Sand, Surf, and Suffer

Sand, Surf, and Suffer, A Tortola Torture Race Report

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“I mean, really, …how challenging can it be?” I thought to myself as the plane banked over the turquoise waters of St. Thomas.

The islands themselves are really just a bunch of small mountains jutting out of the sea, and although there did appear to be a lot climbing on those beautiful beasts, the mountains didn’t look bigger than a few thousand feet, and certainly not all-that-intimidating smack dab among all this beauty. After just coming off the insane climbing at Barkley two weeks ago, I felt like I was ready for anything, so these little hills? pfffft, no problem.

Says, the dude rockin’ 30th place… {sigh}

Cuz, this is what I always do. I have run over 100 ultramarathons now, and you’d think I would be an expert. I’m not. I still don’t believe pumped up race hype, I still neglect necessary and important race research, and I still rarely understand what I am truly in for, usually until the race briefing, where I find myself looking around, compiling a number of panicked realizations around what I didn’t know, what I forgot to bring, and how I failed to read the instructions carefully – if at all.

I know, I know, race directors hate that. I am admittedly a race director’s worst frustration.

Seeking Something Different

However, my elements of poor planning are well documented, so, we aren’t going to do that again. We are not going to launch yet another race report about my struggles and idiocy, but instead, focus on the aspects of the race, and why, if you are truly an athlete who seeks unique challenges, a little gnarlier than the standard weekend event, under unique conditions, a whole lot hotter than probably anything you will find in the USA, and in unique places, so beautiful it takes your breath away over and over and over again, Tortola Torture needs to be in your 2017 race plans.

You Don’t Know Steep

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Ok, stop.

Sit back, close your eyes, and spend a minute thinking about the steepest hill you’ve ever encountered – at a race or otherwise – but something in which you had to actually climb yourself.

My promise to you, the roads of Tortola are much, much steeper.

Race Director, and seemingly my brother from another mother, Richard Morgan picked us up from the ferry port as we arrived in Tortola like two excited kids. I was traveling with crazy, but hilarious Sean Blanton. Yup, the “Run Bum,” Georgia Death race director, and owner of nine race events around the Southeast. I’ve always known Sean as just this crazy, wiry kid, who runs fast, so it’s funny that so many other people know him in such different ways now. Makes me feel old.

But, probably the coolest thing about “Blanton,” is his ability to seek out hard races in cool places. The Tortola Torture is $%^&*! hard, and Tortola is $%^&*! cool.

But First, A little Tease

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The Tortola Torture is just shy of 34 miles, and the first 10 miles is run on completely flat – and I mean flat – road, along a beautiful stretch of waterway. There are times where you are running through the Tortola “downtown,” then sleepy, local communities, before stretches of wide open causeways, and industrial areas.

Trust me, you will go out too fast here. It’s a fact. Accept it, plan for it, deal with it. It’s simply too easy to let loose. It’s 5:00 a.m., cooler than it will ever be during this beast, your legs are fresh, everyone’s spirits are high, and well – life just feels hella good at that moment.

But, that won’t last long.

Where Beauty Meets Beast

After 10 miles, you might find yourself thinking, “Wow! I just ripped through 10 miles at a great pace, and only have 24 miles to go… No problem!”

Oh, you poor, misguided soul.

After that easy 10, the race begins a series of relentless, incredibly steep, and constant series of climbs and descents, that systemically squash your soul. And, this goes on until the very last mile.

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I mean honestly, it never stops. And those miles you were clipping off early like an umpire clicking off balls and strikes? That’s a distant memory.

Nope. You are now suffering. You are now climbing hot roads, more dramatic than you have most likely ever experienced before in your running career, under a scalding tropical sun, encountering false summit after false summit, cursing the RD and his British accent, and everything else you can come up with to discredit him in the moment.

The change from happy, frolicking runner early in the race, to now droopy, dragging, tropical wanderer, is almost hilarious if it wasn’t so horrible.

And then…

Where Beast Actually Meets Beauty

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Just about the time you think you can take no more, which for me was the extremely rough and long climb to the halfway point, something clicks.

You are happy. HUH? You are now on the backside of the distance. As long as everything holds together, you will finish this beast. And, by the way, the views are getting spectacular.

More and more spectacular.

Yea, the climbs keep coming, and the quad-crushing descents follow right behind them, but at every turn, every crest, every bottom, there is some sort of incredible sight.

You’ll find yourself running through tropical parks down low, skirting the turquoise water’s edge, before summiting climbs that present you with vast, distant views of the other Islands scattered throughout the Caribbean Ocean.

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It’s an absolutely stunning place. The were multiple times I found myself digging deep – not to find strength to continue, because no, that was an easy decision, now – but instead, to find a way to actively appreciate what the Hell was happening.

Here I was, in absolute paradise, doing exactly what I love to do, in extreme conditions, with extremely cool people, on an extremely beautiful island, away from all the office cubes, traffic, malls, stresses, and material things that have somehow become gauges of success for some people.

Yep. I was experiencing success. The greatest success one can obtain in life. I was LIVING. Truly living as I ran around the circumference of Tortola, experiencing my body in all of its joys and pains; experiencing others as we crossed paths and shared stories; experiencing the humongous bright blue sky, wide open ocean, and thick, deep jungles.

Dammit, I was actually happy. In pain, but man, I was happy, …and all of a sudden, I wasn’t in such a hurry for it to end.

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Crossing the finish line was bittersweet.

I suffered. A lot. Made rookie mistakes, had some nutritional issues, didn’t drink enough, …you know, typical Christian Griffith shit; but, crossing the finish line ended my journey with me, and that made me a little sad.

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I titled this report “Sand, Surf, and Suffer” because I thought it was clever, but the suffer part is only partly true. It’s through short bouts of suffering that we learn what we are truly made of, and I will take the life lessons and spiritual growth obtained from coming out on the other end of such suffering, over the comforts of sedentary existence, any day of the week.

These are the lessons that I find it very difficult to experience at my “backyard ultras.” It takes new people, new places, new experiences, new environments and cultures and terrains and ecosystems, to really have a profound effect.

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Tortola Torture provided that profound effect for which I am forever grateful.

Thank Yous

I cannot end this report with the deepest of thank-you(s) to the local people of Tortola, and most specifically the race directors Richard and Nellie Morgan, and their friends Chris and Ellen, as well as Natasha and Dan who graciously offered us a place to stay while on the Island. The generosity was ridiculous – huge meals, rides everywhere, Island tours, race route scouting, …and did I mention the meals? Delicious.

We were totally pimped-down, styled-down, and well-taken care – British style. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And to the course angels who kept us hydrated, especially those of us with very misguided ideas of what we’d actually need for this race, thank you. You were not only appreciated, you were absolutely necessary for my, and I’m guessing many others’, survival. You truly were selfless and helpful and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Christian Griffith

Christian Griffith is one of the Co-Founders of ORM. He can also now be found working with GORUCK as the SVP, Marketing.

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