Bermuda Marathon race recap: where did these hills come from?

I met the governor of Bermuda in the Miami airport.

I met the governor of Bermuda in the Miami airport before we boarded the plane to the island.

For having lived in Bermuda for seven years – and having run this course two years ago for the Bermuda half marathon – one would think I would not have forgotten how hilly this tiny rock in the middle of the Atlantic is.

One would be wrong.

As I am writing this four days after crossing the finishing line, my quads have only just stopped aching, and I can finally walk up and down stairs without looking like I am going to cry. Living in a place that is as flat as you can possibly have it (Grand Cayman) doesn’t allow for much (any) hill training. So it is inevitable that hills of any size and appearing on a course with any frequency will be challenging and will be felt after the run. This was most certainly the case with the Bermuda Marathon.

Arriving to the island last on Friday evening (January 13, 2017) mean that I was unable to participate in the Triangle Challenge offered by the folks who put on the Bermuda Race Weekend. The Triangle Challenge consists of three separate races over the weekend: the Front Street Mile (Friday night), a 10K (Saturday morning) and the half or full marathon (Sunday morning). Most participants register for the Triangle Challenge. There are many benefits to doing that: you receive three shirts (one for each race) plus four medals (one for each race plus the special Triangle Challenge medal). The Front Street Mile is a fun run, with many locals to cheer the runners on. There is an elite invitational component, which has some extremely fast participants (in the four-minute/mile range). My recollection of the Front Street Mile from when I lived on island is that it always rained and was windy. That was indeed the case two years ago, but this year, it was clear, comfortable temperatures and a truly gorgeous evening for the event.

Look at Hamilton Harbour from Newstead

View of Hamilton Harbour from Newstead

The Saturday 10K is among the most challenging 10Ks out there. I have not done it, mostly because I know where they run. I don’t want to do that course. Finishers should indeed be proud of their effort. I will happily cheer participants on for that event.

Mary and Dawn, friends from the Marathon du Medoc.

Mary and Dawn, friends from the Marathon du Medoc.

And then the main attraction: the Bermuda Marathon. This marathon course is not one that I was very eager to run as it is a looped course, and the marathoners run twice around the loop. I have run the half here before (one loop around). It is a beautiful course and I had a great time because I know a lot of people on island who come out to cheer for the runners; it is a great way for me to have a short hug and say hello to friends. But two loops around? Just not on my ‘must do’ list. However, when my husband had to come to Bermuda for work, I wanted to go with him, and with Race Weekend happening, I simply had to register…for the full marathon.

Packet pick up is super small. Like smaller than you can imagine. Basically, you go into the room at the #6 Shed in Hamilton, and there is a table with the bib number/shirts for each participant to pick up. There is a separate table that is selling additional race merchandise. My husband, who has been to the Chicago and Philly packet pick ups with me, started laughing when he saw how small it was. (I secretly think he was just happy that I didn’t have many items on offer to tempt me into making a bunch of purchases.) While walking around town before getting my bib, I saw a bunch of folks that I knew, including Mary and Dawn, who were on the Marathon du Medoc tour we took in September. We also met Andre’ and his wife Mary in the grocery (they are from Oklahoma and saw my Route 66 Marathon jacket); they were here for a conference, and Andre’ decided to run the marathon when he saw it was the same weekend. I had a great time chatting with everyone and was feeling good for the next morning’s run.

A new friend, Andre, who took fourth overall in the marathon!

A new friend, Andre, who took fourth overall in the marathon!

The marathon course starts and ends on Front Street in front of the former #1 Shed (now a parking lot). (Side note: I am officially an islander; I give directions using landmarks that USED to be there. My apologies if you have no idea where the #1 Shed used to be. Ask a local. They may tell you it is across from where Trimingham’s used to be.) There were 117 full marathon participants listed in the newspaper on Friday, meaning that it was going to be a lonely second lap of the course. I already was dreading it. That second loop would challenge everything in me, both physically and mentally.

We again saw Andre’ and Mary (Andre’ ended up finishing fourth overall in the marathon), and I of course was on the lookout for Bart Yasso. As he is on his final year with Runner’s World as their Chief Running Officer, I definitely wanted to say hi and congratulate him on the milestone. I got my requisite picture with Bart and headed back to my husband, who so graciously was up early to cheer me on. Before I knew it, they were sending runners to the starting chute, and after a nice welcome to Bermuda by the town crier, Mr Ed Christopher, the race started!

Pre-race with Bart Yasso

Pre-race with Bart Yasso

 

The course takes you along Front Street, heading out of town towards South Shore. After a fast first mile, we headed up the hill on Trimingham Road and made the left to go into the eastern parishes. The first water stop, which I made a lengthy stop at on the second loop, is a little past the Botanical Garden entrance, a little before mile 3. We ran along this beautiful, foliage lined stretch, toward the ‘dreaded’ McGall’s Hill. This is the longest, most challenging single uphill portion of the course (between miles 3-4), and once you see St Mark’s Church at the top, you know you are finished. This whole stretch has many spectators coming out to cheer the runners on and is a nice way to introduce runners to the island.

 

 

 

View along South Shore, near John Smith Bay

View along South Shore, near John Smith’s Bay

 

From there, you run past Spittal Pond and some breathtaking ocean views. At this point, I had been asked by three people who the person on my back was (SPC Francis ‘Stoney’ Graves III) and why I was running for him. It was nice to have the chance to share his story and help raise awareness about the veteran suicide rate in the US. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to run for him – to share his story. I hope I did it and him justice.

Before John Smith's Bay, I happened to catch Cheryl and Ed in my picture - before I started my 6.5 mile run with them!

Before John Smith’s Bay, I happened to catch Cheryl and Ed in my picture – before I started my 6.5 mile run with them!

 

 

 

Coming up to John Smith’s Bay, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and I knew that we would soon be making the turn down Devil’s Hole Hill and run along Harrington Sound. I honestly cannot think of my favourite stretch of the course (aside from the finish line, I mean!), but I think that John Smith’s Bay and along Harrington Sound is a pretty good candidate for the honour. I love this beach and the beautiful image it presents as you head east along South Shore Road. And then when you turn from Devil’s Hole Hill onto Harrington Sound Road, you see many spectators who are at the local club, enjoying cod fish breakfast and watching the runners (I always joke that I am going to have a beer with them one of these times). You then run in a gorgeous part of the island; greenery and Bermuda houses (colourful houses with white roofs) on the left and Harrington Sound on the right. This is a large body of water, and across it, you see other houses in Hamilton Parish, clinging to the cliffs (Abbott’s Cliff) and offering an array of colourful dots that line the far side of the sound. It was around this time that I met Cheryl and her friend Ed, who were visiting from Boston. They were running the half and using the Bermuda race as a training run for Boston.

Cheryl started chatting with me, asking me about Stoney, and we talked for a while. Ed is way faster than both of us, and he was enjoying a fun run (love his energy!), probably running an extra mile (or more) by the time he finished as he weaved and backtracked to chat with us during the final 6.5 miles. Cheryl and Ed decided to run me in to the half way point of my race (which was their finish), and for that, I was grateful to have the company and the encouragement of other runners to share the back half of the course. So we headed through the village of Flatts and onto North Shore Road.

Heading into the Village of Flatts

Heading into the Village of Flatts

Speaking of the back half of the course. North Shore Road, why are you so hilly? I honestly forgot or intentionally blocked out how hilly that part of the course was. It wasn’t anything dramatic, just a series of rolling up and downs that push you to your limit! Cheryl and I maintained a fairly consistent pace throughout the back half, talking as we went. I was able to point out some highlights (like the incinerator. the uphill where the 10K went the previous day and the Governor’s House). I learned more about her marathon experience and what races she has enjoyed, as well as what Boston is like. I described to her what life in Bermuda was like and how it felt to be back, seeing all the things that were much a part of my life at one point.

Eventually, we reached the turn off point, where instead of heading to Spanish Point, the course turned left and onto St John’s Road, which headed back into Hamilton (town). There was a great party at one house that we passed in this stretch; they had about 20 people, noisemakers, cowbells, etc, and they were out there to have a good time! While none of the food and (adult) beverages were shared with the runners, they were extremely enthusiastic and were definitely a highlight of the course from a support point of view.

After passing the mile 12 marker, I knew I was getting ready to run up another hilly bit (I know this because it was at this point in the 2015 half that I had to stop and walk). I warned Cheryl to save her energy for that spot, and we ran past the road to Fairylands and back towards the harbour. My friend Amy, who I saw from a distance and started waving to her, had her family out, complete with a sign to cheer me on, and we shared a sweaty hug (sorry Amy!). With about a half mile to go, we made the push up that final hill, then the downhill that brought us to Pitts Bay Road, past the Hamilton Princess and almost within spitting distance of the finish line.

Except just as you get to the point where you know that you will see the finish line when the road makes a slight left and turns into Front Street, the race marshal points you left, so you run about 0.1 miles up Bermudiana Road and back down again before you are allowed to make that left onto Front Street. Once you do, however, you see the finish line. With such a small event, they call out everyone’s name as runners cross the finish line, and the timing company takes a finish line photo of every runner. I sent Cheryl and Ed on their way and with a small sob in my throat, I ran wide left and out to do it all over again.

During the second loop, the scenery was the same; however, the feelings were different. I passed the finish line as I headed along Front Street to continue my run, stopping at the water stop set up for the marathoners. Race Director Anthony was manning this stop, and kindly filled my water bottle to the top (the offer was made to refill my bottle at two other water stops without my asking for it). My husband was a short distance on, holding the banana that I asked him to have for me at this point. He spent the morning with Andre’s wife at the Bermuda Bistro at the Beach (formerly known as simply as the Beach, and it was called the Shame of Front Street – a reputation that was well earned back in the day!). With a few bites of banana, a kiss and wishes for a great 13.1 miles, I headed towards South Shore Road.

Spending time with the great volunteers at the water stop (loop 2) who were supporting 22 Too Many.

Spending time with the great volunteers at the water stop (loop 2) who were supporting 22 Too Many.

My pace in the first half was a little faster than I wanted it to be (originally, I was thinking of a 10 min/mi pace, but ended up with about a 9:30/mile pace), and the hills took a toll on my energy level, so I knew the second half was going to be much slower. After running by the Botanical Gardens and already being passed by a man that was about 25 years older than I was, I saw my former supervisor when I lived in Bermuda. Christine was there on the first loop and we had a quick hello then. I decided to stop for a couple minutes and say a proper hello, as she was so amazing to catch me on both loops in the race. I enjoyed the break and pushed off, only to stop a short distance down the road at the water stop manned by the Bermuda Music and Drama Society (BMDS). The co-founder of 22 Too Many, Keri, had a connection to this group and they were there to support her organisation – and me. They all wore a 22 Too Many shirt, had postcards about the organisation, and were on the lookout for me to come through. When I did, I whipped out my phone and got a couple pictures, then I hopped in to have one with me, too. They offered me my choice of a mimosa or beer, and I chose a beer, enjoying the coolness and carbonation while we chatted for a few minutes.

Thanks for the beer!

Thanks for the beer!

Eventually, I realized that I still needed to run another approx 11 miles, so off I went, music playing on my headphones and me almost getting hit by cars that didn’t go very far around me (we were running without a lane being closed off. I understand that the road cannot be shut down for the race as Bermuda has three main roads: Middle Road, North Shore and South Shore. Not all of them run the whole distance of the island, and to close a road/lane off for a six-hour race would really be a problem on the island.) I did yell at a few people who drove by at speeds that were unnecessary, but overall, it wasn’t too bad. Some people rolled down their windows and yelled encouragement as they drove by.

A random note about bathrooms – there are several gas stations along the way that allowed people to use their facilities. I also saw port-a-loos at various parking lots and beach/dock access points. However, it was not necessarily part of the race, and they were not stationed specifically at water stops. I know there were people who talked about not seeing any port-a-loos along the way; they were there, they just may not have been where you were expecting them. The pre-race/course information gave the mileage markers of where the port-a-loos would be. If you are someone who makes a habit of visiting a bathroom facility on the course, I would definitely familiarize myself with these locations in advance!

A quiet party at mile 20. I always know I will make it once I see this sign.

A quiet party at mile 20. I always know I will make it once I see this sign.

 

 

As I made the turn towards Harrington Sound, I was chatting with another runner (she was in a 50-states shirt), and she was there to run with a couple friends. We chatted for a while, then played some leapfrog along the next four or so miles, at which point I was able to pull away and finish ahead of her. It helped get me through the long, lonely final stretch, during which I thought my legs might fall off from the rolling hills. I eventually started playing leapfrog with another runner, and again passed her around mile 24.5, not to see her again until after we finished.

 

 

The house party I passed on loop one was still in effect, and I enjoyed the cheers and cowbells for my efforts as I passed by. It was a huge boost for me mentally, and not enough can be said to thank them. I also knew I was coming up to my friend’s house (Amy), and I was so happy to see her, her husband and their two children waiting for me and cheering! I accepted the best high fives from them, did an even sweatier hug with Amy and knew that I was in the final stretch.

Of course, I still had to go up Bermudiana for that final punch to the gut before I could actually see the finish line, but when I did, it was just me. The town crier was there ringing his bell for me, Cheryl and Ed from loop one were there taking pictures of me and offering that encouragement, and of course my wonderful husband was taping me as I kicked up the effort and sprinted to the finish. I received my medal and walked over to get some water and a soda. None of the other items (gatorade, bananas, chips, oranges and a few other things) looked good to me, so I passed on food, focusing instead on getting a picture with the town crier, then heading to Flannagan’s for a few beers and salty, vinegary french fries. My favourite post-race meal! I was able to congratulate Andre’ on his finish and wish he and Mary safe travels before they headed back to the hotel. I appreciated them waiting for so long for me to finish.

In this marathon, there were only 84 finishers (I’m not sure how many started out of the 117 listed). I finished 54th and sadly only 9th in my age group (a woman finishing after me WON the 20-29 age group! She got a nice plaque and a cash prize of $100). The 40-49 group apparently has some fast runners!

Thanks for the inspiration. I can't wait to send this to your family.

Thanks for the inspiration. I can’t wait to send this to your family.

Pros

  • You are in Bermuda, which is an incredibly beautiful place
  • The temperatures are usually pretty comfortable in January
  • They print a list of participants with their bib numbers in the local paper on the Friday of the Front Street Mile
  • They print a list of finishers and their times in the Monday paper following Race Weekend
  • Challenging and fun course where you have some incredible views of the ocean along the way
  • Nice shirt and medal
  • Easier to place in your age group (marathoners) because the field is about 100 participants
  • Small island has a small town feel, and there are lots of Bermudians who sit on their walls, porches and lawns to watch the runners go by
  • All water stops had orange slices; and they all had at least one additional item such as Gu gels or gummy fruit chews
  • Food and drinks were available at the finish area
  • The Triangle Challenge option makes for a full weekend

Cons

  • Bermuda is not known for its affordability (but there are more affordable places to stay, eat and modes of transport than many realize – feel free to ask)
  • Bermuda is a subtropical island. It will NOT be beach weather. And it can be rainy and very windy.
  • Full marathon is two loops – that second loop can feel very lonely
  • Hilly course – lots of subtle hills that sap your energy

To be truthful, I’m not likely to run the full marathon again. However, I would absolutely do the half if we happened to be travelling to Bermuda around race weekend. If you are looking for a small, beautiful and reasonable temperatures race – as part of a nice holiday weekend getaway, Bermuda is an option to consider. It is a 90-min flight from most major east coast gateway cities (Boston and New York) and about a 2 1/2 hour flight from Atlanta and Miami. It is a beautiful place and the chance to see Bermuda on foot during the race is one that I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit Bermuda and has an interest in running!

Have you run Bermuda? Do you want to? I would love to share stories with you! I know I’m biased, but I do love this place. It’s very special to me. I hope you will consider it for your next international run!

 

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2 thoughts on “Bermuda Marathon race recap: where did these hills come from?

  1. Pingback: A recurring theme in 2017 | Robyn Runs the World

  2. Pingback: Marathon #11: Running to Remember Brian Felber and Jesse Martin, USMC | Robyn Runs the World

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