Our island is not short of interesting places to run in, for a place that is only 166 square miles large. Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of accompanying a dozen or more runners in the 3rd annual Great Train 40km Run, led by train enthusiast and fellow Ufukuzo runner, Ralf Luther. If there was ever a man who loved trains, it is Ralf. Combine that with his love of running, and you have the perfect combination for a run director for this hugely scenic run. The Great Train Walk was started by the late Colin Hudson years ago, and in 2010 Ralf decided to run the route himself as the sole runner to complete the distance running but with help along the way from his running colleagues who took turns keeping him company. In 2011, three completed the entire run and in 2012, over fifteen runners, four cyclists and three separate crews took part in some or all of the event.
Whilst not a true race in the sense of medals and time placements (although we had nifty souvenir hats at the end), this 40km run was nonetheless very challenging physically, as the preparation needed to run mostly offroad through sugar cane fields and uneven terrain was lengthy and tough. As my friend Andre Procope (10+ marathons) warned me, it was the hardest “marathon” he’d ever done, so I felt suitably warned from the beginning. As the weeks of training through wet tractor tracks in sugar fields started to take their toll on my knees and ankles, I wished that I had started running offroad a year ago to prepare. Road running just doesn’t compare, and anyone who tells you differently hasn’t done this run! Our very hard coral based ground gives all runners a harder time than the soft asphalt surfaces of overseas; couple our coral ground surfaces with the uneven terrain of sugar cane fields, rugged coastal terrain, beach rocks & sand and the chalky hills of St. Andrew, and you have the perfect Caribbean offroad race.
So where is the train service now? Barbados used to have a train, funnily enough for a small island, but in the olden days when smooth highways didn’t exist here and driving from one coast to another took three times as long as it takes now, taking the train was the fastest method of transport between Bridgetown and the East Coast. So the inhabitants of those parishes had the cosmopolitan experience of riding a train to & from town, although considering that The Tube had already begun in 1863, riding this outdoor train was probably very country bumpkinish even then! The train service was stopped around 1937, as by then automobiles became common on the island and the service was costly to maintain. With the advent of WWII in Europe in 1939, the market for metal became insatiable and it was considered patriotic to sell metal to the government in Britain for the war effort, and Barbados shipped much of the metal used in the train service back to Britain during this time. Evidence of the tracks still exist in the topography along the 40km route itself, as well as the odd portion of metal track here and there. Along the east coast around Bath, one can still see the old wooden beams sticking up out of the sand quite dangerously.
We started The Great Train Run in Bridgetown in the dark at 4am, ran through some scenic back roads until we happened upon a live party in Carrington Village consisting of at least 200 revelers who turned into our biggest fans as we ran through, cheering us on, and then after the first four miles we entered into sugar cane ground, where we ran in the dark through eight foot tall sugar cane stalks. We ran past two sugar factories and petroleum pumping steel donkies before we emerged out of the sugar cane fields to tackle the rugged east coast terrain, first lulling you with its grassy fields that shortly thereafter gave way to some precarious cliff edge running trails. Along the east coast the train route has been largely washed away by beach & cliff erosion, and the final stretch of three miles from Cattlewash to Belleplain, the final stop in the train route, is run on what is now the East Coast Highway. Ordinarily this part of the run is dreadfully hot but this year, the sky was overcast and gave some reprieve to the tired runners. Two runners from Trinidad had flown in to run this race, and in addition to the Bajan contingent there were also some US Embassy runners, a Brazilian, a German, an Ecuadorian and a Canadian. A truly fantastic run showcasing the best of Barbados’ untouched & undeveloped east coast scenery. A “must do” run for long distance adventure runners & racers alike!
The next Great Train 40km Run will be held on Sunday, Feb.17th, 2013. For more information please contact Ralf Luther at firstname.lastname@example.org