Cruise to Run: The ultimate runner’s vacation

The sixth annual “Cruise to Run” – billed as the ultimate runner’s vacation – lived up to it’s reputation this year, offering a weeklong winter escape on five warm and beautiful Caribbean islands.

The brainchild of the late Jerry Friesen, a Canadian race director and avid runner who designed a theme cruise for people who enjoy exploring through running.

Cruise to Run 2012 offered runs on St. Thomas, Tortola, Antigua, Dominica and Barbados with varying terrain and distances each day. The group disembarked each morning for the run and finished in time to explore some of the island’s wonders before sailing again each evening.

Ultra runner Lise Gagne from Ontario loved all the runs and islands.

“I really liked Dominica for the rain forest. It is breathtaking,” Gagne said.

Her husband, Armand Leblanc, concurred: “I loved the trails on Dominica.”

Our ship, the Caribbean Princess, was an all-inclusive floating city with no shortage of things to do. The running group had special opportunities to socialize together and with our inspirational speakers, Bart Yasso and Sarah Reinertsen.

After busy days running and exploring, many evenings were spent just relaxing after dinner. Princess offers the wonderful “Movies Under the Stars” venue complete with popcorn, loungers and warm blankets as you are treated to films on a big screen on the pool deck.

Our first day on St. Thomas began with a prediction run – the winners were those who could guess the closest to their finish times. No watches were allowed, and to everyone’s amazement, the top 10 predictions were within 8 seconds of their times.

Day 2 was a nearly 1,000-foot climb on Tortola that rewarded us with sweeping views of the coast from atop a verdant hillside. This was the shortest run by far but challenging in its abruptness. The rest of the day we explored the famous Baths on nearby Virgin Gorda, a geographic wonder of enormous boulders forming a maze of tunnels and grottoes leading to beautiful beaches.

Antigua was the setting for our longest run – a road, beach and trail run up to Fort Barrington overlooking St. John’s Harbor. The afternoon offered a Hash Run for those “drinkers with a running problem.”

My favorite run was on Dominica, one of the more primitive islands. We had the opportunity to run on the Waitukubuli National Trail, a beautiful rain forest area with sweeping views of the Caribbean and abundant wildflowers. With almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain, this run more closely resembled the running I love.

Our final day was a 5K race on Barbados. We were delighted to run with many local youths, and although the course was mostly flat, the 85-degree heat and humidity made it challenging. At the awards ceremony, we were treated to local singing and dancing talent as well as an open-water swim.

Another special feature of Cruise to Run is the Runners Give Back program, an opportunity to show appreciation to the islanders who treated us so well. We donated school supplies on Tortola, books for the Antigua public library, sporting supplies on Dominica and shoes on Barbados.

This trip was the perfect mix of running and relaxation. The diversity of running on different islands kept the itinerary interesting and welcoming to all running abilities.

For more information, check out the Cruise to Run website at www.cruisetorun.com.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.