Hard to believe this event happened just 4 weeks ago just before everyone's life would change so much. Here is my account of a wonderful STJ community event that I am proud to have done 3 times now. It's long, so readers who do not enjoy long trip reports be warned! I may chop it up depending how much I can type tonight but I will leave it on this thread.
OK so I'm an 8 Tuff nerd. I love this race so much even if the actual running of it is a living HELL. I have an irrational/emotional connection to it since I signed up for my first one 11 years ago before my 50th birthday-- a milestone birthday I was attempting to defy. I have already written about that one so I will not revisit it here. My second time was last year-- the first time the race was formally held since Irma/ Maria. We wore the bibs from the canceled 2018 race because they had already been ordered, delivered and paid for.. and as a kind of tribute to that canceled race and all the island and residents had endured.
2020 was my third time. Leap year 2/29!
For people on this forum who may not be familiar with this race or the course, it is a race on the last Saturday of February that starts near the National Park dock in Cruz Bayand ends at the ballfield near Skinny Legs in Coral Bay, on Cenetrline, the main artery road that runs across the middle of the island from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay.
I don't know how to accurately describe this this road/course to those unfamiliar with it. This is not your friendly suburban neighborhood 5K... or heck even 10K. Or F even half marathon. This is the hardest race I've ever run.
For all of you on this forum who are VERY familiar with the road from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay...most of you don't even like to DRIVE it ! You know very well how hard this race is. It's not for the faint of heart. (But you should still do it!)
But still... I love it.
Peter Alter, the local race director and Tap Room regular posted sometime last Fall that registration would be open for Stateside visitors on a certain date at midnight. I stayed up. I wanted to be the FIRST!
I was. :)
This did not mean I would get Bib # 1. The first 100 Bib numbers for 8 Tuff are reserved for the first 100 runners from the previous year. The Top 100. A very prestigious list. 101-500 are reserved for on island locals who register in person at The Tap Room. But #501 has its own prestige I was to learn. When I went to pick up my Bib on Thursday night before the race at The Tap Room porch, Peter was there and announced "Here she is!" What? A beautiful couple helping Peter check in people and give out bibs and race packets stood up and gave me hugs. "Hello #501! Did you set an alarm?" I had no idea what they were talking about but apparently whoever of the stateside visitors sign up first gets # 501. OK. Cool!
The race starts at 7:15 Saturday morning. My on island daughter and I had been very good the few days before the race. (OK pretty good) We went lobster diving at Salt Pond on Friday with a local friend (details later... incredible). Lime Outhad just reopened that day on Coral Bay so we went there for lunch after. (details later) and I only had ONE Danger cocktail-- showing great restraint. Daughter teetotaled.
When I'm on St John its a hardship for me to stay in. I LOVE being out-- at Drink or Cruz Bay Landing or Beach Bar hearing live music or watching hilarious karaoke at Dog House (or even singing Karaoke...) chatting up all the people I have met over the last year and meeting new friends. Night before 8 Tuff ... This is not allowed. At 7 pm Friday at my daughter's apartment I'm feeling nervous and anxious and scared. Painful memories of the previous 2 races start to emerge. Am I going to puke? Will I have a heart attack? Heat stroke? Will I slip on the gravel on the downhill and gravel my face off? All perfectly reasonable questions. I put on my earbuds and listened to a serial killer podcast and tried to sleep.
My daughter is up at 5! So she can fuel with a bagel and banana and peanut butter. I'm already feeling like I might barf before Ive even taken my first step so I can only manage a bite of banana and peanut butter..(mistake). We walk down her hill to town--( jogging/running down her hill would mean certain death.) It was a gorgeous sunny morning. Which was bad. 2019 8 Tuff was overcast and a teeny bit rainy and misty and a cool 77 degrees at the start--perfect condish. 2/29/20 at 6:45am was already 80 degrees. and not a cloud in the sky. with the sun coming up. Fword. Darling daughter and I ran the flat road in front of Mongoose to warm up and then went into her place of employ to take one last trip to the bathroom that would save us from the lines to the port potties.
Start Line: My daughter has been living/working on island for 11 months and has made many friends so in a pre-COVID world hugs were given freely and frequently. Love City is not a myth. So many hugs. So much love. Me being her mom and having visited several times in the past year I was graced with a multitude of hugs too! Got a pic with the beautiful couple who had given out Bib numbers who it turned out were fellow #500 number clubbers too. Kissed DD as she dashed to the front corral and I found my time corral. I was trying to jam my phone into my waist belt and configure it to my headphones while everyone else was respectfully paying heed to Peter's pre race speech and the National Anthem. I was a pre-race mess.
And then it BEGINS.
and then-- well --YOU GO! and you round the corner of National Park to the road in front of Mongoose Junction and people are out cheering and waving and music is playing and all of the sudden -- YOU ARE IN IT and there's no turning back and you want do this race! and YOU GO! and its so fun and you wave back at the people and smile because this is the BEST! and then the course turns up the hill past Dolphin market and suddenly its like Fword, Im so totally F'ed. There's no way I can do this... But yet-- you do.
When it gets super steep I walk it as fast as I can while leaning over my feet at a 45 degree angle. But there's a guy in cargo shorts and sandals running ahead of me. So I dig a little deeper and catch up to him. That guy in beat up Chacos was to be my beacon the whole race.
Pause in this 8 Tuff Recap to give kudos and thanks to all of the aid/water station volunteers along the way. Many were elaborately costumed and ALL were kind and generous, cheerful and encouraging to all of us in our agony. A multitude of Thanks to all of them.
The first 5 miles are the Tuff part-- there are some flats and downhill segments in the Sussanaberg area that give you something of a break from the cursed steep up hill climbs but I had to force myself to start running again because even walking up the the hills is so grueling. Mile 3.5-4.5 is especially BRUTAL because it is one loooong mile up hill without a break. It seems endless. I walked this mile alongside a wheelchair racer-- watching this guy muscle up this mile was both terrifying and inspirational. He had to keep constant forward motion or risk rolling back. He never faltered.
At the top of mile 5 there is a sign that designates it as the highest point of the race. This sign is the beacon of hope that all 8 Tuff milers yearn for. Because this means that the 3 mile downhill is about to begin.
You also hear angels from heaven sing as a beautiful view of Coral Bay opens out before you in all its glory. At this point in race of 2019 I was sprayed by a heavenly cool mist of rain as I crested the hill. Not so lucky 2020. Instead, the sun now high in the sky, blazed down on us from a cloudless sky, rendering a glittering beautiful Coral Bay harbor in the distance.
And then the course dives down down down and I take off running, really running, trying to makeup for time from the long slow up hill miles. The downhill is both exhilarating and terrifying as one slip or turn of an ankle will mean disaster and carnage and blood. But I had trained for this race and was determined to beat my last years time so I RAN as fast as these old legs could go. At one point I wobbled a little and I heard some spectators go "WHOA!" but I righted myself and kept on running.
While the downhill was a wonderful relief from the agony of the uphill, the sun was beating down and I was pouring sweat. I had taken my race tank to the bar where my daughter works the previous couple of nights and gotten all of her friends and co-workers to sign it in different colored Sharpies. Sharpie ink may be permanent but it is no match for 8 Tuff sweat. My race tank was now a bleeding mess of smeared color. I poured water on my face and back at every water station.
And then you are down the hill and only have the last little bit up to the ballfield. This is perhaps the cruelest part of 8 Tuff. 8 Tuff is really 8.3 Tuff and the last .3 is arguably the tuffest.. ( It is for me anyway.) After the long sprint down hill I was spent as I started up the final incline to the turn into the ballfield. Halfway up I was out of gas. That one bite of banana and peanut butter were long gone. So I slowed to a walk. I was done. I would walk in shame to the finish.
Except then, right at my moment of despair I heard a voice I know very well. "MOM! GO! YOU GOT THIS! GOOOOO!!!" and I don't know how--I had no gas left in the tank-- but I went. I ran on legs I could no longer feel. I turned the corner into the "chute" of the ballfield to the finish line and ran past 5 people on the way.(we are a competitive family)
And then my 8 Tuff race was over. I could barely muster a Thanks to the girl who put my medal around my neck. I had clicked my watch when I crossed the finish and checked my time. I beat my last years time by 6+ minutes! I was so elated and and happy hugging my daughter feeling such joy. I got and gave sweaty hugs to all of my island friends including my cousin (Deacs wife) who ran the race with me for the second year. We got our 8Tuff Shirts and swag bags. (Unlike most stateside races you only get your 8 Tuff shirt if you finish the race)
After post race pics and lots more sweaty hugs we all headed to Skinny Legs for post race drinks and food! The atmosphere at Skinny's post 8 Tuff is hard to describe. I mean it's 9:00 in the morning! But you would think it was Happy Hour. During Carnival. Everyone is SO happy! Not just happy but exuberant! And Skinny's is PACKED with locals and visitors all joyful that 8 Tuff is over and the common bond is that we all did the race together. Everyone is wearing their medals.
I had T-shirts printed for my small gang to wear post race so we could put on a dry cotton shirt.
From the Kenny Chesney song "We're all here" I had shirts printed on the back with the lyric
On a Buzz
On a Binge
On a Dare
8 Tuff Miles 2020