My Mum does a great Dutch pea soup. It’s thick to the point of chewy and is filled with innumerable ingredients, most of which you could never prove were in there because they’ve been cooked into a merger. It has a sneaky heat about it – there’s little vapour rising from it due to the skin it quickly forms, but it can sit there for a while and still knock you back in your seat when you take a mouthful.
Which brings me more neatly than you’d think to the 2015 Cayman Islands Half-Marathon.
There is no time of year in Cayman when it makes much sense to be running outside after sunrise. In the summer, it’s over 90 degrees with humidity frequently in excess of 75%. In the winter it’s high 80’s to 90’s fahrenheit, with 50-70% humidity or thereabouts. Long training runs can be going very well right up until the point when the sun – seemingly just a few miles beyond the horizon, jumps up and beats you into submission. In December however the prevailing weather systems typically provide us with ‘Christmas breezes’. Not the kind of breezes that make sense of the inflatable snowmen I see in peoples gardens here in the Caribbean, but the kind of breeze that makes running tolerable – sometimes even glorious – as late as breakfast time.
Hence the timing of this country’s biggest running event, the Cayman Marathon, for the first Sunday each December. There is a marathon relay (four legs: two at 6.4 miles, two at 6.7 miles), a marathon and a half-marathon. 2015 was my third Cayman Half-marathon after I made my debut here at the distance in 2013.
I came into the run just a month after my visit to the NYC Marathon med tent – still with plenty of fitness carried over but even heavier than before – more than a shade over 200lbs against an ideal running weight of 180-185lbs. But still, I was feeling OK about my stated goal of getting under 2 hours – that would be over 12 minutes off my best, set at the same event the previous year, but would be OK considering my extra baggage.
I figured on a first mile in the region of 9:30 and maybe another mile at that pace before ratcheting up to 9:00 for the next 9-10 miles and putting my foot down for the last two miles depending on how much time I had to make up.
At the start I felt good – not in that ‘of course you feel good the race has only just started’ kind of way, but mechanically sound, like I was going to be cruising comfortably with calories to burn when it mattered. Through three miles I was just feeling better the whole time and went through six happy.
Around the six mile mark however it became quickly obvious that all was not well in my world. I was more drenched in sweat than I should have been by that stage, and keeping the pace I wanted was, apparently without warning, unreasonably difficult. Typically when a mid-race malaise hits that isn’t tied to a specific sharp pain I have a chat with it, remind it of the expectations of the rest of the body, tell myself not to be a whiner and a wuss, and push on. Which I did. That got me reluctantly to the 7-mile mark, by which time I was starting to feel fed up, and the slower I got the fatter I felt, and the fatter I felt the more ridiculous it seemed to be running a half marathon at all, let alone one where my target was anything more than reaching the finishing line in one piece.
At eight miles I was done. Nothing left, no energy, legs were completely AWOL, mind was shot. I coasted the last 5 miles willing the end to come and felt suitably wretched about the whole thing, coming in around 2hrs 13minutes – nearly half an hour slower than in
2014. Mercifully I couldn’t hang around anyway due to commitments at church that morning and I hurried home.
That’s when I discovered that I had in fact been running through pea soup. It was a little strange to see such horribly positive splits on (seemingly) everyone’s finishing times, but here was the number that stood out: NINETY-FOUR PERCENT. That was the humidity on race day – not predicted by the weather forecast, utterly unseasonable and horribly soupish. We’d all gone out thinking it was a good day for a good time, pushed ourselves when we started getting fatigued early, and ruined ourselves for the second half.
So sure, my time was awful. Horrible. Fat.
But it would have been a whole lot better if I wasn’t running through Dutch pea soup.