Runner's Escape: The Bermuda International Race Weekend
This mid-winter celebration of running offers the perfect antidote for the malaise of the cold-weather runner.
Posted Monday, 21 October, 2002
As the weather begins its annual descent into cool autumn temperatures, the cold reality begins to dawn that winter is not so far away, bringing along its season of slushy runs, chapping air and a distinct nostalgia for warm summer workouts. But never fear, there's an antidote for the malaise of the cold-weather runner: grab your passport and your running shoes, and head for Bermuda, baby.
Every January for 30 years, the Atlantic island nation hosts the Bermuda International Race Weekend, a three-day festival that begins with a series of road miles on Friday night, builds to a 10K on Saturday, and ends in grand style with a marathon and half marathon on Sunday.
The race weekend makes for an ideal marriage of vacation and sport in a setting that banishes the winter blues. Think palm trees, pink sand beaches and turquoise water settled comfortably in a semi-tropical climate.
"Don't get me wrong, I go there for the running, that's my first interest," said Joe Fernandez, a Massachusetts runner who has run the race weekend for 12 consecutive years (and last year, at 73, clocked a 45:23 10K). "But Bermuda is a beautiful country and it's a great place to take it easy for the next few days after the races. We make a week out of it."
"It offers a nice escape from the winter weather and the post-holiday blahs," said Thom Gilligan, owner of Marathon Tours and Travel, a runner-focused travel service that has offered vacation packages to the Bermuda race weekend for 25 years. "This is always one of our most popular events."
Though a key draw of the event is as leisure destination, don't expect to take it easy at race time. The 10K route in particular is no day at the beach. The marathon and half marathon course is more moderate, however, and rolls gently through 13.1 miles of lush terrain and oceanside roads, with two loops for the marathon.
"The 10K is very tough," said Fernandez. "It's about two minutes slower than the ordinary 10K. When I used to do 38:00 times there, I was doing 36's at other races. It's a really hilly course. They make you work for it."
"The first time I ran Bermuda, I thought, 'It's an island, it's going to be flat.' Well, not hardly," said Joe Schroeder, a Kentucky marathoner who has run the Bermuda race weekend 11 times. "You start at sea level, but the center of the island has a spine that goes across it, and you have to climb some hard hills to get over it.
"I wouldn't try to make this a PR," Schroeder added, "but it's so much fun that I'd say just go out and enjoy it."
Going to the Bermuda International Race Weekend is, of course, as much about vacationing as it is about running. So it's no surprise that runner-oriented vacation packages have developed around the event.
Marathon Tours & Travel, a specialty travel service catering to runners, offers a particularly attractive package. The company offers airfare, hotel, group training runs, a post-race
banquet, a cocktail reception and even a golf tournament. At off-season rates, the company has also managed to put it all together with luxury accomondations at a modest price, according to owner Thom Gilligan.
For information, visit the Marathon Tours & Travel website.
Coral-Lined Courses and Ocean Views
The courses may be demanding of the legs, but they're also easy on the eyes. Coral-lined roads wind through Bermuda's brightly colored landscape, with the vibrant greens of the natural vegetation setting off the bright pastels of the local homes. The last several miles of the 10K, marathon and half marathon courses afford breathtaking views of the main island's north coast, where volcanic rock meets cobalt blue water.
"All of a sudden, there's the ocean, and the water is crashing against the rocks, just amazing," said Schroeder.
Located less than 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda is a collection of islands that combine to create a hook-shaped archipelago about 22 miles in length. The race venues focus on the capital city of Hamilton, with the courses looping through the heart of the main island.
The 10K rolls east through the hills at the center of the island before hitting a particularly big one between miles two and three. Long and steep, the hill lasts over half a mile, but runners are rewarded shortly afterward with the ocean views along North Shore Road. This shoreline segment takes the course back west, settling into a rhythm of rolling hlls to the finish line. And what a finish: the race concludes inside Bermuda's national stadium.
The half marathon and marathon share a different loop course, with the half marathon finishing after the first loop. The course starts on Front Street, Hamilton's main thoroughfare, and after a mile is soon out into the countryside. It's just past three miles when runners hit the course's one particularly daunting hill, the 80-foot climb at McGall's Hill. Marathoners, of course, encounter it again the second time around at mile 16-1/2.
At mile five, the course turns north and hugs the west bank of Harrington Sound, a tranquil blue expanse some six miles around and almost entirely enclosed within the island's interior. It's a flat ride here to mile eight where runners hit North Shore Road and the Atlantic Ocean. As with the 10K course, runners along this segment sometimes have to contend with some gentle hills and a gusty northwest wind, but the salty breeze is often a welcome companion.
From mile 11, it's two fast downhill miles back into Hamilton, where the half marathoners wrap up their race, and the marathoners head east again to repeat the scenic course.
Perfect Running Weather
Nestled in the warming embrace of the Gulf Stream, Bermuda enjoys a temperate climate ranging from the upper 60s at mid-winter to the mid-80s in summer. The January race date of the Bermuda race weekend brings ideal running temperatures, typically around 60 degrees at start time. Runners arriving from cooler climes, however, may find this a bit warm, particularly for the marathon, and may need to adjust their pace accordingly.
"Generally the weather is perfect, right around 60 degrees" said Schroeder.
"The temperatures are very nice," said Fernandez. "But it can get a little hot and sticky at race time, especially if you're acclimated to cold weather, and you start to feel it."
Bermuda's moderate temperatures and gorgeous setting have nurtured a thriving local running culture, a community where visiting runners are likely to feel right at home. Still a modestly sized set of events (each race has fewer than 600 runners), the race weekend maintains a comfortable, local feel that runners frequently describe as personal, intimate and lively.
"It's really a fun event, and the locals are out there to support it," said Schroeder. "They publish all of the names and numbers of the runners in the local paper, and the spectators come out with their newspapers and call out your name and say hello and good morning. It's just a fun environment, a light-hearted atmosphere."
The event may have a local feel, but as its name suggests, the Bermuda International Race Weekend enjoys a field of runners from around the world. These runners include a number of elite competitors as well as a growing cadre of Team in Training runners who make the marathon a venue to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
For all of these visiting runners, the event offers a full menu of road racing, and many of them take on more than one of the races. "A lot of the people who do the marathon or the half marathon will do the 10K on Saturday as a kind of warm up," said Schroeder.
"A lot of the runners will go two in a row like that," said the 74-year-old Fernandez, who has run both the 10K and the half marathon back-to-back for the past six years. "It's a weekend of races, and just to run one race there is not enough. I'd rather be running than just watching."
Marathon Tours & Travel
January 17-19, 2003
Invitational mile: Jan. 17, 7:30pm
10K: Jan. 18, 10am
Half marathon and marathon: Jan. 19, 8am
10K charity walk (Jan. 18)
Marathon: About 600 runners
Half marathon: About 400 runners
10K: About 400 runners
Andy Holden, England: 2:15:20 (1980)
Elena Makolova, Belarus: 2:40:32 (2002)
Half marathon records
John Kipkoskei, Kenya: 1:06:34 (1995)
Anne-Marie Letko, USA: 1:16:06 (1995)
Geoff Smith, England: 28:14 (1982)
Grete Waitz, Norway: 31:41 (1982)
Leonard Mucheru, Kenya: 4:02:60 (2002)