X Marks the spot

Like all good treasure hunts it started with a map. This particular map showed the route for the Marathon of the Treasure Coast in Florida –  the Sunshine State. 

It looked a pretty spectacular course. Starting in downtown Stuart, a small community on the east coast of the USA almost equidistant between Orlando and Miami, the route followed the St Lucie River then wound its way round the Indian River Lagoon, and onto Hutchinson Island where it followed the Atlantic Ocean coastline before returning to downtown. 

A couple of spectacular causeways and bridges were thrown in for extra interest.

The Treasure

There was treasure promised at the end in the form of long-sleeve race shirt, a goody bag, a sparkly themed medal and of course the glory of the achievement.

This was to be no easy bounty though. With temperatures in the weeks leading up to race day in the high 20’s and 80-90% humidity, we set off on our journey to the New World with some trepidation.

The Crew

There were three in our crew, all with probably not enough running – long runs at least – in our legs. We were to be tackling our first marathon for three months. Incidentally that is the longest period that Cam and I have had between marathons for many years.  Though both Mark and Cam had run PB’s at short distances since Christmas, the feeling was as a group we were just a little undertrained and unprepared for the possible extreme conditions.

The Voyage

It was to be a quick raid – in and out over the weekend. Arriving at Orlando (we should have flown to the somewhat closer airport in Miami but that’s another story) we hired a vessel … I mean car … and were on our way. Cruising in a Mustang down the coast. It was late afternoon, not too hot, not too humid – a promising start to the trip.

Cruising down the freeway

Cool Mustang light

Dry Land

Stuart was a delightful little town in a very quaint Floridian way. In fact, having landed at Orlando airport it was difficult to dispel the feeling that we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Disney Land. 

That is until we tried to check in to our hotel – we don’t often have trouble like this so we won’t dwell on it – suffice to say the hotel was over booked and on this busy race weekend there was not much else around. We spend our first night in a dive of a motel – like something out of a B (or possibly C or D) movie.  Some of us spent the night waiting for the plot to develop (The Edgewick Inn had nothing on this). There was almost a mutiny.

We were so far from the ‘Heart of the Magic’.

Fortunately it was only for one night as our original hotel (Hampton Inn and Suites) found space for us for the remainder of our stay.  How to make a pretty standard hotel feel like the Ritz!

Some photos “Historic” downtown Stuart – very Disneyesque. Note the blue skies!

Loving the Mustang but a bit windy in the back.

The Lie of the Land

Rising early Saturday morning (and not wanting to hang about!) we decided to combine our post-flight shakeout with a short recce of the route – in particular to run over one of the causeway bridges that we’d seen on the map. There was a bit of cloud to start off with but the sun soon burnt this off. Hmm … so not a pancake-flat course then

The Stuart Causeway – crosses the Indian River Lagoon at mile 17

After coffee was a visit to the expo which was held in the local school hall. The small friendly affair – the event had 1300-1500 runners – included a personal description of the course by one of the marshalls. We were later to wish we’d paid more attention.

The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool. Bliss!

Grog and Grub 

Highly recommended for would-be pirates or treasure hunters:

Mulligans Beach House – situated on the St Lucie river with views of the Roosevelt Bridge and the marina, this is part of a small local chain of restaurants. Its a fun place to go with a pirate theme, friendly service and a varied menu. We ate there on two occasions and had New England Clam Chowder, Seafood Bisque, Firecracker Quesadilla and Blackened Tuna with Garlic Mash.

Duffy’s Sports Grill, More alfresco dining and premiership football (so many screens – had the nearest one tuned in to watch Liverpool LFC vs Watford ). We had Grilled Mahi Mahi with Rice and Beans. And buy one get one free beer throughout – as it was day before the race we were all drinking zero alcohol od course!

Luna Italian Cuisine – located in historic downtown Stuart, an Italian restaurant with huge portions. A very busy place even at 6:30 on a Saturday evening. To avoid a wait (no booking) we ordered off the identical take-away menu and ate outside. We had our pre-race pasta and pizza here. The small pizza, as a starter between three, defeated us and the remains were taken back to the hotel in a doggy bag.

The Stuart Boat House – good food, outside dining in lovely waterside setting and live music. We have Pancetta Crusted Sea Scallops, Crab Cakes and Crab Fried Rice accompanied by local beer and Californian wine.


Delicious food and lovely ambiance at The Stuart Boat House

The Treasure Hunt (Race Day) 

Presumably for reasons of climate and road closures, the race had a 6 a.m. start. Rising at 4 o’clock is not such a problem if you are still pretty well in UK time, which we were after only a day in the US.

The morning was cool and still dark – vests and shorts would be fine once we got going but coffee and  shelter in the pay-extra-for-VIP-start area were very welcome. Initially we chatted to each other and a few local runners but as the start time approached we all have our own pre-race routines so we said our goodbyes, wished each other luck and made our way to the pen.

A stirring version of The Star Spangled banner was sung and we were off. 

Stuart – Morning

Stuart – Evening

Shiver me timbers

Because of our different starting positions we probably realised that there was something wrong at different times. It is hard to understand and difficult to explain what exactly happened, but the runners (we) were led off course very early on in the race.  A turning was missed. Directions weren’t clear and before long runners were completely lost. Some had run 4-5K off course – others nearer the back not so far. There were runners going in all directions trying to find the correct route whilst trying to warn others that they were heading in the wrong direction. 

Even the pacers didn’t know what was happening. It was chaos. 

Then there were murmurings from some quarters that there was going to be a restart but from others the message was keep on running. 

There was a restart at 6:40 but so many people didn’t realise or had already gone so the organisers decided to time two separate races for each distance (half and full marathon).

The first race was for the runners who didn’t stop and who therefore ran a variety of distances – all over marathon (or half marathon) distance – depending on when they realised what was happening (760 runners). For some It also included time spent hanging round at the start while trying to decide what to do. (Jacquie was in this race)

Cam and Mark were in the 6:40 start which was official marathon / half distance but included a warm up of anything up to 5K. 150 runners re-started their race.

Along the course, for some, it wasn’t clear what had happened. Rumours abounded that the timing had been stopped and re-started leaving first-wave runners without times. Not very encouraging!

Walking the plank

In the end the organisers made the best they could of a bad situation. Everyone got a time but only the second wave were official marathon times for Boston qualification etc.

Two sets of prizes were awarded (though most second wave runners would be receiving theirs in the post) and an email admitting full responsibility was sent out that afternoon. We were told further investigation and possibly compensation may follow.

The Booty

So we went looking for Treasure and came back with far more than expected. Apart from the well designed medals (with movable crab swimming in the sea!) and our mermaid beads we got quite a haul.

Mark and Cam were both age-group winners in their race. Jacquie came first in the women’s masters (35yrs+) and third women overall in hers. It’s hard to compare the times to other marathons because of the false start and random distances run. We were all agreed not the easy course we had anticipated when we signed up but although it got a bit warm in the last hour or so the conditions could have been a lot worse. By the time we’d made it to the Stuart Boat House bar along with our trophies we were all very happy hunters.

Despite the problems at the start of the race we would highly recommend this marathon. The aid nations were good and frequent, the marshals friendly and encouraging, the course stunning in places and we always love events that recognise achievement throughout the field.

Overall we had a very enjoyable week end on the Treasure Coast.


Some useless trivia : September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day