkey Day 5K" and completing a few major hill-climbing hikes around the island convinced me that at the very least I should be able to finish the course in the allotted time.
I have no doubt that Cherie would have been up for it too - but a month or so ago she playfully responded to a Facebook update from our friend Wayne in Arizona saying that he had just had a great 8 mile run. Cherie asked if he was training for "8 Tuff Miles", and within the course of a few back-and-forth comments Wayne's wife was offering to buy him a ticket to visit us for an adventure, Cherie was offering Wayne her coveted (sold out!) place in the race, and I was offering to buy the beer. Serendipity for the win!
And then another serendipitous encounter with the organizer / founder of the race a week ago wound up with Cherie being invited to be part of the official volunteer crew. Serendipity score x2.
We had to get up extra early yesterday since Cherie was volunteering to work the SAG wagon, and needed to be at the start at 6AM.
It was great to get to the start well before sunrise when the place was nearly deserted, and to then witness the flood of a thousand racers arriving for the start. Particularly once the special ferry from St. Thomas arrived, it was a mob scene - and Cherie was in the center of the mob, collecting people's backpacks and belongings so they could pick them up at the finish.
Wayne and I wandered around, and met up with our friend Trevor from St. Thomas who was also racing. Shortly after 7AM we were all herded into the starting coral, the National Anthem was sung, and a Coast Guard rescue helicopter did a flyby. This was indeed a big production!
And then we were off!Course Description:
"This course begins and ends at sea level. Along the way you will reach an elevation of 999 ft. There is approximately 1400 ft. of elevation gain in the first 5 1/2 miles and then it's back to sea level. The course actually measures 8 3/8 miles."My Race Experience...
The race started at the Virgin Island National Park Visitor Center, then ran past the Mongoose Junction shopping complex, and then made a sharp left uphill. A special treat was running through the newly completed traffic circle in the heart of Cruz Bay with the Love City Pan Dragons playing a steel drum concert in the middle. And then the serious hill climbing began...
The first two miles are a steady climb up to 571 ft of elevation, with hardly any flat spots. I had learned during the training run two weeks ago
that for me it was better to power-walk the steepest uphills, so this time I didn't push myself to exhaustion too quickly knowing that there was a long race ahead.
This strategy paid off - and when I got to the top I was (relatively) refreshed and energized, and the next mile was the most fun of the race. "L.A. Woman" by The Doors came on, and the driving beat of the song pushed me on at a nearly 7min/mile pace for much of the next mile, a nicely shaded and slightly downhill part of the course. I was weaving through the crowd and actually passing people - it was a blast!
The mile 3 to mile 4 segment however is a rough one, featuring a very long steep sustained climb up to 904 feet elevation. And then the next mile is the most extreme, starting with a steep downhill, followed by a climb up to the 999ft high-point (I jumped to make it 1000ft!), and then a very steep drop down to 798ft. It was on these steep downhills that I got to try out my skipping / galloping technique, and it worked as if I were hitting afterburners. I'd shoot down the steepest hills like a galloping rocket, passing people on all sides. It was exhausting, and exhilarating. And apparently very amusing for some of the other runners too - a woman at the awards ceremony later in the day said of seeing me - "We needed that!"
The next half-mile was the final climb to the Bordeaux Mountain Overlook, where the view opens up to all of Coral Bay below you. You can see all the way to the finish line. This was where the training run two weeks ago ended, and I was thrilled to check my iPhone and see that I was passing the overlook after 1hr 10min, a full 10 minutes faster than my finishing time two weeks before!
There were drummers playing at the Overlook as we ran past, and, more ominously, an ambulance loading up one of the elite runners who had pushed himself too hard. But it was all downhill from here! The end was literally in sight!
Unfortunately, though it was in sight, the finish was three miles away and 900ft down, and there was neither much shade shade nor any flat spots during the long twisty run down the mountain. And this was all new territory for me - I was now pushing further than I had ever run before. My legs and feet were certainly letting me know!And then the finish...
As I ran around the final bend and into the chute towards the finishing line, I saw by the giant clock that I just needed to push a little harder and I would be able to finish under my goal time of 1hr 45min. And I did - finishing with an official time
Cherie (as well as folks following along on Facebook) had been using the awesome iPhone app Glympse
to GPS track my progress live, so she knew exactly when I would be finishing and was able to sneak away from the SAG wagon to cheer me on. It was a thrill to see her, and to have her hugging me at the finish line. I was handed my finishers medal (a very cool bottle opener!) and t-shirt, and then I sucked down some water and dove into the fruit.
Once I had caught my breath and had the sweat out of my eyes, I met up with Wayne. He had totally rocked it - finishing in 1:12:25, just missing winning 3rd in his division by a minute! Trevor also had a great time, 1:28:03.
The elite runners though were really amazing. Seventeen men and one woman finished the course in under an hour, and the first place finisher set a new course record by finishing in just 46 minutes! That would be an amazing time even on flat terrain!!!
We also saw a different type of elite "runner" at the finishing line... We met two stumbling guys who had started the race wearing backpacks each full of 18 beers. One had managed to finish all 18 while completing the course (with three pit stops), and his friend had managed 16. I was personally amazed that they were still standing....
There was such a great mix of runners and walkers of all types. The youngest finisher was 5, and the oldest was 82. There was a whole crew of "Black Shirts" from Kentucky that came down as a group every year to race, and I think there were 30+ states and 7+ countries represented.A few other thoughts on the race...
I loved how well supported the race was, with 11 official water stations, some with orange slices (heaven!). There was even an unofficial "Beer Bong Challenge" hydration station, which I wisely skipped. The entire island of St. John really did a great job in hosting the event, even allowing the main road across the island to be (mostly) closed for three hours. I also loved all the cheering crowds and musicians playing along the course, although you could only ever hear a bit or two of any song before you ran past.
I also have to say that I was VERY impressed with my Vibram Five Finger Trek shoes. They were fabulous to run in, though I did wish a bit for more padding on the final downhill once my feet were reaching a point of serious tenderness. They were also a great conversation starter - I must have had a dozen people ask me about them while on the course and after.Here is the playlist that kept me going as I ran:
Love City Pan Dragons Youth Steel Orchestra - Live! *grin*Afterwards...
Marathon - Rush
All The Way - Shakiban
Orange (Re-mastered) - Ed Alleyne-Johnson
Catch My Disease (That's The Way I Like It) - Ben Lee
L.A. Woman - The Doors ***One of the best running songs ever!!!***
Super Rad - Aquabats
Everybody (Bassnectar vs. Freq Nasty remix) - Bassnectar
A Glorious Dawn (Cosmos Remixed) - Carl Sagan & Stephen Hawking
Kid Gloves - Rush
Believe - Run Lola Run - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack *Hard not to run listening to this!*
Mysterious Ways - U2
Holiday - Green Day
Just Because - Gaia Consort
Lovers Of Light - Afro Celt Sound System
I Have My Moments - Blues Traveler
Synchronicity II - The Police
Hammer To Fall - Queen
Elevation - U2
La Villa Strangiato - Rush
Once the finishing inflow had slowed to a trickle and Cherie was no longer needed as a volunteer, we took a bunch of pictures together and then headed home for lunch.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the beach - and we did enough long-distance swimming to almost turn the day into a biathlon. It was GREAT to be weightless and off my feet for a while. Then we checked out the awards ceremony back in Cruz Bay, and Trevor came home with Wayne, Cherie, and I to join us for dinner and a movie before we all crashed.
What a day!!!
I am thrilled with myself for accomplishing this, and I am thrilled to have a supportive partner in Cherie who did such an amazing job making it all happen. (I wouldn't even have taken up running if it wasn't for her getting into it first last year!)