Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Week: St. John, USVI

This ain't so tuff (8 Tuff Miles, Part II)

At this point, the road flattened out a bit, as much as it could flatten out on a volcanic island, so I started running again. The mile markers on the road said I was only three miles in. Ugh. At the next uphill I walked what I thought was a good pace when two young blondes glided right past me chatting loudly as if on a park stroll.
 “Why I could do this drinking a Heineken!” said the first one. “Why I think after we’re done, we need to turn around and walk back!” said the other.
From behind, I heard a woman say, “Lizard Hill is the most vertical part of Centerline, even more so than Bordeaux.” Not sure if she was talking to me, the woman caught up and we walked side by side. Wearing a white t-shirt, white visor and grey shorts, she started to get a slight edge at the top of Lizard Hill when a sharp left turn took us back down again. Downhill was my time to run. This particular section was especially steep and I had to concentrate to keep control of my feet so I wouldn’t go flailing and get a bad case of road rash. At the bottom several Jeeps were parked along the road, which meant two things - the entrance to Reef Bay Trail and the halfway point to Coral Bay. After the trailhead was another steep uphill. I ran about halfway up before walking again. More switch backs, then up and up and up. At the end of a gravel driveway a woman clapped and shouted. “The downhill is coming soon! You’re doing great! Keep going!”
For most of this middle part, I had been in the shade of tall trees. As I neared the top of a curve, the trees opened up to the sky. A vinyl sign hung next to the road. The woman in white had caught up to me again and read the sign out loud. It said our current location was the highest point of the race.
 “This is the highest point?” she asked out loud.  “I thought Bordeaux Mountain was the highest point?”
“I did too,” I replied. At the start of the next downhill, I began running again. I could hear drums beating in the distance. Coral Bay was getting closer.
My running was short as another uphill began. I had no trees to shade me, but clouds still clogged the sky, although they had whitened considerably since the start. It was only a matter of time before they would dissipate and the sun would bear its full force on the asphalt road. As I turned another switchback I could hear a harmonica. A welcome sound! At dinner the previous evening, a local woman said the harmonica player was the best part of the race because he marked the start of the final downhill. She said the player was an old guy and he stood on a rock. As I rounded the corner, there he was just like she said. He was dancing on the rock and puffing his harmonica. He stopped playing to cheer for me.
After the harmonica player was Colorful Corner, so named because of the three brightly painted buildings at the spot where the Northshore Road met Centerline. Many people had gathered here to cheer. The drummers were here as well. Six guys pounded out a marching rhythm on some bongo drums, a snare drum and one steel drum. The beat was perfect for charging up the rest of the hill since I didn’t want that woman in white catching me again.
As I passed Colorful Corner, picturesque Coral Bay finally came into view, blue and green and full of boats. Several runners stopped, some in the middle of the road, to take pictures. I had to dodge around them. Apparently they didn’t see the perfectly good scenic perch on the side of the road.
Finally, the last two miles into Coral Bay, all downhill. I began running again concentrating on large strides and landing gently, trying not to jar my ankles, knees, hips, spine, brain, etc. My legs felt like lead, but here gravity was my friend so I had push on. The sun poked out from behind a cloud.
While concentrating as hard as I was, amazingly I still found things to annoy me, like the bead of sweat that refused to fall off the tip of my nose. I kept wiping it with my hand only to have it immediately reappear. Then I ran up to a guy who was walking and just as I got even with him, he began to run. Really? He shuffled his feet too, even more annoying. He shuffled a short distance ahead and began to walk again. I caught up to him and he took off running again. When he stopped to walk, I caught up to him a third time and he began to run again. Com’on dude, seriously! I pressed on and passed his shuffling ass. The shuffling stopped when the guy finally gave up and walked.
I rounded another curve and several signs on the road greeted me, bright yellow signs and they read in succession – “One Mile”…”To Go”…”Lime Inn.” At the end of the third sign was a water station sponsored by the Lime Inn restaurant and manned by volunteers wearing yellow t-shirts. I grabbed one last water cup, swallowed half and dumped the rest over my head. One tuff mile to go.
The road flattened out so I didn’t have gravity’s help anymore. The tuff miles were taking their toll as I saw more walkers than runners ahead of me. Unfortunately, this was also the section of the course that was open to motor vehicles and several cars slowly made their way to Coral Bay alongside me, which created lovely exhaust fumes to breathe.
As I approached town large groups of people stood along the road. The school soccer field appeared ahead. That marked the finish, but the race organizers didn’t make it easy. I had to run past the finish line on the outside of the field to the school building. A volunteer in an orange vest pointed me into the school yard entrance where I ran onto the field itself. Lined with colorful flags and a huge crowd of people cheering the way, I sprinted to the finish. A familiar voice startled me.
 “Com’on honey!” It was my husband. I pushed even harder. The timer above the canopy displayed 1 hour, 53 minutes with the seconds ticking away. As I crossed the line a woman, a race volunteer, told me good job as she pushed me off to the side to make room for the runner behind me. Another person put a medal around my neck. Suddenly my husband appeared giving me a hug.
 “You made it!”
I was in a bit of a daze so he led me to a water station and then to the t-shirt tent so I could claim my finisher’s prize. I could already feel my quads tightening so I asked to walk around. He suggested we walk to Skinny Legs and get a table. As we walked he asked about the race. I told him it was brutal and I stopped running after the first mile. He was shocked to learn I didn’t run the whole thing.
“And you still made it in under two hours?”
He was impressed and I realized I should be too. I conquered the 8 Tuff Miles. My reward:  A cheeseburger and Presidente at Skinny Legs with a table full of other runners. After a second round of Presidentes, we had all made plans to run it again someday. St. John wasn’t so tuff after all.
8 Tuff Miles (Registration is already closed for this year)