Picture this … daybreak on a glorious tropical island (St John, USVI), an 8.3 mile course that begins at one bay (Cruz Bay), goes from sea level to an elevation of 999 feet before descending to sea level at another bay (Coral Bay), and your prize for “finishing” … the uniquely designed medal that doubles as a bottle opener and then a party with Award presentations later in the day back at Cruz Bay at “Ninth Mile” … Yup that’s it: 8 Tuff Miles!
So, you might ask, how did I happen upon this fun, grueling and at times hilarious event? Well, I met up in St John with my two best high school friends, where one of them luckily resides, to participate in this race. Since “her” entire family participates, and this was the 20th Annual event, this opportunity just couldn’t be passed up. Two of us, traveling from wintery weather, did not have the benefit of training on that island’s extremely hilly roads in 80+ degree heat while having to inhale water with humidity at 70% that seemed to pool around my ankles … But that’s just nitpicking! Who cares, we were in paradise and What a hoot!
You can probably imagine the logistical complications of visitor and local runners/participants (1,155 hardy souls) arriving pre-dawn en masse at Cruz Bay for a 7:15am start. In our “group’s” case alone our members descended while still dark out from East End, Coral Bay, Freemans and Eden estates all of whom either had to be dropped off and vehicles driven back over to the finish line at Coral Bay before the only road across the island was shut down for the event. Controlled pandemonium best describes the process. I take my “shoes” off to those fabulous local people and organizations who coordinated and supported this annual event: 12 amply manned water stations offering water , Gatorade, and encouragement with surprise stations toward the end – more on that later.
7:15am and the race was off and running! For me, the first 2 miles are the worst, but once warmed up I thought it would become a matter of pace. Water stations were plentiful and often as entertaining as they were vital with my favorite being the Elvis decked out volunteers!
I thought I had found a good pace as we passed the half way mark but Lizard Hill kicked butt … I rarely look up during the steep inclines but on this “hill” I did and I saw a rising serpentine road ahead with 3 bends and I thought “Whoa … Okay … I can do this … ” and I focused my gaze back on the road and pushed only to peek up after the 3 bends to see another steeper version ahead. Well now, all swearing aside I was not going to let this beat me so, head down, I pushed forward only to have the same view greet me at the next glance up. By now not a person was chatting, laughing … gasping breaths was all I heard until someone exhaled out an expletive causing others to laugh or offer encouragement … and this continued. But the worst was after about six miles when suddenly we were going down quite steeply before the road rose again precipitously to the final peak … at 999 feet!
In fact a young woman greeted us and cheered announcing it was all down hill from there: if she only knew … ! Mile 7 featured a beer chugging/champagne station (with funnel and tube) which we passed by laughing. Not a quarter mile later we encountered the “fireball” station … well, however tempting, I didn’t want to be “that house guest” that had to be carried off the field so we pressed on! Finally, we hit mile 8 only to recall the race is 8.3 miles and after a final push we “ran” the gauntlet to the finish line, got “medaled”, sucked down delicious coconut water infused with diced coconut and embraced friends and strangers all happy to have shared in this unique experience.
A few facts: Winner of the race was a 23 year old young man from New York, Edward Mulder, who blasted through this course at a blistering 5:47 pace finishing at 48:22 minutes and after hearing that he has a spot on the Olympic trials, there was a collective “Oh Wow, well I don’t feel so bad!”
The funds raised through the $60 entry fees are given out in Awards and scholarships: the 1,155 participants who crossed the finish line ranged in age from 7 to 77 … At the afternoon “Ninth Mile” Awards celebration, which takes over the parking lot in Mongoose Junction, beer, food and good cheer were plentiful and a bronzed team gave out the awards by category and groups: Females in age group 20-24 etc … I have to say the most coveted award (other than finishing first or in the Top Three of your Category) is the Under Hour Club award: once you are “IN” you are a lifetime member! This year, the oldest guy to achieve Club level was a 47 year old man from Houston, TX with a time of 59:08 (7:04 pace) with the fastest female being from Lincoln, NE with a time of 57:15 (6:50pace). I too had a blistering pace … the one on my foot!
Next day was total R&R: Swimming, Snorkeling, SUP, Sunning along a beautiful beach setting. Next time you are in St John, drive out to the East End and visit Vie’s Snack Shack: small fee gains you a parking spot to this privately accessed beach and try her local food offerings (closed Sundays and Mondays)! Plus, there’s the ever popular “Yellow Bar” barge that occasionally motors over and services beachgoers as well as the often spectacular yachts that anchor on the eastern side of Coral Bay!
PS I turned my medal into a key fob
See you in 341 days at next year’s 8 Tuff Miles run on Saturday February 25, 2017