This article was originally posted on Swim Bike Mom.
In the last decade, I can count (on one hand) the number of times I have been on a real vacation—a true, sit-in-the-sand, read-your-cares-away, eat until someone needs to rub your belly—vacation. There’s been a weekend away here and there for a birthday, an anniversary, or just “someone please take these kids for a night.”
But a vacation? Nope. And here’s why.
I hate vacations because of the pain of re-entry. At some point, a vacation ends. We must go back to reality. Not that reality is necessarily bad, but it’s certainly not vacay.
Furthermore, unless you have made exceptionally insightful or wise (or maybe lucky) choices in life, reality may NOT consist of white sandy beaches or doing whatever you like to do all day, every day. So I stopped going on vacation for the sole insane reason that re-entry into the real world is really, really hard.
In summary, if I don’t vacay, then I don’t know what I am missing. Therefore, I can’t miss it.
Brilliant! (And also sort of a messed up way to never go anywhere or seek pleasure outside of the daily life. Smooth, really smooth.)
But enter: the “RaceCation”
What is a RaceCation? Well, it’s the idea that we travel somewhere really cool to complete a race (running race, a triathlon, or other race-like event). With a race you are setting and completing a goal, and then with the vacation component, you are also receiving a fun reward for your hard work (the “cation” part of all this).
In theory, the idea is ah-maz-ing. However, I had not mastered this art of RaceCation. I found the sport of triathlon (swim bike and run) in 2010, and I started to travel to races—because that’s what you do for
I found the sport of triathlon (swim bike and run) in 2010, and I started to travel to races—because that’s what you do for triathlon. Some races are located near, and some are far away. Regardless, travel can quickly become a part of triathlon culture. I (and often, my family) would travel to the race destination. The good news: we traveled somewhere. The bad news: I maintained such laser-like focus (the race) that I really didn’t enjoy the “cation” part, and often made the rest of my family miserable too. After the race, I was simply ready to return home.
“RaceCation” to Ironman CDA in 2013. We ALL missed out on the “cation” part of this trip, I’m afraid.
Well, I had cracked the code to the vacation re-entry “problem,” but that was about all I solved with the RaceCation. I would spend thousands of dollars to haul lots of stuff (shoes, bikes, wetsuits) across the country where my family would sit and stare at me on race day, being held captive within their own sort of weird RaceCation, and I would end up doing the same thing I could have done a few hours away for a whole lot less money. Of course, we didn’t stay for days after the race to enjoy the venue because I was tired, sore, and I had to get back to work (that pesky vacation PTO thing).
So with a RaceCation, I had just made more work for myself. I might as well stay home, or just go race wherever–who cared if it was beautiful or there were “things to do.”
Fast forward to a few weeks ago with the RaceCation that changed it all for me.
I had a half marathon (13.1-mile running race) planned in the Cayman Islands. I was thinking, “Oh this is a RaceCation, and sure, it’s a beach venue, but I am sure that I will be ready to go home. I mean, I am running 13.1 miles. I will be tired.”
I was not prepared for some crazy re-awakening that came with the Race-Cation that was the Cayman Islands.
During this trip, I learned just how wrong I had been about what a RaceCation can actually mean!
I also learned exactly how to structure the perfect RaceCation (and in paradise, to boot), which I will share with you.
And I enjoyed the glory that is literally the flattest half marathon I have ever encountered.
Day 1 – Travel, Ice Cream & a Wedding
I left Atlanta, my hometown, and forty-degree temps. The flight from Atlanta to Grand Cayman was extremely short–we landed before I could even finish an in-flight Pierce Brosnan movie. The door to the airplane was opened and we all filed down the stairs, while I tried to strip off my cardigan while carrying a laptop and iPhone.
I looked to the right – and could see the ocean. Ahhhhhh. I am here. (But lawdy, I am hot!)
The Grand Cayman airport is small, and likewise, I was through customs with baggage in hand in less than thirty minutes. A short walk across the street to Andy’s Rental Car, and I had my little car ready to go.
Travel Tip: Remember that traffic is on the opposite side of the road in the Cayman Islands.
I was a little nervous, at first, driving on the left side of the road. That small change, coupled with the round-a-bouts, gave me a mild heart attack leaving the airport. However, the roads are a quick study, the speed limit on the island is low, and I was just fine. I highly recommend renting a car during the stay–even though everything is relatively close, it’s nice to have a way to jet around.
Travel Tip: Pay attention to the traffic flow in parking lots. If you are accustomed to right-hand driving, the parking lots can be confusing. Just remember to enter and exit the “opposite” way.
I arrived at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort around 2:3opm, where I was promptly handed a mango lemonade–something amazing–that is all.
The property had recently undergone a huge renovation and was breathtakingly beautiful, accessible and fun. Literally everything I needed (and more) was located on the property–coffee and fresh-made juices in the morning (including REAL juices!), gelato, and several outstanding restaurants on the property.
I had a conference call scheduled for 3:00, so I plugged in my headphones, sat down at Anchor & Den (the restaurant in the main lobby), and proceeded to order from the menu.
I have been eating very healthy for a while–and also dairy, meat and gluten-free. I knew that I would go a little off this during the trip, but I wanted to still eat well, and save room for dessert.
The first meal I had was healthy, fresh and delicious–beet salad, homemade guacamole and roasted cauliflower. And then I saved room for what was probably the best dessert of my life…
I am not kidding.
Salted caramel peanut butter homemade ice cream (in a mason jar), topped with a hard chocolate shell. (I will be honest. I had it THREE times during the trip. Yes, that’s approximately one time per day. #NoJudgments).
After lunch, I needed someone to rub my belly, but I decided to find the beach. After all, it was almost 4:30 in the afternoon, and I hadn’t even seen in the main attraction of the Cayman Islands: the beach.
The front desk said, “The beach is right out that door.”
I thought, “Yeah okay,” but I went up to the room and put on my flip-flops and a cover-up, grabbed a book and figured I would watch the sunset until it was time to eat again. I am a quick study–the trip was quickly all about the delicious food for me. Ha!
I walked out the back entrance of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, stepped approximately 100 yards, and had my toes in the sand. It really was close.
I sat down on the chair and immediately stuck my nose in my iPhone.
Then I thought, What am I doing with this phone!?
Resisting the urge to The Devil Wears Prada-style chuck it into the ocean, I shoved my phone in my small pack, and stretched out on the chair, the waves of the crystal clear water, coming right up under my feet. I sat for over an hour, watching the sunset, and taking in deep breaths.
For a little bit, I couldn’t believe how the tension in my neck had dissipated, how I felt calm.
I watched the sun disappear, then I decided, “Whelp, it must be time to eat again!”
I had a private meal booked at the Grand Old House, which is one of Grand Cayman’s amazing gems. Built in 1908, this colonial style property was absolutely breathtaking. As I ate, a wedding reception was taking place, and I enjoyed being a wallflower from a far distance.
The wedding was something like out of prom in the Twilight movie–and had that same sort of magic to it. You can read more about Grand Old House here–but if you are thinking of a destination wedding or event–I think this is the place I would pick for it.
I drove back (carefully, on the correct side of the road and without incident) to the hotel, where I encountered the perfect ending to the perfect start of the perfect trip.
As I walked into the hotel, I stopped and saw this beautiful tree, with cards and ribbons hanging from it.
Read more about this Intention Tree here…
Day 2 – Wave Runners, Snorkels & So Much More Food
I popped out of bed and padded down to the lobby in my semi-jammies for a large coffee and juice, and to grab the complimentary GoPro for the day.
Travel Tip: If you stay at Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, they have complimentary GoPro cameras to use for the day! You can then have them downloaded to your phone or computer. Get there early though! I was there by 7:15 and they were almost all gone. But totally worth it for the underwater activities!
For a little bit, I sat on the beach and read a magazine, sipped my coffee, and prepared for the day that would consist of the following: wave runners, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, race packet pick-up and even more delicious food.
I was nervous about all the watersports, because: 1) it was the day before race day, and I NEVER exert myself before any race; and 2) I am a mega-klutz.
The first thing I did was put on the bathing suit that would hide any massive embarrassment in the event of fall off the boat: tankini… still stylish, but not much likelihood of a wardrobe malfunction.
First up was the Jet Ski Water Safari–by Red Sail Sports. This consisted of a guided jet ski tour to a reef, where you then snorkeled, got back on the jet ski and went to another place, snorkeled some more… then headed back to the resort.
The check-in for the watersports was right there on property at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, which made it super easy.
I think, hands down, the jetski safari (outside of the half marathon) was my favorite part of the trip.
I had never driven a wave runner, nor snorkeled… and I was nervous. But I got the hang of the jetski pretty quickly, as well as the snorkel. And wow, just wow!
The freedom of being on the water and flying 35 MPH? LOVED IT!
Of course, all the fishies and the coral was pretty darn amazing too.
My fabulous tour guide, Delano, took me on a great adventure–we even stopped to see a shipwreck. At one point, I was all “ooooh!!!” pointing at this huge silver fish, swimming closer.
And Delano was shaking his head, underwater, “Nooooo!”
[Turns out that barracudas do not need or like petting.]
Next up, was stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).
I had never tried this either, and while I pride myself on decent core strength, I wasn’t sure how this would fare.
I think, hands down, this was my least favorite part of the trip. I apparently stink at standing up on a board. It’s not nearly as peaceful as it looks if you are constantly wiping out.
That being said, if you love and are proficient at SUP, you would love this!
I did get the hang of it eventually, but I was pretty worn out by that point… I would do it again, for sure. But I was definitely more of a “sit down, fall down paddleboarder.”
Of course, what is one to do after four hours of watersports?
You guessed it!
But first, the packet pick up for the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon (and half marathon).
I zipped down the road approximately two miles to the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa. Packet pick-up was seamless and quick and easy. Parking was not an issue, and I was in and out in just a few minutes. Fast pick-ups are a HUGE bonus to me. (Nothing says added stress like a crazy race packet pick-up… this was great!)
I explored two restaurants on property for lunch (Vista) and dinner (Veranda), and both were just outstanding.
At lunch, I finished off a gorgeous avocado and shrimp salad with Key Lime Ice Cream Sandwiches–holy moly–so good. *And they gave you two. The menu said, singular: Key Lime Ice Cream Sandwich. The food arrived, and there were TWO of them. Oh, the humanity, bless you!
Just what I needed–two of them. And I could have shared one with a bird or a stranger, but I thought best just to eat them both myself. You know.
Travel Tip: Call your mobile carrier and make sure you have a good data and voice plan for travel. Turn off your apps that will pull down too much data, and connect to WiFi wherever you go.
Dinner was a fantastic vegetarian fare–created from the chef with my requests–I didn’t really want any meat or anything heavy with the race in the morning, so Veranda made me a veggie plate and finished it off with my favorite “cocktail”- Pellegrino and lime.
As I turned in for the evening and prepared all the things for race morning, I realized just how much fun I had experienced. I had never planned such wonderful things the day before a race.
I stayed off my feet pretty well through the water sports and the close location of the packet pick-up.
I went to bed sleepy, but really rested in a weird way.
Travel Tip: Download the Waze app for navigation before traveling to the Cayman Islands, as some of the other maps do not work. Waze was wonderful!
Day 3 – The Flattest Half Marathon EVAH:
The Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon (and half marathon)
Alarm sounded at 3:33am, and I was out of the door at 4:15.
The race started at 5:00 for many reasons–but most of all, the heat. It was eighty degrees at the race start and humid. But most of us are accustomed to insane early mornings, so no big deal, right? Right!
The hotel had a shuttle waiting, but there was ample parking near the race start, which is great to know for next year. (Yes, I said NEXT YEAR!)
If you are looking for a relatively small half marathon and marathon (a very small field), this is the race for you. If you race well in warm temps and want a FLAT (yes, really flat) race, then this definitely the race!
I had an AMAZING time, despite my turtle-like pace. I have been doing off-season running heartrate training, so I knew that it would not be a “race” per se for me, but I considered that an opportunity to enjoy the sites and people, and have a great time.
And I did! The aid stations were awesome, full of water and Gatorade (and snacks too). Crowd support was also fun, and the finish line was fantastic.
I loved this event, and I will say that it was probably my favorite half marathon to date (and also my slowest, but again–heartrate training! Bleh!).
The marathon also looks like a great option for anyone looking for a flat race. I would say that you might want to train and race well in warmer climes, however, because it did start to heat up by the time I was finished with the half.
I am very eager to go back and “race” this event in the future, because it’s rare to find a true flat and fast course. And the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon was definitely flat, fast and beautiful.
I am very eager to go back and “race” it, since I was doing the heart rate training this go round. The finisher medal was awesome too (my spirit animal!).
But what a great, fun, flat and fast course!
I was back to the hotel in a jiffy with the return shuttle and headed to Craft, just a stone’s throw from the hotel–where I enjoyed a cappuccino and a big ole salad. I used their WiFi to get some work done, and enjoyed the lovely tropical feel.
A few hours later, I headed over the incredible Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa--one of the most beautiful resorts I have ever seen (wow), and the deep tissue massage was incredible. I will say that I was about cooked and done after a half marathon, amazing lunch and a massage.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach, writing and enjoying the feeling of a true vacation–a true RaceCation.
I am not someone who can fall asleep easily anywhere and I feel asleep twice during this trip–once laying on the beach and another time during the massage, both times snorting and snoring myself awake with embarrassment.
(Good “problems” to have!)
I will be honest, the re-entry was still tough. Getting back to the grind, the lunches, the laundry and the like is always a bit challenging.
But I can also say that this was, by far, the best RaceCation of my life.
Exploring the Cayman Islands allowed me to rethink the idea of the RaceCation and seriously consider returning in 2017. Who’s coming with me?!
Cracking the Code: A Cheat Sheet to Planning the RaceCation
Pick a Relaxing Venue
The best part of this RaceCation was that the venue invited relaxation: the Cayman Islands was not “just a beach” either–but a beautiful, magical place. Unlike somewhere like a Disney race, for example, the outside events on Cayman are not taxing on the body–quite the opposite actually. Just having access to a chair and the ocean took the RaceCation to an amazing level.
Do Fun Things the Day BEFORE the Race, Too!
I was worried that jet skiing and snorkeling would make me tired for the race, but it was the perfect combo of “things to do” and physical activity that didn’t tire me out at all. When you pick a relaxing venue, a race without a stressful packet pick-up, it makes all the difference in the world!
Use the Race as a FUN Event
Knowing that I wasn’t gunning for a PR (personal record) on the course helped me enjoy the event immensely as well, and have some leeway in my prior day’s events. I also wasn’t so blasted after the race where I couldn’t enjoy more of the venue.
When choosing a true RaceCation, try and find somewhere that has a race to fit into your schedule as a “B” or “C” race, so you can truly enjoy all aspects of the trip. I have raced many “big” races, and have been completely unable to enjoy the sights and area. Picking a fun event and place will make the RaceCation truly feel like a vacay.
Enjoy the Food
Eat, drink and be merry! Worry about the food perfection or your calorie intake when you return home. The desserts were to-die-for, and I would not have it any other way.
The Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon and days around it allowed me a much-needed reset on my life. I would recommend choosing a RaceCation that is away from the major hustle and bustle and theme parks. You will thank yourself for it! I was able to do something active, but also focus on relaxing, finding some inner peace and of course, setting my intention with the New Moon. That, in itself, was simply magical.