If you’ve noticed there’s recently been an increase in the number of runners and joggers on the roads, it’s probably not your imagination. Throughout the territory, runners are getting ready for the 23rd annual 8 Tuff Miles, the St. John road race scheduled this year for Feb. 23.
Race director Peter Alter said more than 800 people have already registered for the event, which can accommodate 1,200 participants, and he expected a flurry of activity in the next couple of weeks.
“At the end, places go fast. We will sell out this year as people want to get back to normalcy,” Alter said.
Following Hurricane Irma, Alter cancelled the race for 2018 as the island struggled to recover from the storm, but more than 200 people showed up on Feb. 24, the date it would have taken place, for a “fun run.”
“It shows that people love the event,” Alter said. “About 30 flew in; 75 came from St. Thomas, and the rest were from St. John.”
Alter had ordered the numbered bibs containing timing devices to be worn by participants in the 2018 race just before the hurricane hit in 2017. Unwilling to waste the $2,400 he invested in this equipment, Alter decided to go ahead and use these bibs this year with last year’s date, Feb. 24, 2018. But he worries that people will get confused and show up on the wrong date.
“The race is always held the last Saturday in February. Always!” he said.
Participants can register online at the event’s official website and get further information from the event’s Facebook page. Registration for the race costs $60 for adults, $30 for those 60 and older, and $15 for those 19 and younger. The fees collected are partly used for scholarship funds for youngsters who participate. The top boy and girl finishers aged 12-years-old and younger win $500 each; those 13 to 16 win $800; and those 17-19 win $1,000.
Since 2003, when event organizers started awarding scholarships, more than $70,000 has been given out. Alter said he recently wrote a $6,700 check to Evan Jones, who now attends the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Jones grew up on St. John and kept winning his age division.
In addition to drawing runners from all over the world, the event usually involves as many as 200 volunteers – around 30 at the start line, 40 to 50 at the finish line, and almost 150 at water stations along the way.
Alter said he’s still recruiting volunteers for this year’s event.
Volunteers at the start line are important because – aside from the first one hundred numbers, which are assigned to top runners who have proven their worth on the course – participants must find their own places within the crowd at the starting line. Volunteers help group them based on their estimated finish times. The slowest participants, including those who walk the course, are placed at the back of the crowd.
Getting a spot among the top 100 can be a contentious matter, Alter said.
“I get emails from runners who say, ‘I’ve run the Boston Marathon, and I should be up front,’ but I say, ‘That’s great, you can be right behind the top 100, and next year when you earn that spot, you can be in the top one hundred,’” he said.
The challenge in this race is the hilly terrain – miles uphill from Cruz Bay at the beginning of the course, some flat portions but then more hills in the middle, and a long downhill finish to Coral Bay. Alter and six others from St. John participated in the Boston Marathon in 2005; accustomed to the much steeper terrain of St. John, Alter said he reached the famous Heartbreak Hill toward the end of the Boston Marathon and said, “Is that it?”
Heat is also a factor in making the eight miles along St. John’s Centerline Road so tough.
“It’s especially hard for those who are training in places in the States “that are currently like Antarctica,” said Alter.
Alter said participants have three hours to complete the course, and the time passes quickly even for the slowest walkers because, “You’re surrounded by friends and family, and there’s acoustic entertainment along the way.”
Alter does want to warn residents and visitors who are staying in Coral Bay to be sure to leave before 7:15 a.m. and take the Northshore Road toward town if they want to catch a ferry.
“We don’t want them to get stuck when the road is closed for the race,” he said.
For motorists coming from Cruz Bay, the police open up the road once runners have passed an area heading eastward.
Alter warned participants staying on St. Thomas to catch one of the specially scheduled ferries, which leave at 6 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. from Red Hook; it’s the only way to be sure to get to the race start which begins promptly at 7:15 a.m., he said. Ferry tickets can be bought up to 10 days ahead of time to avoid the crowd at the ticket counter on the morning of the event.
Finally, Alter warned everyone to look out for pot holes along the race route. Although plans to repair Centerline Road were announced weeks ago, so far there is no sign that even temporary repairs will be completed in time, he said.
“We have to hope for the best. I’m sure there will be a twisted ankle or two.”
The awards ceremony will be held at Mongoose Junction at 4 p.m.
“We’ll have roasted pig, chicken and vegan food,” said Alter. “We’re giving out special awards this year, but no one gets to see the awards, medals or T-shirts until the event; that way it’s kind of like Christmas on race day.”