The Run Barbados International Marathon Weekend offers an ideal collection of destination races for anyone looking to enjoy some winter sunshine whilst pursing their running agenda. The Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k and mile fun run take place as part of the bigger Run Barbados International Marathon weekend with the selection of races over the course of three days in early December. On the 4 December 2019 I headed out on an invited press trip with Visit Barbados to participate in the marathon weekend and see more of what beautiful Barbados has to offer. I’ve shared the experience below, and created a YouTube video which you can watch here.
Whilst this recap features events from an organised press trip all opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way.
Our travels began on Wednesday 4 December when our group met at Gatwick Airport. We flew with Virgin Atlantic, who frequently fly from the UK operating out of Manchester and London (Gatwick and Heathrow) direct to Barbados and have done for over 20 years now. The flight was approximately 8 hours, the cabin was comfortable and the food and drinks service was great (we were sat in economy which I highly recommend). The cabin crew in particular were a real highlight of the flight. They provided an excellent level of service and the journey passed by quickly.
We soon arrived at Barbados Grantley Adams International airport and met our driver for the week Dane (we even spotted Tom Jones in arrivals). It was just before 3pm and the weather was HOT.
After a short journey (just 20ish minutes) we arrived at our host hotel for the stay- Coconut Court Beach Hotel. Coconut Court is a family run hotel situated on the south coast of Barbados close to Bridgetown and most importantly just ten minutes walk from the start/finish line of all the races. Coconut Court consists of 112 spacious studio rooms, complete with a mini kitchen, free wifi and spacious private balconies (you also get a welcome gift of rum punch in your room, what’s not to love!). The hotel doesn’t boast the excessive luxury of some of the Island’s larger chain resorts, but instead had a cosy and friendly kind of charm. The rooms were extremely light and spacious and there was a small outdoor pool area. But the main highlight was the beach. Coconut court comes with its own section of beautiful beach, which is home to 300 endangered Hawksbill Marine Turtles and I even got to see some of the babies making their way to the ocean.
Upon arrival, I threw my suitcase down on the floor of my room, grabbed my swimsuit and I headed straight to the sea for a pre-sunset dip. Everything looks like it belongs in a beautiful travel brochure, the sand is so white, the sea is so turquoise and the palm trees framed the sunset beautifully. I swam until it started to go dark then after a quick bite to eat (and my first time sampling real jerk chicken at Jakes Steak and Seafood Grill) I grabbed an early night ready for all the excitement the next few days had in store.
Thursday- Day 1
Thursday was our first full day and the calm before marathon weekend began. Thanks to the jet lag I woke up early enough to watch the sunrise on the beach and was treated to my first turtle sighting. I then headed enjoyed a quick swim and headed out for the first activity of the trip: stand up paddle boarding, SUP.
Paddle Barbados is a SUP school offering lessons and tours based in Carlisle Bay Marine Park (this area is known for its fantastic snorkelling). We started with a quick briefing and some safety info. Even though I have done SUP before and surfed it’s always good to listen to the safety briefing as the team know the water better than you. Sarah and Jason were really friendly and in no time at all we were out on the water. There was a fairly strong offshore wind which certainly made things interesting, but we covered so much of the water and had the chance to practice our technique. I also managed to fall in a few times haha! The morning was great, I absolutely loved being out on the water and Carlisle Bay where the team are based is so beautiful. Once back on dry land we headed to Naniki Lush Life Nature Resort for an afternoon hike, spot of yoga and lunch.
Naniki Lush Life Nature Resort is an eco-friendly resort combining heath and wellness with traditional Caribbean dining and beautiful self contained cottages. Thomas, the manager, took us on a sample of their 2-3 hour wellness walk, showing us the beautifully lush forest and talking us through the geologic history of the area (I was geeking out at this point). There’s something really spiritual about being in amongst the trees and it’s one of the reasons I love trail running- being out in nature is good for the soul. It was so peaceful here.
After the nature hike, we enjoyed a beautiful yoga class on the terrace with a stunning view over the Scotland district of Barbados (just like in Scotland (UK) the Scotland district is hilly) where you could see miles of lush forest and rolling hills reaching down towards the Atlantic coast. Some stretching was just what I needed after the flight and I left Naniki feeling relaxed and suitably stuffed from a delicious meal and my first experience of macaroni pie.
That evening we ate at La Cabane, a gorgeous beach bar serving good food and even better cocktails. We visited in darkness which offered an enchanting chilled out vibe, and I imagine that the beach side location is simply stunning during the day. The food in Barbados was a real highlight- there is such a wide variety of choice, the portions are generous but not over powering and everything is simple but delicious. There are lots of chicken, fish and veggie options and the food feels really nourishing. I opted for the Mango and Goats Cheese salad which was so tasty and we all sampled the Pina Coladas which are by far the best I’ve ever tasted. But be warned, the rum out in Barbados is strong!
Friday- Day 2
Friday marked the start of the marathon weekend festivities with the mile fun run taking place that evening. I started the day early with a short run along the beach/ boardwalk to help try to acclimatise to the heat before we began the races. I was in good company as lots of other runners and walkers were out too. Even at 7am it was HOT and I was definitely glad to soak in the sea after!
We spent the rest of the morning exploring St Nicholas Abbey, which despite the name isn’t an Abbey but is one of the old sugarcane plantation houses, and only one of three genuine Jacobean mansion houses in the western hemisphere. In addition to the house the site boasts a museum, rum distillery and heritage railway experience. Lots of people were enjoying the rum tasting, but we resisted the temptation as we knew we would be running later (plus it was 10am!). We enjoyed a lovely light lunch here and had the chance to meet the Warren Family who have lovingly restored the Abbey to offer an insight into Barbados’ past.
After a relaxing afternoon on the beach it was time for the first race of the weekend- the 1 mile fun run. We headed to the start which was a busy and slightly chaotic array of music, dancing and runners. The atmosphere was incredible and there was a real party spirit, with lots of people also in fancy dress. The children and youth waves went first and the sheer volume of waves delayed the adults setting off. This definitely wasn’t a case of turn up, run and go home- this is an evening running party to kick start the marathon weekend. Our race started around 8pm, the sun was long gone but the heat of the day lingered- it was going to be a sweaty one!
The race was divided into separate women’s and men’s races then a mixed fun run (next time I’m bring fancy dress! there were some epic costumes). We set off in the women’s wave as I was keen to get a speedy mile in. The route was a flat out and back towards Bridgetown along a closed road. The course was a tad dark in places and could benefit from some additional lighting (or just run with a head torch if running in twilight really bothers you), there was a water station just before the turn around point and plenty of support from spectators. Heading to the finish was like heading back to the party and crossing the line we were greeted with high fives and medals. Considering I’d done less than 8 minutes of running I was dripping in sweat. We headed back to the hotel, showered and changed then dashed back out to Oistins fish fry which is THE place to be in Barbados in a Friday night. I was starving and very glad of the big portions!
Saturday- Day 3
I woke up early and snuck in a quick morning sea swim before we headed to Off Road Fury to experience some off road buggy driving. In all honesty I had been feeling a slight sense of dread about this activity. I had done quad biking a few years ago and not enjoyed the experience but from the minute we arrived the team put us at ease. Everything was run so professionally and with safety and enjoyment at the heart of the fun. I let Marc, our host from the Visit Barbados team, drive first and enjoyed being the passenger as we whizzed through fields of sugarcane in the rural district of Barbados- somewhere not a lot of tourists get to see as there are few roads traversing this area. It was soon my time to drive and I hesitantly took the steering wheel, apologising for my (usually) cautious driving habits. But as soon as I got out on the dirt paths the petrol head in me came alive. I think it was a combination of enjoying trying something new and how safe we were made to feel but I got my foot on the gas and we flew down the dirt tracks and ploughed through a few puddles (much to Marc’s *delight*)…..haha! Once we were finished we had to make a quick unplanned pitstop to shower due to puddlegate (my bad) and then enjoyed a beautiful lunch at Tapas on the seafront before the 5km later that afternoon.
The 5km and 10km races take place on the Saturday afternoon from 4pm, so are amongst the hottest races of the weekend. I opted for the 5km but there’s also the option if you’re speedy enough to do both (meaning you can come home with some serious race bling). I knew I had to keep this one steady and save my legs as much as possible for the half marathon on Sunday. As it was afternoon it also felt HOT. These were the only races being run in the heat of the day with the mile being after dark and the marathon and half starting before dawn. I think this was a great idea to run late afternoon. The sun wasn’t strong but the residual heat of the day offered anyone running the marathon and half the next morning, a valuable lesson in adjusting your pacing and forced you to acclimatise. It was some comfort knowing that tomorrow morning would be cooler. The route took in a lot of Historic Bridgetown and like the mile race the previous evening, the atmosphere was fantastic, there was so much local support and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was great seeing lots of UK runners out on course and I really regretted not bringing my club vest. I crossed the line in a respectable 27ish minutes saving my legs and letting myself adjust to the heat. It was another finish line and another piece of bling for the Run Barbados collection. I then dived into the sea which was just the perfect way to cool down!
Dinner that evening was at Ocean Two Hotel a luxury resort on the South Coast of Barbados. We enjoyed celebrating our 5km efforts whilst I carb loaded in style in the beautiful BBQ buffet. Towards the end of our evening we were interrupted by a commotion near the BBQ area of the restaurant. There had been a mass hatching of baby turtles and they were everywhere, it was such an incredible sight!
Sunday- Day 4
Sunday was Half Marathon Day and we were greeted with a very early start! The race begins at 5am, and this is very much welcomed to escape the heat of the day (although it was still 26 degrees) and the timing equates to 9am GMT which ideally fitted with my somewhat jet lagged body clock. You certainly wouldn’t feel at a disadvantage if you had travelled from the UK and not quite adjusted to the timezone.
The race consisted of an out and back route passing through historic Bridgetown and the port of Barbados before hugging the coastline. The first 40 minutes or so are in total darkness. With a sneakily concealed hill around 6km, which felt like it was never ending in the conditions. Some parts of the route were a tad dark, but it wasn’t long before the sun began to come up. Between 6-15km the course was undulating, so be prepared for hills! Some areas of the route were very quiet (possibly owing to the early Sunday morning start) so it’s a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Take headphones! I thoroughly enjoyed the out and back as it meant I was able to gasp in awe at the speed and determination of the elites, I knew what the course had in store, where the water stations were (which was essential in the temperature) and could therefore pace accordingly to maximise my energy levels and I knew that once the sun came up I would be on the flatter home straight. The marathon runners run this course twice and from speaking with friends the second lap was tough in the rapidly rising morning heat, but at least you knew what was ahead of you on the course.
The organisers provided frequent water stations also stocked with bananas and there were marshals in abundance, with many on the course on bikes to assist should you need. There were even locals offering tequila shots and rum punch should you feel inclined! A true taste of Caribbean hospitality.
The final stretch towards the finish started to feel never ending. I hadn’t eaten a decent enough breakfast and was paying for it at this point. I got chatting to one of the local runners who had run this race several times and he shared with me just how much it means to him, how so many people travel to race and how the weekend has grown year on year. This helped the time pass much quicker and soon we reached the finish (the party atmosphere was going strong) and collected our third medal of the weekend. I also got an additional fourth medal for completing three races over the weekend, so was going home with lots of bling to add to the collection.
Barbados Marathon isn’t like other large international marathons in terms of runner numbers, sleek race villages or glamorously stocked aid stations. However it offers a unique and somewhat low key kind of charm (it actually reminded me of the warmth and hospitality I encountered during Liverpool Marathon). The marathon embraces the relaxed and friendly vibes of Barbados, and is perfectly understated. Speaking to locals and travelling runners alike this is a firm favourite year on year and it’s clear to see why, it’s an enjoyable and friendly race and the ideal destination marathon for anyone wanting some winter sunshine. The whole marathon weekend offers something for everyone with a variety of races and distances. Again I found myself soaking off in the sea afterwards, which definitely feels like a treat, especially in December!
After the race we enjoyed a beautiful lunch on the beach thanks to professional Chef Damian Leach. In 2016 Damian won Barbados Chef of the Year and Caribbean Chef of the Year. He has cooked in a variety of countries and restaurants (including Tapas where we dined the day before) and now owns his own restaurant in St Lawrence Gap. He cooked us a beautiful meal of white fish and sweet potato, which was so restorative after the morning’s half marathon. After lunch we enjoyed a walk down the coast. This stretch of beach was along the rugged rocky Atlantic coastline and very different to the sheltered beaches on the opposite side of the Island. It was very quiet and absolutely beautiful.
We finished the trip with an incredible evening aboard the Catamaran Seaduced. We set sail from Bridgetown late afternoon and enjoyed stunning views of the Bajan coast and a spot of sunset snorkelling before dinner and cocktails. This was the highlight of the trip and perfect way to celebrate a fantastic few days and some epic running.
Monday- Day 5
As we were due to fly home late Monday evening, we had most of the day to enjoy the last hours of sunshine. I got up and enjoyed one final run on the boardwalk and a post run dip then led on the beach. Flying home in the evening worked really well as we were able to sleep on the flight. We landed at 7:45am UK time and after dropping my case off at home and collecting Poppy my rabbit from the bunny hotel (yes it’s a thing) I was back in work by lunchtime. Talk about play hard, work hard!
I am so grateful to Visit Barbados for showing me all the highlights of this beautiful country. This was my first time in Barbados and first visit to the Caribbean, as previously I had foolishly assumed that the Caribbean only offered beach based holidays. In just a few days I learned this simply isn’t the case, and there is so much more on offer. Yes the beaches are beautiful and I certainly enjoyed resting under the palm trees by the sea, but there are also so many health and wellness activities, experiences for adrenaline junkies, incredible restaurants and sports events on offer. I came home from this trip feeling relaxed and recharged (and that’s despite a hectic schedule with lots of running!). Escaping the depths of winter in the UK is also a huge bonus and I’ve felt much healthier and less stressed since I returned. If you have a sense of adventure, love running, enjoy good food and want a chance to relax in the sunshine then Barbados needs to be on your bucket list!
The Atlantic Coast beaches were much more rugged than their Caribbean facing counterparts
Toasting a fantastic trip on Seaduced
Ready for Yoga at Naniki
Ready for some SUP with Paddle Barbados
Sea Swimming is definitely harder than you think!