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An Ultra Story



A runner at the starting line.

 

I took two glances at the WhatsApp message. "Did I read that correctly?" I asked myself.


“Save the Date: October 11-14, Sandals Foundation Island Run Antigua 2023 Ultramarathon 100 KM, Half Marathon 26KM, Walk Option to Come,” I reread the colorful caption under the vibrant picture with the Antiguan flag background. Someone sent me an advertisement for a local event that promised a rare running adventure. Although excited about the chance to cross Antigua on my feet, self-doubt made me hesitate to register.


My thinking went like this...

There are 11 days between September 30th and October 11th. I am running a marathon in Wisconsin on September 30th. Experts recommend taking 26 days to recover after a marathon. Although the Island Run is a fundraiser for the pediatric center at St. John's Hospital, I need to pass on this race and rest.


But... It’s an extraordinary opportunity to compete in the island's first ultramarathon.

If you could read the transcript from the conflict in my head, it might have resembled the five previous sentences.

The Sandals Foundation Island Run ad.

A few weeks after I received the message in WhatsApp, I trained Capoeira on the beach in front of Sandals Grande Antigua Hotel. In between kicks and acrobatic movements that sprinkled white sand into the air, an employee approached, said hello, and explained how they divided the ultramarathon's distance over four days. He said the plan included daily 6 am starts, running for about 25 kilometers, 15.5 miles, and then resuming after that until accumulating 100 Kilometers, 62 miles.


He stressed the fundraiser's importance in equipping the local hospital with better resources for the children.


With more awareness of the course and the cause, I left the beach, drove home, showered, and downloaded the registration app. After I entered my credit card information, I didn’t know that I had paid to experience hallucinations, pain, and the irritable bowels often associated with ultramarathons.


Let me pause the story.


What is an ultramarathon? An ultramarathon is any race beyond the standard marathon’s distance of 42.3 kilometers, 26. 3 miles. Popular ultramarathons in the US cover 80 kilometers, 50 miles or more, under harsh weather conditions and over rough terrains.

Antigua's ultramarathon guaranteed athletes the challenges of heat and hills.


Now, visualize pressing resume on the story.


I finished the marathon in Wisconsin, returned home to Antigua, and took three days to rest. Eight days later, at 5:30 am, my wife dropped me in the lobby at the Sandals Hotel with 21 other runners from the UK and Antigua. We took a picture at the starting line and then left for the first of four legs.


Day one did not let me down. Buckets of rainwater fell from the sky and flushed the salt from sweat into my eyes. It burned and made me close my eyes for brief moments. Then the sun arrived, and I lost the course trail.


I missed a turn and ran an extra 3.7 kilometers, 2.3 miles, before finding the finish line ahead of 20 other runners.


One competitor passed out on the course. An event organizer called an ambulance, and they rushed him to the hospital, where he received treatment for dehydration and low blood sugar. When the runner's fluid and glucose levels refilled, he asked to return to the course. The medical team declined his request.


Day one’s awful weather, injuries, and limited course markings filled me with concern, courage, and confidence to continue. The night ended, and the next day started with listening to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.


Finishing the ultramarathon became a mission.

A runner in front of the dockyard police station.

Day two started with severe bowel challenges. I spent more than a few minutes on the toilet. Then, I sat on the kitchen floor, turned on a playlist, and listened to ultramarathoner David Goggins tell me to “stay hard.” I will spare you the additional details, but imagine how you might feel after eating a bucket of cayenne peppers.


At 4 am, my exhausted wife drove me to Sandals again for the bus ride to Jolly Harbour to continue the ultramarathon's course around the island. Day two did not disappoint. The route took us over multiple steep hills, alongside the Antiguan rainforest, and through a neighborhood where two stray dogs chased me.


I yelled and clapped to scare the dogs. They fled, and I reached English Harbour in second place without getting lost.


The following day, I woke up with more stomach challenges but made the 4:30 am bus call without spoiling my running shorts. We ran about 25 kilometers, 15 miles, from English Harbour to the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium. I missed another turn, but my runner's high morphed into a hallucination during one stretch of the route.


I saw Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X hold hands in a civil rights protest. They extended their reach to me as I ran up the hill with Michael Jackson's song, “They Don’t Care About Us,” playing in my orange open-ear headphones. I sprinted past the motorcycle police escort, waiting ahead.


Vernon Lindsay in front of Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.

I finished second again behind Antigua’s top distance runner, but self-doubt resurfaced on the eve of the final leg. My children had a swim meet, and I volunteered to assist the technical team. I made it home late and didn't get in bed until 10:30 pm.


My alarm was set for 2:30 am, to eat something, battle any stomach ailments, and join the other runners at 4 am.


Fueled by joy, rage, ego, exhaust, and Powerade on the final day, I ran 21 kilometers, 12.9 miles, from the cricket stadium to the finish line at Halcyon Heights. Excitement about the end pushed me to run faster than the three previous days. My pride also refused to allow any runner with fresh legs to pass me.


The last day offered a half-marathon or 10-kilometer option to anyone who wanted to join the race.


Crowds cheered for me as I passed the 10-kilometer starting line. In the final mile, I didn’t see Rosa or her squad, but my family drove beside me in our SUV to the finish line. Their presence inspired me to finish strong.



The experience changed me. After every day of the races, I went to work and stayed late one evening to lead a peer mentor program meeting. I also volunteered to help time swimmers at my children’s swim meet on two of the four-day races. My participation in the ultramarathon without abandoning personal and professional responsibilities confirmed the reservoir of grit and resilient skills inside me.


I’m not special. You have more than you think you do, also. We are barely touching the surface of our human potential.

I didn't think I could compete in the ultramarathon with the short recovery period after the Wisconsin marathon. Imposter syndrome tried to convince me I was not strong enough when I received the WhatsApp message. Overall, I placed 2nd in the Island Run, contributed to a great cause, and won a sunset cruise for two.



I’m grateful the ultramarathon happened last weekend. Weather predictions indicate a hurricane might hit Antigua tomorrow.


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"I didn’t know that I had paid to experience hallucinations, pain, and the irritable bowels often associated with ultramarathons." Enough, Dr. Lindsay. I am ROFL, but crying that you almost ran the Last Marathon. Congratulations.

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It really was an experience to remember! Thank you.

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