November 30 2017
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On September 10, 2016, I ran a very tiny race on a very tiny island. If you’ve never heard of the Caribbean island of Nevis or the Nevis Marathon, you’re definitely not alone. The island is located in the eastern Caribbean and is positively tiny—just 36 square miles! But the island, like the race, packs a lot of punch into a small package.
I’ve run several races in the Caribbean, including the Reggae Half Marathon in Jamaica and the Run in Paradise Half Marathon in Antigua, so I figured I knew what to expect—hot, humid, and a seaside finish! I wasn’t disappointed on any of those fronts. Like most Caribbean races, the start for the marathon, half marathon, and 10k in Nevis is super early, with a 5:30 start for the marathon. Although I bemoan waking up so early, I’m always grateful as soon as the sun comes up!
Speaking of the sun coming up, there was something particularly spectacular about watching the sun rise over the island and the surrounding ocean. There is a large dormant volcano right in the center of Nevis, and the surrounding ocean looks out over nearby St. Kitts, providing a gorgeous backdrop for a race. The half marathon (which I ran) and the 10k are out and back courses along the island’s main road, while the marathon runs all the way around the island! How many people can say they’ve run around an entire island?!
I started the race figuring that I would be running alone, but I was pleasantly surprised to meet two Americans who were now living on Nevis and running the race as well. The island is known for its relaxed and natural vibe—you won’t find any chain restaurants or fast food on the island, and there is only one international hotel brand—so it was interesting to get an outside perspective on what it is like to live there. The overwhelming was consensus was “peaceful and quiet,” which, as it so happens, is exactly what the race is like, too.
The half marathon course runs from the capital, Charlestown, to the airport on the northern side of the island and back. With the early start and small population of the island, there aren’t any spectators, so only the mountains and ocean were keeping us company as we ran along. The half marathon course features a gently rolling landscape with a couple of longer inclines and downhills, but the marathon is known to be quite hilly and challenging. As someone who lives in a very hilly area, I didn’t find the course to be unmanageable—it’s just hot!
Because of the heat and humidity, I didn’t go to Nevis hoping to PR. I just wanted to take in the beauty around me and see a new place, and on that front, I was certainly not disappointed. For the entire race, you have a forested volcano and rising mist on one side, and the crystal-clear blue-green waters of the ocean on the other side! The scenery alone and gorgeous course is reason enough on its own to run this race, and besides, we’re all looking for an excuse to go to the Caribbean, right?
That’s not to say that the race is without its issues, because no race is. There is no crowd support whatsoever due to the small population of the island, early start time, and limited running culture on the island, so if you’re looking for high fives, you’re probably not going to get any. As the race is in its infancy, it’s small (about 40 participants attended this year) but growing, so you might be running alone. The aid stations are basic but offer Gatorade and water, including bottles that you can grab on the go. The finish line spread is simple, but the reception is warm. All in all? It’s exactly what you would expect from a small local race, except for the absolutely stunning beauty.
As for my race? It went more or less how I expected. The first half was positively serene, beautiful, and exciting all at the same time, while the hills and humidity definitely took their toll on me in the second half. Knowing that this would likely be the case, I kept my go-to race plan in my back pocket: have fun and take lots of pictures!
Thanks to my chronic summer under-training (hey, it’s hot in South Carolina!), the last few miles were a dedicated walk-run effort where I just prayed the end was near. There’s something to be said for a hard-fought finish, though, and as I crossed the finish line to the cheers of local supporters, runners, and the race committee, I was instantly glad I had come to Nevis. Like I always say, there’s no better way to see a new place than to run through it.
If you’re looking for a big city race experience with all of the amenities, you’re probably not going to love the Nevis Marathon. But if you’re looking to run an absolutely stunning course that will challenge you, inspire you, and help you to see beautiful Nevis in a new light while enjoying your vacation but that might not have your preferred flavor of gel at the next aid station, the Nevis Marathon is a great option in the Caribbean.
Name: Nevis Running Festival
Location: Charlestown, Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis)
Date: September 10, 2016 (the race is held in mid-late September each year)
Time: 5:30 am marathon, 5:45 am half marathon, 6 am 10k
Years Running: 3
Course: Scenic with sweeping views of the ocean and forested dormant volcano! Marathon runs all the way around the island, while the half marathon and 10k are out and back.
Eat: At Bananas Bistro for a fancier night out, or Paradise Drive-Thru (it’s not fast food, it’s just the name!) for local fare with a constantly rotating daily menu
Stay: At Mount Nevis Hotel! This secluded luxury hotel offers beautiful suites with absolutely stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and St. Kitts. Nothing is far away in Nevis, so while it might look like the hotel is isolated, you’re only 15 minutes away from Charlestown, the island’s hub.
Drink: At world-famous Sunshine’s Beach Bar and Grill, which sits right on the beach and offers the world famous “Killer Bee” cocktail! Definitely a well-deserved post-race drink, but don’t forget to hydrate, too.
Play: At Funky Monkey Island Tours! This unique island tour company offers exciting off-road tours of the island that take you to places you could never go in a car. You’ll see historic sites on the island, as well as take a trip through the rainforest and the island’s many beautiful former sugar plantations. Did I mention there’s free beer and rum punch?