I have now run the Cayman Islands Half Marathon for four consecutive years, and I haven’t done a race recap. Shame on me, as this race is such a great one, and they deserve any and all PR to attract those who are interested in a fun weekend getaway and a FLAT course for either a half or a full marathon. Being my hometown race, I feel like I need to be a part of it, whether I run or volunteer – or do both! (Photos are from various years of participation.)
First of all, this is a fairly small race that takes place the first Sunday of December. A total of 1400 participants between four events – 4-member relay, half marathon, full marathon and kids fun run. Just over 100 people run the full (it is 2 loops around the course and more than half of it is run with the sun up), and about 800 run the half marathon. The half is definitely the signature event of this weekend, and well worth the outing to Cayman. I know, trying to sell the Cayman Islands by telling you how great a half marathon is. It definitely seems a bit odd to do it that way! Since it is a smaller event, it has a great feel to it that I love. I make no bones about saying how much I prefer the smaller events over larger races, and Cayman just helps my argument to be that much stronger. You feel like part of a family. You can actually meet the person you have been emailing with about your race questions (usually Bev, who is the person who manages that aspect of the event), talk to locals who are happy to tell you what their recommendations are and walk out from packet pick up and be right on the world famous Seven Mile Beach (SMB). I mean, it really is such a great feel. But don’t simply take my intro as word for it; read on to see why I love this event every year.
Packet pick up
The host hotel has historically been the Westin, which is in the heart of Seven Mile Beach. Which means packet pick up takes place here on the day before the race. Visitors staying here can literally go to packet pick up in their swimsuits (dripping as they arrive fresh from their ocean swim, where the water is easily over 80-degrees) and not feel out of place. I saw several such folks during my volunteer shift.
It’s a small packet pick up, sadly not any booths to tempt your wallet to open with new shoes, running gear, sparkle skirts and more. You go in, find your race number, get your bib, bag, shirt (if you register by September, you get to choose whether you want a short sleeve tech shirt or tank top!), scan your bib at the timing station, shop at the race merchandise table (which has some nice mugs, car magnets and more), and get back to sunbathing. If you haven’t yet registered, you can do so at packet pick up. Granted, you’ll pay more, but even so, it’s a very reasonable cost. Runners who participate three consecutive years are eligible for the lowest price, no matter when they register, so there is an incentive to run it a few times. Visitors can also sign up for hotel shuttles to ensure they get to the start line on race day.
New for 2017 was that the timing chip was attached to the bib. I’m happy to see this as I always dreaded finishing the race and having to bend down to get the chip off my shoelace (they did have volunteers to help with that, but still…).
So while there isn’t a lot to shop for at the event, it means you can save your money for a great meal out (we are the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean!), an outing to Stingray City, or shopping in Camana Bay. I mean, you are in the Cayman Islands. You can get your running shoes and other gear somewhere else. (Unless of course you are like me and have limited options on island. But I’ll take the sun and sea over options any day.)
Before the race
Race time is 5am sharp. No island time here. Approaching the start line, you hear a DJ blasting some great music, getting the runners pumped up. The emcee is also there, bless him, calling out names of people who are running that year (and why, if they have a reason or cause). This is fun because he tries to especially give shout outs to visitors to Cayman, sharing their stories about what brought them to our shores. Sometimes it is the race, sometimes they are here for other reasons and happen to hear about the race. Either way, this #CaymanKind welcome is really nice to hear.
Bathrooms are at the cruise ship terminals – so no port-a-pots at the start/finish. Which also means you have sinks to wash your hands (one of my least favourite things about port-a-pots). I didn’t notice a line up, but in all honesty, I leave my house at 4:30 to arrive by 4:35, so I ‘take care of business’ before I get to the race.
Runners are asked to seed themselves based on their expected pace. Self seeding is always tricky, but I have found people here to be pretty respectful of getting in the right spot. Maybe the long time limit helps (walkers are encouraged to participate in the half marathon, and they have six hours to complete the course, same as the full marathon). And the field opens up pretty quickly, so after about 1/2 mile, I’m not dodging anyone it seems.
So yes, we start in the dark, to a ghost George Town. It’s quite the experience, and with the gorgeous moon this year, I thoroughly enjoyed the run, in spite of the 3:15am wake up. After a Christmas party the night before.
During the race
When the clock counts down to go time, the emcee wishes us all well, and runners stream across the start line, heading along South Church Street into South Sound. As soon as you leave the start area, things become very quiet – I mean who in their right mind would get up to cheer runners at 5am?
In fact, the organisers of the race, Kelly Holding, know that lack of crowd support is a bit of a drawback for some runners. To ensure that there is a fun experience for all, there are water stops at approximately every mile. And each year, there is a contest for the best water stop. Which means that the sponsors for each stop go all out to create an experience at their table. I have seen Minions, Star Wars, emojis, live rock music (which I missed this year! Please come back, ReMax!), Super Mario, CUC (our utility company), Home Gas and their western theme, Revolutions spin facility (also, please come back!), the red carpet at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman stop, Cayman Airways, the Health Services Authority (and their Christmas theme stop) and more. The volunteers at these stops dress up, decorate and enthusiastically cheer runners on as they come by – starting at 5am. Seriously, you cannot find better volunteers at a race. They are there, happy and enthusiastic, supportive, fun and helping to make race day a great one.
And yes, water stops about every mile. Which is a really important thing, given how warm and humid it can be in Cayman. Both 2014 and 2017 were ‘cool’, with race day this year being 79- at the start, with a dew point of 71. However, we are right on the edge of the cooler temps in Cayman, so you may end up with a warm, steamy day like we had in both 2015 and 2016. I can’t promise anything other than water stops about every mile. Just know that it will be warm and it will be humid. So slow it down a bit and try to enjoy your run in Cayman. I believe the marathon winner ran a 2:59, and the female winner ran 3:28, so it’s not a fast race due to the temperature and humidity. But it is flat. Seriously, a speed bump near the turn around is the biggest uphill you have to deal with.
One of the best parts of this run is very early on. A little before the one mile mark, you run past “the twins’ house” – the home of Maurine and Maxine Bodden. Every year, they go all out with Christmas decorations, and for the race, they turn their yard into a festival of lights for the runner to enjoy in the early morning hours. Because it is dark when participants run by, the effect is beautiful, and it is one of the highlights of running in Cayman. I look forward to seeing their decorations every year.
The 5am start aims to take advantage of the cooler part of the day, before the sun rises. Once you get to about 6:45am, the sun starts to become a factor, unless of course there is a bit of cloud cover. The early start might seem brutal if you have never run this before, but you will appreciate it when you feel the warmth of the sun in the later miles. Unless you are speedy and can finish in about 1:45.
all along the way, the race organizers post motivational signs. Which I think is a fantastic touch for a race that has only the 12-13 oases of water stops for cheering sections. Looking ahead and seeing signs posted on light poles is one way to help keep you motivated to move forward.
The final water stop is manned by the headline sponsor, Intertrust, and they always do a great job. The year, it was an emoji themed stop, and the volunteers hand out water, gatorade and wet sponges. Once you pass them, you have two left turns and the final stretch along North Church Street, as you head back to the start line – which has since been transformed to the finish. The two emcees welcome you to the finish line by name (another great advantage of a small race!) and you receive your medal. This year was a spinner, with the turtle mascot in the centre. They are great medal, and certainly ones you should be proud to wear!
My final time: 2:08:17.
Note: if you run the full marathon, you stay to the right and head out for a second loop.
After the race
After you cross the finish and receive your medal, you are in the runners area, which consists of water, gatorade, food items, your post-race beer (by my favourite people at the Cayman Islands Brewery), and you can even get a free massage if you want to. They have chairs available for runners to stop and sit for a minute before continuing on their day. Half marathoners receive a ticket for one beer; full marathoners receive two tickets for beers. Food runs the gamut from fresh fruit to potato chips to granola bars – and more.
It’s a small area (remember, it’s a small race), so once you leave, you can easily find your friends and/or family. There are grandstands out on the final stretch of the course for spectators to sit and watch runners come in.
- It’s the Cayman Islands
- Small, friendly race
- Half marathon is perfect distance – you are finished and ready for the beach by mid-morning
- Option for a tank or tee as part of your registration
- Low-cost registration (if you register early!)
- 5am start takes advantage of the cooler temps of the day
- Fun water stops
- Flat course
- Great medals
- Finisher’s certificate available for download
- Offer of a pasta party the night before for US $15
- 5am start
- Packet pick up is small and no shopping other than event merchandise
- It can be very warm and humid