Barbados is but a tiny island, a mere dot on most world maps, measuring only 21 miles long by 14 miles wide. Yet, every year Barbados attracts a wide range of visitors from all over the world, from the sun & sea seekers to the Hollywood A-listers to the sports lovers. Amazingly, the island plays host to many world-class sporting events: cricket, rally driving, polo, tennis, surfing, swimming and running, namely, the Run Barbados Weekend.
This year, the Caribbean’s oldest road running festival, will celebrate its 35th year when it kicks off in December at the Bay Street Esplanade overlooking the magnificent Carlisle Bay. “Run Barbados” was conceptualized by locals back in 1983 and for the first few years consisted of just two races, the “Bridgetown 10K” and the Marathon. Today, this exciting event has evolved into one of the premier sporting attractions on the island with five running races and a walk spread over three days.
Over the past three decades the Run Barbados Series has attracted a variety of runners of varying ages and abilities from recreational to world class and hailing from all over the world. From inception world-rated runners such as John Treacy, Rob de Castella, Geoff Smith, Alberto Cova, Ron Hill, Hugh Jones, Dylan Wykes, Catherine Ndereba, Kipkoskei, Jill Hunter, May Allison and Carey May to name a few, have run through the island’s streets. The first-ever IAAF World Marathon champion, Australia’s Rob de Castella won the first Run Barbados men’s 10K race. Hugh Jones, the first British man to win the London Marathon (1982) won the Barbados Marathon six times between1990 and 1996 and still holds the race record (2:22:33) that he set in 1991. Jill Hunter’s 10K record of 32:44 set in the 90’s also still stands.
The longevity and popularity of this significant event on the Barbados Sports calendar can be attributed to faithful runners, both locals and foreigners who return year after year and then spread the word to their friends and clubs back home. None more so than eleven-time marathon winner American Kim Goff who travelled to Run Barbados for twenty-five consecutive years up to 2015. Runner Sarah McLoughlin is another example, she has been visiting Barbados from the UK for an incredible eighteen years to holiday and take part in the annual event. " It is the only country I have been to where I just relax as soon as I step off the plane, " Sarah explains.
The choice of races around the world is endless but the Run Barbados event has distinguishing characteristics that can provide the experience of a lifetime. The event doesn’t offer the large pre-event expo or the generous loot bags associated with mega-marathons but the sheer beauty of the island in conjunction with the small-time charm, laid-back atmosphere and friendly people attracts repeat visitors such as Goff and many others. The 2016 Run Barbados enjoyed over 2,000 entries across the six events. Over eighty percent of the competitors visited from across the globe: Canada, USA, France, Spain, Germany, Malaysia, Colombia, Venezuela, UK, Sweden and many Caribbean islands. The island is easily accessible, with flights arriving daily from many major cities.
The three-day schedule allows runners to take part in several events. A wonderful camaraderie results as old friends re-unite, new friendships are made and après run activities planned. It epitomizes the event slogan, coined by Alan Brookes (Canada Running Series) in 2000 when he was Race director in Barbados: “Come for the Run, Stay for the Fun!” The Fun starts on the Friday night with many runners donning outlandish costumes for the Fun Mile. The lively atmosphere continues throughout the weekend with live steel pan music on the routes and island style entertainment at the Finish line. Many runners cross the finish and dive into the sea before sampling local brews and food.
The start and finish of the “out and back” mostly flat routes are at the picturesque Bay Street Esplanade, opposite the Prime Minister’s office and adjacent to the white sand beach that lines Carlisle Bay. Barbadians are exceedingly proud of Run Barbados and a throng of spectators both local and visitors to the island always watch along the way and eagerly await the finishers at the Esplanade.
The 5K, 10K, Half and Marathon courses all wind their way along the streets of Bridgetown, a historic seaport with the distinctive honour of being part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Iconic landmarks, many dating back to the 1800’s, abound in the capital city including the Chamberlain Bridge, the Parliament Buildings, the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson, the distinctively beautiful St Mary’s Church and the “Mutual Building”, a tall Victorian structure with silver domes.
The Saturday afternoon runners in the 5K/10K enjoy the hustle and bustle of Bridgetown as they encounter coconut vendors and “snowcone carts”, run by the local “Cheapside Market” (first opened in 1810), travel alongside the Bridgetown Boardwalk with views across the Careenage and along “Broad Street” the main street of the capital city.
The Sunday morning half and marathon have an early morning “cool” (5 am) start so as to avoid higher temperatures later in the day. These races allow runners to enjoy both the cityscape as well as the scenic coastal roads where spectacular vistas of the Caribbean Sea can be enjoyed from various vantage points. As the sun rises local churchgoers dressed in their Sunday finery will call out words of encouragement as the marathoners pass by.
The AIMS-IAAF certified marathon is a two-lap course with the loop starting from the Bay Street Esplanade travelling through Bridgetown to Paynes Bay on the island’s “platinum” west coast and back. The Half Marathon completes one lap of the marathon course.
Run Barbados has supported many charitable causes over the years and to this end is currently partnered with the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados (HSFB), an organization that provides essential rehab services for survivors of heart attacks and strokes. The Ganzee 5K Walk circles the historic Garrison and travels along the beaches of the highly scenic Needhams Point. The goal is to raise much-needed funds and increase awareness of the critical services provided by the Foundation.
In 2017 Barbados is celebrating a “Year of Sport” which will culminate in December with the 35th edition of Run Barbados. A large turn-out of locals and foreigners is expected for this momentous milestone in Run Barbados history. Already several 2016 winners including Canada’s Olympian Natasha Wodak, Jean Habarurema (FR), Amy Chalk (UK), Julius Koskei (KEN) and the lone Caribbean winner, Trinidad’s Tonya Nero (10K) have indicated their return to defend their titles.
Together with title sponsor the Cave Shepherd Group of Companies, Run Barbados presents its 2017 races: Cave Shepherd Marathon, Fortress Half-Marathon, Colombian Emeralds Int’l 10K, Cave Shepherd Visa Credit Card 5K, Ganzee 5K Walk for Charity and the Signia Fun Mile. Dec1-3, 2017.