The thing about running in other places is that, in the words of Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get. There are the big city races, like Chicago or Dublin, that are relatively predictable, but the smaller and more local events are a little bit of a wildcard. One of the things I love doing the most is seeking out these smaller events and experiencing them, whether in the U.S. or overseas. There is something to me that is just so special, unique, and fun about these smaller races. I think you really get a sense of what a place is when you run through it, and the logistics surrounding the race tell a different story entirely.
The Nevis Marathon is not Chicago or Dublin, as you might have anticipated. Nevis itself is a very small island (36 square miles) located in the Lesser Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean. Just in case you need to brush up on your geography, please refer to the map below.
While I like to joke that the island only has one road (the perimeter road, which is about 22 miles around the island), it has probably more like ten. Kidding! But seriously, it is impossible to get lost. So if you’re wondering where a marathon, half marathon, and 10k could possibly run on an island that only has one road, you guessed it – around that road! As you’ll learn, that’s actually a good thing.
For example, you get to see things like this the whole way around the island.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Ok, so you know that I traveled to Nevis for the Nevis Marathon as a guest of the Nevis Tourism Authority. I’ve already filled you in on all the amazing adventures I had while visiting there, so we’ll focus on the race. The race has different start times for the marathon, half marathon, and 10k, and there is actually a 5k that takes place the Thursday before. The marathon starts at 5:30, the half marathon at 5:45, and the 10k at 6 am. Everything on Nevis is only about 15 minutes away at most, so getting to the start line was quick and painless. I thought with the different race starts that there might be a big crowd, but this is a tiny race! We had about 40 people at the starting line. In reality, all of the races could have probably started at the same time to give us a few more people to run with, but it wasn’t a huge deal either way. I love small races, so it was no problem for me, but if you are not used to them, I’d recommend bringing a friend or your headphones.
Run in Paradise race director Stanley was in nearby Antigua, so he came over to the race to say hi! It was an amazing surprise!
Although I don’t normally run with music, I had brought my headphones for this race, just in case. As luck would have it, though, when the gun went off for the half marathon, I found myself running next to two Americans who now live and work in Nevis – Tim and Mary Beth! We started talking right off the bat and, faced with the premise of running the race alone, I asked them if they wouldn’t mind my company for awhile. As it turns out, we had plenty to talk about!
As with the recent Pocatello Half Marathon, I had no time goals for this race thanks to my stomach issues and just wanted to have a great time and take some pictures. I knew the heat would also be a factor (it’s not my first Caribbean half marathon, after all!) and, with as run down as I’ve been feeling lately, my main goal was to a) not collapse and b) soak in the beauty around me! That seems like my goal for most of my races lately, unfortunately.
Watching the sun rise near the Four Seasons golf course early in the race
The courses for the half marathon and the 10k are very straightforward out-and-backs. The marathon features an out and back and a loop around the island! Isn’t it kind of crazy to think that you run all the way around an entire island? Pretty cool, if you ask me. Anyway, the first few miles of the race went by very quickly, as I was chatting with Tim and Mary Beth. Tim is a manager at one of the local hotels and was assigned to Nevis about a year ago, and he and Mary Beth have been living there ever since. He has run a few marathons and Mary Beth is training for her first, so this was a training run for her! (PS she has a great Instagram account that is all about Nevis and travel – check it out!)
As we ran down the road, there were very few cars and zero people. There’s not very many people in Nevis to begin with, and this race is run during the off-season, so there are very few tourists there (which is great because it means no crowds and much cheaper rates for everything!). Most of the races that I run don’t have much in the way of crowd support, so it doesn’t bother me at all, but if you’re looking for people to be out cheering, that’s probably not going to happen unless you bring your own cheerleaders! Luckily, the course more than made up for the lack of high fives with its stunning beauty!
Mount Nevis is visible from pretty much everywhere on the island! It’s a dormant volcano right in the center
I was feeling the heat and humidity from very early on – probably about mile 4 – but running with my new friends definitely helped take my mind off of it. Nevis is definitely a hilly island, but the course really wasn’t as hilly as you’d probably expect. The race takes the flattest possible route around the island (down near the coast), but there are still some notable hills. The half marathon did not have any particularly steep hills, but some were a bit long, while I am told the marathon has a tough hill or two. I definitely employed a solid run-walk strategy on the hills towards the end of the race!
On the course, overlooking the neighboring island of St Kitts!
The aid stations were pretty basic but did feature water and an electrolyte drink (we were told it was Gatorade, but I’m not totally sure). If you are a person who needs a lot of fluids or likes a specific beverage, I would bring it with you for this race. The aid stations are every couple of miles, but for people who sweat a lot (especially in this heat), that may not be often enough. The volunteers are very kind and will give you water bottles to carry with you if you prefer not to drink from a cup, which is a great option. I definitely found myself getting dehydrated, but I always get dehydrated in hot and humid runs, so that’s to be expected.
As we ran along, Tim and I talked a lot about what it is like to live on the island as an ex-pat. I am always interested to hear what that is like, because AJ and I hope to live overseas one day. Everyone I talked to on my trip to Nevis emphasized how relaxed and low-key it is there, and it seems like everyone pretty much knows everyone and wants to keep the island quiet and relatively undeveloped. They have a really strong emphasis on sustainability and conserving their resources, which I think is one of the things that makes the island so special – it’s an unspoiled paradise!
Heading back, finally!
After making the turnaround, we kept ourselves amused by looking out for landmarks to run towards. I was really struggling to get my heart rate down even though we were running significantly slower than my normal pace. Even when I walked, my heart rate stayed sky high, so I tried to just ignore it and focus on finishing. I thought it was helping that I had locals running with me who knew the course, but Tim was often mistaken about how close the next landmark was or which hill was really the last one, which sent all of us into fits of laughter.
At one point with about 3 miles to go, Mary Beth started to struggle a lot to get up a long hill. She was an unbelievably consistent, patient, and strong runner and she never took walk breaks and just kept chugging. From our conversation, I knew she loved high fives and cheers, so I would run up ahead on long hills and wait to high five her when she got close to the top! She loved that and I did too – it made the time go by faster for me and helped keep me from thinking about how much I was struggling!
As we headed towards the finish line, I was feeling pretty woozy and nauseous and I just wanted to sit down. There was a small but enthusiastic group of supporters at the finish line, including Stanley, the race director of the Run in Paradise half marathon, many of the other finishers, and volunteers and locals who were now out to cheer. It was definitely very hot by that point so I grabbed a bottle of water and a Gatorade, thanked the heavens I wasn’t running the marathon, and sat down for a while. I finished right around 2:30, which was about what I expected given the heat and humidity.
Finished! Not dead, but almost.
I felt like crap for several hours after the race and crashed and burned at the hotel later on. I didn’t have any stomach problems during the race thanks to copious amounts of meds, which I’m grateful for! I got to spend some time chatting with other finishers, some of whom are vet and medical students on St Kitts and Nevis and hear more about their experiences living on the island, plus take a picture with my race buddies! They’ll be joining me at the Run in Paradise in Antigua on Memorial Day Weekend, and you should too!
Everyone wish Mary Beth luck in her first marathon this fall!
Overall, I would say there are two things you should know about the Nevis Marathon: it is absolutely beautiful, and it is very small. This is not a race with a lot of amenities yet, although the race committee is extremely passionate and dedicated to its growth. I have given them lots of feedback, and they are absorbing everything they can to make this race bigger and better from year to year. If you are used to big races with a lot of amenities and prefer to run that way, this might not be the race for you yet (but I bet it’s only a matter of time). If you’re looking to run an absolutely stunning course that will challenge you, inspire you, and help you to see beautiful Nevis in a new light while enjoying your vacation but that might not have your preferred flavor of gel at the next aid station, the Nevis Marathon is a great option in the Caribbean.
And then you get to relax here after the race, which is definitely not the worst way to spend the rest of your day!
The overarching feeling I left with about this race was a tremendous sense of the passion and purpose that the race director and his committee have for helping it grow. It’s not about the money for them, or about making this race the next NYC. They’re about making it the next Nevis Marathon – a race that celebrates the island as it is while embracing where it will go in the future. I can’t wait to see where their energy and enthusiasm leads!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you have your eye on any destination races right now? Which part of the world excites you the most?