It’s just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, but Barbados packs a punch on a global level when it comes to marathon weekend experiences. The island rose from the sea millions of years ago as coral limestone, rather than volcanic activity so expect to see colourful colonial houses chipped into the coral, as if they are sitting atop giant blobs of pumice.
When you travel to the Run Barbados Marathon series (runbarbados.org), held during the first weekend of December every year, it’s not just about participating in up to six races (1K, 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon and 5K walk) and feeling smug about your medal haul. You’ll also experience the magic of island life, the Bajan people and their culture. Yes, you’re travelling to find some winter sun but you can also step into the island’s past. There’s crystal clear sea to snorkel in, where you can swim with Hawksbill sea turtles. Then there’s the rum…ah, the rum!
The race series is popular with local and international people; this year there were nearly 2,000 participants. A very generous prize fund has something to do with this, as money can be made at these races (the winner of the marathon not only wins BDS$4,000 but a return trip to the island, including flights and hotel). So, for slightly more serious runners, this is a good chance to win enough money to make the trip pay for itself. There are medals for the first three winners in all age groups, as well.
Even at 5am in the morning, when the half and full marathon start, you are not only breathing in incredibly hot and humid air, you are breathing in the fumes of the past. The course is fast, with the sea on one side, waiting to cool you down as you pass the finish line, and beautiful Bajan houses dotting the road on the other. Ripples of support follow you all the way round (if you’re doing the full marathon you get to do two laps and the sun will have risen for the second) and there are plenty of water stations – you’ll need to make use of every one.
If you can, enter every race. The race organisers have ensured it’s possible to just about do this, so run them all slowly to get the most of the race series (and bag an extra medal for doing the full combo). Make sure you also plan your daily itinerary, so you don’t waste a moment while you’re there. You HAVE to visit a rum distillery or sugar plantation. Sipping rum at 11am in 30 degrees centigrade is just… surreal and makes you feel very, very happy. Travelling by submarine to watch the tropical fish or taking a sunset cruise to swim with them is also a must.
There are too many fantastic restaurants to list, and so many day trips (many featuring the serene blue West Atlantic Ocean) that you’ll get a tan while you’re on the go.
This is always going to be the perfect time of year to travel to Barbados, as it’s the week of the anniversary of the island being granted independence. Being there on the golden anniversary was a beautiful thing. We all felt the love of these people – it oozes from them as a nation, and they share it with the world through their music. As it bounces away in the background, along the course, let your body then your mind join the Caribbean party. There’s no place for tense shoulders or furrowed brows as you pound the roads. You’re there to relax.
You may experience a little rainfall when visiting; just think of the water gently washing away your stress and let it caress your skin. If you get rain during your races you’ll be so grateful. The most spectacular part of this trip was feeling my stress unravel like the sprung mechanisms of a very old clock slowly peeling away, layer by layer, until all the crumpled old metal has been eased into a flatter, smoother inward landscape. Island life will wash away your tension and aches, while you do what you love most, running. Thank you, Barbados.