Crazy to think the 2016 Cayman Islands Marathon would be my 8th consecutive running of the event, and with a couple of wins back in 2009 and 2010, and 5 consecutive 2nd place finishes, I was definitely hopeful of another spot on the podium. Recovery from October’s Javelina Jundred had gone pretty well, and with a recent 36:09 Turkey Trot 10K finish under my belt, it appeared I’d managed to get some speed back in the legs too.
So, after a week getting used to the heat and relaxing at our usual vacation spot, The Wyndham Reef Resort, it was soon time to get back into race mode and line up for my first marathon as a 50 year old. Here’s the abbreviated blow-by-blow account:
Mile 1 – 6:47
Just focused on getting into a good early rhythm – not too fast, yet not too slow. It was tough to watch the relay runners, numerous half-marathon guys and at least 3 marathon guys disappear into the distance, but for me, the Cayman Islands Marathon is all about running my own race and sticking to a plan. At least there were Christmas lights to enjoy along the course!
Mile 2 – 6:52
Chatted to a couple of guys running the half marathon who were already way ahead of their 1:40 goal finish time. They decided to back off the pace just before the 2 mile mark, leaving me to run solo in the darkness for a while.
Mile 3 – 6:55
Local runner and one of my pre-race favorites for the overall win, Chadwick Webster, passed me in the third mile with a cheery “Well, well, look who we have here!” and a friendly handshake. Not sure if Chadwick intentionally started slowly or he just got caught up at the crowded start line. No matter, he soon left me in his dust as he sped off in chase of the marathon guys up ahead.
Mile 4 – 6:57
Lost concentration a bit on the South Sound stretch, and with my pace gradually slipping towards 7 minute miles, decided it was time to pay more attention and speed things up a bit.
Mile 5 – 6:45
Much better mile split, thanks in part to the energy of the Revolutions Indoor Cycling water stop. Also caught my first sighting of marathon runners Ali King and Mike Ridsdale – two of my other pre-race sub-3:00 predictions.
Mile 6 – 6:48
Made sure to chug down some Tailwind Nutrition just after passing Ali and Mike near the last water stop before the Prospect Point turnaround. Also noted I was already drenched from sweat and with the low cloud cover, it was only likely to get worse.
Mile 7 – 6:34
Always cool to see the lead runners heading back to the start/finish. It was still pretty dark but I was able to pick out the top two marathon guys amongst the relay runners and half-marathon leaders – 3-time champion, Justin Grunewald, and local speedster, Chadwick Webster, who were about 3 or 4 minutes in front. Ali and Mike were just seconds behind at the turnaround, and with a bit of an adrenaline rush from the water stop volunteers and relay exchange runners, I unintentionally picked up the pace for my fastest mile split to date.
Mile 8 – 6:35
Another unplanned quick mile. It was good to see Ally making her way to the turnaround, and with so much energy from all the other runners on the course, I probably got a little too carried away so early in the race. The Revolutions Indoor Cycling water stop provided another boost, but after taking on more Tailwind and water, I decided it was time to back off and save some energy for the latter stages of the race.
Mile 9 – 6:46
Back into a more sensible pace for the return South Sound section. I managed to catch and pass local runner, Conrad Proud, who was running the half and looking to go sub-1:30. There weren’t many other runners around and I hoped Conrad could hang with me for a while to share some conversation and help the miles tick by. It wasn’t to be though, so I pressed on and tried to maintain a good, even pace.
Mile 10 – 6:44
Another sensible mile with another chug of Tailwind and water from the “Indian Water” folks.
Mile 11 – 6:45
Finally able to make the right turn on Walkers Road and head back towards George Town. Thankfully there were a couple of water stops in quick succession, so I made sure to drink plenty and dump a couple of cups over my head to cool off a bit too. It was already becoming a battle to maintain pace and I realised it was going to be a long, painful second half.
Mile 12 – 6:43
Out of the neighborhoods and back onto Walkers Road, and for a brief moment was able to spot a couple of half marathon guys up ahead – probably too far ahead to catch, but it felt good to have something to focus on for a while.
Mile 13 – 6:43
Despite feeling drained by the humidity and drenched with sweat, it was reassuring to be able to maintain mile splits in the 6:40s. It was also good to get back to George Town knowing there was “just one more loop” to run. Also, my 200 calorie soft flask of Tailwind was now empty, so I was looking forward to picking up another bottle I’d stashed along the course just on the outskirts of town.
Mile 13.1 – 1:29:10
Pretty much bang on goal pace. Any faster probably would have been suicide in the steamy conditions. Any slower and the chance of another sub-3:00 finish would be slim to none. Unbeknown to me at the time, Justin was 5 minutes in front with Chadwick just a minute behind Justin.
Mile 14 – 6:46
Just as I reached the area where I’d stashed my extra Tailwind soft flask, I heard Ali King’s name over the race loudspeaker meaning he was just about a minute behind. Knowing Ali had recently run an impressive 2:54 at the New York City Marathon, there was no time to waste – I grabbed my Tailwind and took off. However, picking up the Tailwind should have been a nice confidence boost, but frustratingly there was only about 4 oz of fuel in the 20 oz flask – either it had leaked (unlikely) or it had been tampered with (also unlikely).
Mile 15 – 6:40
The first water stop of the second loop seemed to take forever to arrive. I sipped some much-needed Tailwind, but realized the flask would soon be empty and I’d have to resort to the on-course “sports drink” – not the best feeling in the world when you still have over 10 miles to race. No matter, the pace was still good, and at least the sun was hidden behind the clouds.
Mile 16 – 6:47
A bit of a battle, but great to see Ally again just before she turned onto Walkers Road for her final 3 miles of the race. She also gave me word that Chadwick was just 50 seconds up ahead – the perfect boost with *just* 10 miles to go.
Mile 17 – 6:43
Chadwick soon came into sight on the long South Sound Road stretch. I counted steps as he passed one of the trees on the side of the road…. when I reached the same tree, I was just 120 steps behind. Another water stop and another sip of Tailwind – not much left, but enough for another mile or two.
Mile 18 – 6:38
Slightly quicker mile as I caught and passed Chadwick, who was still moving well, but definitely feeling the effects of his earlier quick pace. We exchanged a few words and wished each other well – me mumbling something like “It doesn’t get any easier, does it?!” as I pressed on for the next water stop.
Mile 19 – 6:29
Making the right turn onto Shamrock Road I was stunned to see Justin right up ahead – shirt off, walking, not looking great. Naturally, I felt bad to see him struggling (apparently he was having trouble keeping fluids down), but on the flip side of the coin, I realized I was now in first place and leading the race with a Police escort and bike leader. Adrenaline kicked in again (fastest split of the race!), but I was now out of fuel with 7+ miles still to race. Time to dig deep.
Mile 20 – 6:46
Thanks to the previous mile surge, my quads were starting to rebel and I was really concerned they were going to cramp at any moment. Thankfully I’d stashed a couple of electrolyte capsules in my shorts pocket, so at the next water stop I fumbled to fish them out and just about managed to chase them down with water. True to form, Chadwick was just 2 minutes behind at the turnaround and Ali just a minute or so behind Chadwick – with just over 10km to go, the race was on.
Mile 21 – 6:50
Despite the pressure of the guys behind, I had to stop at the water stop to take on water and sports drink. Both my quads and calves were beginning to seize up, and I hoped the on-course fuel could save them from cramping.
Mile 22 – 6:56
Starting to struggle badly. My legs hadn’t felt this dead in a marathon for a really long time. Ultras are tough, but it’s definitely a different type of pain in a marathon. It was good to spot Virginia Beach friend, JP, on the other side of the road and I tried to offer some words of encouragement as he headed out towards the turnaround with me just trying to hang on to the bike lead guy and maintain the best pace possible considering how rough I felt.
Mile 23 – 6:50
More sports drink from the “Indian Water” folks and a life-saving sponge from a volunteer on the side of the road. My legs responded somewhat to the cold water, but with 3 miles left to run I must admit I was desperate to be done.
Mile 24 – 7:11
Slowest mile of the race as I stopped briefly at the Walkers Road water stop to take on sports drink and hunt down some miracle food. I hoped for a banana (potassium is good for cramps, right?), but could only find dry, salty crackers. I forced them down as best as possible and started shuffling again with just over 2 miles to go.
Mile 25 – 6:56
Another tough mile fighting the cramps, and another walk through the water stop gulping down sports drink. The only bright spot was seeing multiple half-marathon winner, Marius Acker, cheering from the sidelines, but the boost was short-lived and I was soon back in survival mode.
Mile 26 – 6:49
The last mile, and with confirmation from the bike lead guy that “2nd place was nowhere in sight”, I allowed myself to relax somewhat and embrace getting back into town. One step at a time and finally I was able to cross the busy Smith Road and make the left turn onto Hospital Road for the last half mile.
Mile 26.2 – 2:58:48
It’s funny, after struggling for so long in one of the most focused and challenging 26 miles of my life, I was still able to dig deep and find something inside to enjoy the last two tenths of a mile. It’s hard to describe the relief, the pride and the joy of winning a marathon, but I think the official finish line photo captures the moment pretty well.
1. Steve Speirs 2:58:48
2. Ali King 3:09:03
3. Mike Ridsdale 3:31:06
So, aside from one last event this coming weekend, that’s it for my 2016 race calendar. It’s been a great year with so many highlights, but to win again in Cayman is a dream come true, and I’m really just thankful that I can still train and race at a pretty decent level. Will I return for the 2017 Cayman Islands Marathon? You bet. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.