‘Come for the run, stay for the fun!’ Jessica Whittington reflects on her Run Barbados Marathon weekend experience
Think of Barbados and ‘rum’ might sooner spring to mind than ‘run’, but to discount this paradisiacal Caribbean island as a marathon destination is to miss out on an unforgettable and unique running experience.
One of the oldest and most prestigious road racing events in the Caribbean, the Run Barbados Marathon Weekend celebrated its 35th edition from December 1-3, 2017. Runners from across the globe travel to the idyllic island – which is just 166 square miles in size – to get involved with the three-day long festival which has evolved to now include six events.
The Run Barbados slogan – ‘Come for the run, stay for the fun!’ – is superb advice. Head out there in December to run in the sunshine – with average daytime temperatures of 29°C – and then enjoy the many other experiences on offer.
The brainchild of two locals, Sir Austin Sealy and Carl Bayley, ‘Run Barbados’ started out with a Bridgetown 10k and marathon, but now features the Signia Fun Mile on the Friday evening, the Cave Shepherd VISA Credit Card 5k and Colombian Emeralds International 10k on the Saturday and then the Cave Shepherd Marathon, Fortress Half Marathon and Ganzee 5k Walk for Charity on the Sunday.
The event boasts an impressive roll of honour, with Australia’s 1983 world marathon champion Rob de Castella having won the first Run Barbados men’s 10km race, while Britain’s 1982 London Marathon winner Hugh Jones, triumphed in the marathon six times between 1990 and 1996 and still holds the event record with 2:22:33 from 1991. The women’s 10km record also belongs to a Briton, with Jill Hunter having run 32:44 in the 1990s.
Following in their footsteps, albeit rather more slowly, I visited Barbados and took on the 10km as well as the mile. Travelling as part of a group, the varied race programme meant there was something for everyone. The marathoners among us were brother and sister Phil and Emma Cowley (pictured below) of Handsworth Roadhogs, who had won their trip at the London Marathon Expo. While Phil had run in London, it was Emma’s first marathon and as they sensibly reflected: “This really is a PB course, just not PB weather!”
They added: “It is a fabulous place to do a marathon. A great opportunity to explore the island on foot and very friendly people – we made friends from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, America and Canada!”
The moon-lit 5am start for the marathon and half-marathon runners meant the events began in slightly cooler conditions, though things soon heated up. Overall there were 69 finishers in the marathon and 316 in the half-marathon, while 230 people completed the 10km and 508 the 5km. Germany’s Paul Schmidt (2:36:13) and Fanja Felix of Martinique (3:03:45) claimed marathon victories.
“The number of entries and overseas entries in particular has enjoyed a steady increase over the last three years,” says Kristina Evelyn of Run Barbados (runbarbados.org). “The diversity of runners attending is inspiring. In 2017, runners from 17 countries visited and as an example look at our winners and the countries they represent – ladies and men from Canada, Germany, Martinique, France, Colombia, Barbados.
“The plan is to continuously improve in all areas,” she adds, looking ahead to this year’s event on December 7-9, “to present races that meet the high expectations of the many experienced runners who have run all over the world and then run with us!”
Used to bigger fields, I enjoyed the more intimate nature of this event – there felt like a real camaraderie among the runners – however, as a result it did mean that on occasions I was running on my own. To combat this, I’d recommend travelling and running as a group and really embracing the experience – take in your stunning surroundings and the support, including music playing from homes and the many rum shops.
Running in 29°C is never going to be easy, so surround yourself with supportive club mates or friends and make the most of being part of a Bajan running celebration!
The mostly flat marathon is run on an historic two-lap AIMS-IAAF certified course on partially-closed roads. Starting at the Bay Street Esplanade in Bridgetown – the island’s capital city located on the southwest coast – there are views out to the magnificent Carlisle Bay (and plenty of toilets available for pre-race use!). The route then takes runners through the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the Independence Arch, over the Chamberlain Bridge and along the west coast before looping back. The 5km and 10km events have the same start and finish but take place the day before, at 4pm and 4.45pm respectively.
Upon finishing, there might not be a flashy goody bag (running in Barbados is more than prize enough!) but there’s lots
of smiles, fresh fruit, a huge medal and the ocean to dip into, which is slightly more favourable than the foil blanket I’m used to.
You’ve come, you’ve run … now for some more fun. And Barbados offers plenty of it. Here are some things you might want to try:
Island Safari jeep tour
Barbados is incredibly beautiful and its beaches are diverse, so be sure to try and see as much of the island as you can – from the star-studded ‘platinum coast’ on the west to the livelier south coast and the rugged beauty of the Atlantic coastline in the east.
Going on an Island Safari jeep tour can help you do that as, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide and top-ups of rum punch – a delicious mix of rum, lime juice, sugar syrup, fruit juice, Angostura Bitters and nutmeg – you can travel across the island, past sugar cane fields, through Joe’s River Forest, on to the breath-taking Bathsheba (pictured below) and beyond.
Mount Gay Rum tour
Maybe not one for race day! Barbados is widely considered to be the birthplace of rum, and on the Mount Gay Rum tour you can learn about – and taste – this distilled spirit made from sugarcane byproducts.
As you’ll have likely already heard on your jeep tour, it is said that for every church in Barbados you will find a rum shop, and there are a lot of churches!
Seaduced catamaran evening cruise
For an extra-special experience, indulge in an evening catamaran cruise. Go snorkelling, and keep your eye out for turtles, before a stunning sunset leads into a delicious dinner and drinks on board a luxury private charter.
Lunch at the Atlantis Hotel
Take time out to reflect with a relaxed Sunday lunch at the Atlantis Hotel, where views over the spectacular Atlantic Ocean are accompanied by a Barbadian buffet and live music.
Oistins Fish Fry
Make sure you save some energy to enjoy the party vibe of the Oistins Friday night Fish Fry. An authentic Bajan experience, delicious fresh fish and macaroni pie are among the delights on offer from the numerous food stalls. Get there early if you want a seat. The marlin at Uncle George is highly recommended.
Harrison’s Cave tour
Go underground on a tram tour and discover a living cave with streams, waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites.
- British Airways (britishairways.com) fly from Gatwick to Barbados daily during the summer and 12 times a week during the winter. Return flights start from £571, with a flight time of around nine hours. The Grantley Adams International Airport is located in the south-east of the island.
- My visit included a stay at Infinity on the Beach (infinityonthebeach.com), a boutique oceanfront hotel on Dover Beach in Christ Church. Choose from pool or ocean-view rooms, or treat yourself to a duplex penthouse (balcony view pictured below).
- Barbados is in the Atlantic time zone and is GMT minus four hours.
- Check out visitbarbados.org for more.