Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Sights and Experiences of a Caribbean Runner

For any of you that have been consistently reading my blog you know that I’m a runner, so you’ve probably read about my experiences running down here in the islands.  Mainly, I’ve been whining about it because running in the tropics is brutal.  However, I have to say that getting up early and jogging around the island is a very telling and at times entertaining thing to do down here.  Frankly, I love it as much as I hate it, and I always feel better afterwards, which is probably why I continue to do it. 

So, the following are some of my sights and experiences while out running around this crazy island:


I typically run down to a public beach not too far from my house, which is a common place for other people to exercise.  The people-watching is truly amazing.  Mainly, I notice what people are wearing for their morning workouts.  There is one woman in particular that I see on a regular basis.  She wears the following:  a white cap, a ginormous white tee-shirt, long black leggings, pantyhose that cover the space between where her leggings end and where her thick white socks begin and white sneakers. 

So, besides her arms, she is completely covered.  I can’t help but stare at her pantyhose the entire time that I’m running by her.  It’s freakin’ 85-90 degrees with 95% humidity.  What is the point of this?  I on the other hand, couldn’t be wearing less in my jog bra and running shorts.  So, I’ve concluded that she and I equally offend each other.  It’s a trade-off.

As a side with regards to this topic, I also see people walking/exercising (or whatever they may think they are doing) in sweatpants, sweatshirts, jeans and I cannot confirm this, but I think I’ve seen one lady in her underwear – trying to pull it off as a swimsuit. 


Once a week I switch up my route and run out to the end of the peninsula that we live on.  This is a tough run with lots of hills, so I can’t do it every day.  However, lately, I’ve been pushing myself to go all the way to the very end of the point of the peninsula, which provides for a stunning view of the ocean and the rocky northern coast of St. Thomas.  When I get there, I take a 2 minute rest to absorb the moment.  The early morning sun glistens off of the ocean, pelicans glide over the water, the light salty breeze blows and the ocean crashes against the shoreline below me. 

If and when we leave St. Thomas, I will always remember the peacefulness of those 2 minutes.


This is a simple one, but I actually enjoy seeing my neighbors first thing in the morning.  When we first moved to the island, I felt like we lived in the country because our house seemed so remote from everything.  Especially, compared to living in a high rise in Chicago where you’re on top of everyone.  Now, I feel like we live in a neighborhood where we have friends and acquaintances that we hang out with, chat with and look out for. 

This morning, when I was almost back from my run, I took a second to stop and talk with one of my neighbors that I see often, and while we were talking I waived hello to another neighbor who was in his car driving to work. 

Maybe this is the Midwesterner in me, but becoming familiar with people during my morning runs has provided a great feeling of community.  It’s a sharp contrast to the effort I made to avoid eye contact with my neighbors in the elevator of our last condo in Chicago. 


There is a strong cultural tradition down here of saying ‘good morning’ to people.  Saying ‘good afternoon’ is also common, but saying ‘good morning’ is a big, big deal here.  If you don’t say ‘good morning’, it’s offensive, and if you say ‘good morning’ and that person doesn’t say ‘good morning’ back, then it’s a total insult.  Sometimes, people even go to great lengths to say ‘good morning’ twice if Kevin and I are together….kind of like a song, ‘morning-morning’.    

One time when Kevin and I were at the grocery store several of the women working in the deli were having a very heated conversation about something and tempers were hot.  Regardless, we walked into the deli and greeted them with a polite ‘good morning’, to which they immediately responded by completely dropping their conversation and their hot tempers, and in unison responded with the most pleasant ‘good morning’ ever.  It was a remarkable transition, and it proves that nothing, nothing gets in the way of greeting someone with a ‘good morning’. 

So, as you can imagine on my morning runs, it doesn’t matter if I’m huffing it up a huge hill, sweating my butt off and/or in physical pain…if someone comes down the hill and greets me with a ‘good morning’, then I have no choice but to conjure the strength to reply back to them – whether I feel like it’s a good morning at that moment, or not. 

Several times throughout my runs, I’m struggling to say ‘good morning’ to complete strangers.  Part of me thinks this is crazy and part of me thinks it’s really nice.  You’re validating the other person by politely acknowledging them, but they are interrupting you at a very inopportune time with their cultural expectations.  I’m on the fence on this one. 


I see the same couple down at the beach exercising at least twice a week.  When I first saw them, I was confused by what they were doing.  He wears a sweat band, and she seems completely out of breath, so I concluded that they were indeed exercising, but it looked like there was a lot of stumbling involved.  They weren’t really running or jogging, and this definitely wasn’t a walk.  It’s what I now refer to as the stumble-run – kind of a shuffling of the feet, but with an upward and forward motion.  Of course, there is the constant threat that one of them may stumble and fall at any given moment.

With the country experiencing an obesity epidemic, I applaud their commitment to ‘exercising’.  But, I find myself concerned for them every time I see them.  Are they going to fall?  Are they not going to fall?  He seems pretty confident with what he’s doing, as I’ve noticed lately that he brings a bouncy ball with him to bounce and catch along the way.  He could probably step it up a bit to whatever the next level of stumble-running is.  She, on the other hand, doesn’t look too good, with all of her huffing and puffing.  Either way, I always get a good laugh out of the two of them, and I ALWAYS say ‘good morning’ to them.      


Last week, I woke up and set off on my morning route out to the point.  The weather is getting nicer here and it was a sunny day with a nice strong breeze.  At a certain place on this run if you look ahead and beside you, you can see out over the ocean and the islands are in the background. 

I’ve always struggled to keep my head up while I’m running.  It’s just a natural thing for me to keep my head down as I’m moving forward, but on this particular day I looked up over the ocean and saw an isolated cloud hovering above the water.  This struck me as odd because it was an otherwise clear morning.  As I continued to look out at it, I noticed that there was rain coming down from the cloud.  Since this was the only cloud in the middle of sunny morning, a rainbow formed between the cloud and the ocean.  I found it particularly special because I could see both ends of the rainbow, which is rare.  I continued on, reminding myself of what a special place this little island is, and to always keep my head up.


As you can imagine, there isn’t a whole lot of bike riding on the island.  The roads are hilly and have sharp turns and there aren’t long stretches of land to ride along.  However, the beach we run by provides for a paved, safe stretch of road for a short bike ride.  So, every now and then at the beach I see a small child riding their bike with their parents close behind.

One morning as I was jogging along my beach route, I noticed a woman on a bicycle up ahead of me.  The bike had a banana seat, and it seemed a little too small and childish for her, but she moved along nonetheless in a shaky but forward motion.  After a short while, I noticed that I was catching up to her, and became a bit confused by this.  Regardless of the slight downhill that we were approaching, and the fact that she was on wheels, I seemed to be out-pacing her.  How could that be?  For a second I slowed down to ponder what I should do.  Would it offend her if I, a runner, past her?  Should I wait until she turns to carry on with my pace?  Should I go to the opposite side of the street and pass her, rather than passing by right next to her?  I’d never been in this position before.  It seemed so unnatural for a runner to pass a biker.

Finally, I decided not to put anymore thought into this situation.  ‘This is the Caribbean’, I thought, ‘things are so backwards here that you can’t even make this stuff up.’  I picked up my normal pace and blew right by her.


In my last posting I spent most of my time bitching and moaning about how hot it has been down here.  And, I’m sure none of you felt sorry for me – rightfully so.  However, there is one really great thing about getting up for an early run in August and September in St. Thomas…the Sun Rise. 

During these 2 months the sun rises right over Tortola, so we can see it from our deck while we wake up and have a cup of coffee before our run. I have seen more of the most beautiful, picturesque sun rises in the last 2 months, than in my entire life. What’s so interesting to me about seeing the sun rise every morning is that each one is completely different from the day before. Some of them are colorful, others are cloudy and sometimes they can be glaring. Either way, it’s always a great way to start the day, and I can’t even begin to put into words how beautiful this is. Instead, I’ll close this posting with a picture so you can see for yourself. Enjoy!



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