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Hi peeps! My name's Laura and I blog about running, swimming, dishing and stylin' at laurageorgina.wordpresss.com. I'm delighted that Toni and Ashley have asked me to do a guest post on the racing scene in Trinidad because, well.... It's a bit (make that plenty) different from the racing scene back in the US.
A bit of background first: When I first moved to Trinidad from England (where I'd been living for a few years), I was a fresh little beginning runner. I had no idea of my pace, distance, etc—I basically would try to run for half an hour without dying of exhaustion on the road. It was tough, but I loved running in the cool British weather, with the misting rain and the breezes that kept me from overheating and turning into road kill.
And then I moved here. I didn't run for six whole months as I adjusted to the insane heat. I mean, running in 93 F? No thanks. However, as the toll of having a car and not living the pedestrian life made itself apparent on my widening frame, I decided to take control of the situation because I wanted to get healthy again (and, just as importantly at the time, I wanted to take part in Carnival and feel smoking hot in the teeny tiny feathery beaded costume!)
So I took to running again. And, lots of sweat and adjustment later, I haven't stopped since. Once I started running again, I signed up for a race. I knew I probably had never run 5K before, but the excitement of running for a good cause (breast cancer) was enough to get my booty in gear. On race day, I was nervous and excited and giddy--and had no idea what to expect. The end result: I ran, I finished, I didn't die of heat exhaustion--and I was hooked. This race thing in Trinidad was definitely going to be my thing. Since then, I've run three races and learned my fair share about the ins, outs, and idiosyncrasies (read: total wackiness) of the Trini racing scene.
So the fun starts before race day, of course:
Finding out about races: Um... This can be tough. The Trinidad and Tobago Road Racers Association has a website that lists races in Trinidad (as well as important races on nearby islands or internationally), but details can be sketchy. Races aren't always announced in the clearest or most timely way, either--and you might not know the details of the race until a week or two beforehand.
Registration: Sadly, high levels of online fraud and naughtiness in the Caribbean make online registration a no-go. Some races carry out registration at local sporting goods stores (and how I love the races that do!) Races sponsored or organized by banks or large companies may carry on registration in their offices. Standing in lines for an hour at the bank to pay bills is frustrating; standing in line at the bank for an hour to register for a race is a fresh new rung of hell.
Race start times: Because of the beastly heat, races longer than 5K will usually start by 6 am. However, 5K races can start any time. That means that you could be signing up to run a 3 pm, 95F, become-one-with-the-asphalt race. Depending on how many races are scheduled in the coming months, I try to pass on afternoon races--the dehydration and discomfort of running on melting asphalt directly under the hot sun just isn't worth it for me unless there are no races coming for months.
Fundraising for races: When races are carried out to raise funds for a cause (like the annual Scotiabank breast cancer benefit race, which was my first race), there are no mechanisms to raise funds--you just pay your race fee and run. Should you want to raise money or sponsorship, you're basically on your own, cap in hand. If you ask people for donations to your race fundraising efforts, expect to get some strange looks—that sort of philanthropy hasn’t become the norm here yet.
After all the anticipation, when it’s finally race day:Expos: Because you pick up your “packet” (which is just a racing number—no such thing as goody bags for races here!) when you register, expos aren’t quite what they are in the US. A pre-race expo is unheard of. For the main races, you may get some stands selling diet bars and pills, sports drink, local snack foods (most of which are fried and spicy and anything but run-friendly!), and the occasional large international company giving out samples before and after the race. But the Luna Bar/New Balanace/SmartWater people don't come to Trinidad.
Location: Though there are some races in the south or central areas of the island, most races take place in Port of Spain (the capital), and specifically around Queen's Park Savannah, a large green park/open space in the city center (which happens to be the world's largest driving circle!). Unless the race is huge, the police will close off one lane for runners, but the roundabout will stay open to traffic—and you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the creative Caribbean driving that will be speeding by as you race! However, the views of lush mountains to the North and interesting cityscape in all other directions more than make up for running in hot traffic fumes or risking leg and limb.
Warm-up: Though the hardcore serious runners will do their own warm-up run or jog, most races feature a group warm-up, usually provided by trainers hired through the Trinidad and Tobago Road Racing Association. It is pretty surreal to do an aerobic warm-up to the year's hottest soca tunes, the same tunes you danced and caroused to in your itty-bitty carnival costume. The sight of thousands of people doing wining lunges alone is worth the race entry fee--and nothing gets you pumped like those infectious beats.
Corrals: um, what? No. Just... no. Not happening here. The fast, serious club runners will line up in the front. Everyone else will jostle for space and line up “anyhow” (local lingo for “in any order” or “haphazardly”) so be prepared to jog and weave. And timing chips? Unless you're running one of the area marathons, there will be none of that. Set your watches, people!
Kids and families: Most of the larger, main races draw lots of families and walkers. Again, be prepared to bob and weave (and chuckle at how sweet families out for a run are, if you're not after a PR!).
When the gun/blowhorn/drums go off: Once you've navigated the process of finding your race, signing up, and getting to the start line amidst chaos and snazzy soca beats, you're off! There's nothing more exhilarating than the sight of the Savannah as you approach and start the race, or watching runners come through the finish line with palm trees and the impressive Trini landscape in the background. Even though race spectators are few (and don’t tend to make much fanfare at runners) I still get goose bumps when I run through streets with old colonial homes, food stands, and the chaos that is Port of Spain.
Oh, and did I mention that there's steelpan music and doubles (fried bread folded over a spicy filling of curried chickpeas and sweet'n'spicy mango chutney) at the end of each race? Scratch the soca warmup—those doubles the reason I keep racing in Trinidad.