Louise in Barbados

Thank You, Barbados

Thanks to her experience at 2023's Run Barbados event, Louise Sylvester discovered that running holidays are about way more than chasing PBs and ticking off Majors...

I’ve often laughed with friends who travel for work that I would be happy enough simply to do the travelling bit, a long-haul flight or an 8-hour train journey would suit me just fine, I joked. The chance to read a book in peace, to close my eyes and take a few minutes to think, plan, set goals. Maybe even have a nap! All the stuff I used to be able to do before becoming a mum.

So, imagine my delight when the opportunity came my way to do just that… a long-haul flight to Barbados. And the best bit? It wasn’t just the flight that would provide the longed for ‘me-time’, this was going to be a mini-break on a Caribbean island with the added excitement of taking part in Run Barbados. Plenty of running fun in the most exquisite of settings, who could say no to that?

We're going to Barbados!

A quick Google search informed me that Run Barbados is the largest marathon in the Caribbean and has evolved into one of the island’s premier sporting events with a festival weekend that includes four other distances. I also discovered that it is well known for its party atmosphere and spirit of camaraderie - all I had to do was get myself race ready! 

Barbados Beach

Training started in earnest in August, as documented in my previous post. I signed myself up for the bronze challenge which meant I would be taking part in three of the weekend’s running events – the 1 mile fun run, 5K and Half Marathon. I was nervous about taking on too much, but if you’re going to do something then it’s always best to go all in!

One Mile Kicks It Off

We arrived at a hotel in Bridgetown to collect race numbers, where I discovered that I was registered as a man… and four times for each event! This was quickly resolved and new race numbers allocated. All those taking part received a t-shirt for the different distances, racer back style vests for the 5K and half marathon were a nice touch. They even let me take some t-shirts and race merchandise for my kids back home… bonus.

One Mile Fun Run Kicked Things Off

Heading out to the one mile fun run on a Friday night our group looked like we were on a Paddy’s Day excursion, resplendent in green t-shirts! Conditions were warm but breezy and it was a real family affair with people of all ages taking part. There was a great atmosphere at the Garrison Savannah racecourse, with glow sticks everywhere and a sense of fun and anticipation in the air. I found myself literally champing at the bit to get started… rather resembling one of the race horses we would later watch storming down the home straight.

The timed fun run was a loop of the racecourse and gave an indication of what conditions would be like for the rest of the weekend. It was a shock to this Scottish runner's system to be running in humidity levels that Glasgow can only dream of, but the music, excited runners, enthusiastic crowd and unique location more than made up for that. 

Living It Up

Our accommodation for the trip was the palatial, Sam Lord’s Castle Resort and with a room that had made me gasp with delight as I stepped inside, I was more than happy to head back for some post fun run down time.

Sam Lords Castle Hotel
This room ticked all the boxes - a bed big enough to fit all of my (absent) family members, huge balcony with a view over the pool complex and ocean beyond, as well as a Nespresso coffee machine, mini bar and luxurious bathroom. There was also something I am not so used to these days. Silence. This mum was in seventh heaven.

5K Fun 

Waking up to a buffet breakfast in the sun, myself and the fellow runners in the group were looking ahead to day two’s race action - the Sleeping Giant 5K and Sand Dunes 10K events which run alongside one another, starting at Barclays Park on the scenic east coast of the island. 

It was a little hectic at the start, cars in the road that shouldn’t have been there and even a bus! But this is the beauty of Barbados as I slowly came to realise, nothing is a drama. Had this happened in the UK there would have been raised voices, disgruntled runners being passively aggressive about the chaos – but it was nothing like that and as runners already on the start line parted like the Red Sea, the vehicles made their exit and the races got underway.

I was excited to get started and when the gun finally fired, I set off alongside the 350 other runners. The first leg of the 5K was a gentle downhill stretch and I had a real ‘pinch me' moment as I ran with the Atlantic Ocean on my right and beautiful Bajan scenery on the left. Support was incredible, so many locals were out in force to cheer for their friends and family and they extended this support generously to us overseas runners.

Barbados scenery

There were plenty water stations on route which were a welcome sight as conditions were still fairly humid despite the late afternoon start time. I had never seen so many people douse themselves with the entire contents of their bottles. Come Sunday though, I would be joining them – let me tell you!

Yes, it was warm. I imagined the breeze was going to make the race easier than I’d anticipated and to be honest it probably did to some extent, it was a pretty epic Atlantic breeze. But the humidity was tough. I realised halfway in as I made my way back up that gentle hill that this wasn’t going to be any record-breaking performance from yours truly! But I kept going… didn’t walk. Kept my head down and made it across that finish line.

My carefully curated Run Barbados playlist has around 7 hours of songs, from Kylie to Foo Fighters, but as I pushed myself to the finish line it was Barbadian pop icon Rihanna’s classic Pon De Replay that dropped, providing me with extra grunt and putting a huge smile on my face. A favourite song anyway, it was an awesome way to conclude my race experience.

There were quite a lot of kids taking part and it was lovely to see them being included and congratulated - the Bajan people are friendly, welcoming and so encouraging. I’m hard pressed to think of anywhere that beats their cheerful dispositions. Glasgow maybe? Speaking of Glasgow, I bumped into a few fellow Scots at the race - a couple of them from southside club - Bellahouston Harriers! 

We had tickets to the after party where we were treated to some great food, wine, and wifi – it was time to update the world of social media on our progress! Despite tired legs all round, it was impossible to keep still with the brilliant Bajan beats hard to ignore.

And More To Come

I began thinking how running a race is a little like childbirth. With one kilometre left to go I had started to worry about the following day’s half marathon. That worry continued for a good half hour after I had finished but sat in the mini-bus on the journey back to the hotel I was already starting to forget about the ‘pain’ and was looking forward to what the following day would bring. I knew the 13.1 miles were going to be tough, probably tougher than I appreciated back home when I signed up, but I also knew that the atmosphere, other participants and locals were going to get me through it. Who knows, I might even enjoy it!

The Day Of Reckoning

The 3.20am start was a little hellish, I’m not going to lie. There were lots of apprehensive faces in the bar where a light breakfast had been provided. Bussing to the start line it was dark, but not quite as cool as I’d hoped.

I should say that the overall feeling post-race was conditions were probably as good as they could have been - a breeze, occasional light drizzle and overcast in the main. The sun came out in full once all half marathon runners had crossed the finish line, so it was only those taking on the full marathon that endured the real heat of the day.

Half Marathon start​​​​​​​

There were a couple of punishing, but thankfully short, hills. Most people seemed to walk these - at least they were doing so at the back of the pack where I was. The route was scenic, with the Atlantic Ocean, palm trees, animals and plenty to keep your interest. The local support continued as we had grown to expect, and was eagerly lapped up by runners in need of encouragement.

The first of the two killer hills should be known as ‘centipede hill’ as I saw hundreds of the giant critters as I made my way up and down. Having heard earlier in the trip that they can administer a rather nasty sting I think I made my way up that hill quicker than I might otherwise have done!

During the course of the race I stopped every now and then to take some pictures, and that was fine. Forget times - for me, this was about taking part in something uniquely Barbadian. The easy-going attitude of the islanders had rubbed off on me and I ran most of the race with a massive smile on my face.

The route doubles back on itself in a few locations so there’s plenty of occasions where you see the faster runners (in my case) speeding past you. I really liked looking out for my fellow runners from the group and we gave each other encouragement and support every time we crossed paths.

I couldn’t run a distance like this without music and my playlist once again didn’t let me down. I spent some of the race running relatively alone, which I actually really enjoyed. Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Stronger’ dropped and this was the first song to inspire me to sing out loud. I literally couldn’t help myself and once I started I couldn’t stop. Locals and other runners heard my rendition of this hit, along with The Proclaimers’ 10,000 Miles and plenty other tunes that helped to push me further to that finish line.

Water stations were plentiful, and the staff eager to hand them out. The last 3 kilometres was tough on the legs, but mentally I was powering through! Back at the Atlantic, the home stretch was a gentle climb up to the finish line and I had left something in the tank to get myself over it with my head held high! 

Louise and half marathon medal​​​​​​​

Club Tropicana, here we come...​​​​​​​

Our final day was a fitting reward for all the hard work of the previous days. A private chartered catamaran cruise along the west coast of the island aboard Sea-duced II.

Seaduced Catamaran​​​​​​​​​​​​​​We were spoilt from start to finish with canapés, cocktails and a delicious lunch. Not to mention snorkelling with turtles. The water was so inviting, warm and every bit as blue as you’d imagine. This was a fantastic way to round off the weekend’s exploits and time to let our hair down and marvel at what our bodies had achieved.

Thank You, Barbados...

The Run Barbados events clearly mean a lot to the island’s residents and are extremely well supported. There is a charm about the event and you can tell that a lot of love goes into the weekend, the support of the community, and between runners, is notable.

Before now I’ve always thought of overseas events as being for ‘real’ runners. Those who are keen to tick another ‘major’ off their bucket list. Or those who want to experience a big city event and all that goes with that. But Run Barbados has made me see that these events can also be for very ordinary runners like me. You don’t need to be fast; you don’t need to be in club colours; you don’t need to want to run a good time. What you do need is a desire to experience the trip of a lifetime. Three days of running that will challenge you, but make you feel so proud, not to mention deserving of another rum punch (or three).

Louise at Coco Bay​​​​​​​

I learned so much about myself on this adventure; that I can leave my family behind, put myself first for a change and push my body to do things well out of my comfort zone. The quote from Bake Off 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain resonated with me throughout my trip and the months leading up to it, in an emotional statement, shortly after taking the top prize she said: “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.”

And I did. Thank you, Barbados. Now, what’s the next adventure going to be?

Run Barbados 2024 will take place 6-8 December. If you'd like to know more, visit the Run Barbados website.

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