The annual Cross Island Relay is one of the oldest and most popular road runs in Grand Cayman and Sunday’s race from Gun Bay in East End must be up there with the best for excitement.
Organized by the Hash House Harriers and sponsored by Fidelity, the top four spots changed throughout the race, which is very unusual.
There were 91 teams of six per team, each running four-mile legs in an event that started in pitch darkness at 6 a.m. and wound up four hours later at Smith Cove.
A hot pace was set by Jason Saunders of Phoenix Flashers at the start in 22 minutes, 58 seconds. He was closely followed by Derek Larner (23:37) for the Hash House Harriers with Barry Phelan of Intertrust Galaxy coming in third in 24:55. Team Joy of Six were fourth after Jens Pankalla held off the challenge from the rest of the field.
Larner quickly changed after his run to help with timing and general organizing as part of the Race Caribbean team.
At the end of the second leg, Phoenix Flashers retained the lead but only just. Tom Gammage of Hash had closed the gap to just eight seconds on Pedro Ramos Lopez.
Gammage was proud of the fact that the ultra-rapid Marius Acker did not catch him. Acker still managed to get his team In It to Win It into third place with the fastest time of the day (22:52).
Joy of Six remained fourth thanks to a sterling effort by James Murray whilst the youth of the MDR A-Team had moved from twelfth to fifth after Fabian McCallum ran the second fastest leg 2 with a strong 24:28. The race was taking shape by now, with a few twists and turns to come.
In It to Win It had moved into pole position by leg 3 through Hayden Ibister, whilst Aaron Walker held on to second spot for the Hash.
A fantastic run from Tahj Lewis, 16, moved MDR A-Team into third spot with the fastest time leg 3 time by anyone.
Kevin Connolly hung on in fourth for Phoenix Flashers, whilst Joy of Six were fifth thanks to a solid run by Scott Ruby.
By leg 4, it was clear that In It to Win It were the strongest team who had gradually extended their lead to three minutes.
But now it was the MDR A-Team youngsters who had moved into second spot as Delano Callender, aged only 15, overtook the Hash.
Although Eamon McErlean had run a quick leg himself, Callender cruised past him to gain a one minute advantage. Interestingly, the battle for third and fourth between the Hash and Phoenix was only 26 seconds as Marlon Crowe slightly closed the gap on McErlean.
At Prospect Point, the leading team looked certain of victory with newcomer Andrew West running the quickest leg 5 (24:08) but the race was on for the minor places.
The MDRs had 14-year-old Alex Logvinov with a one-minute lead. Could he hold off the experienced David Shibli of the Hash and Paul Williams of Phoenix?
The answer was yes as Shibli and Williams were having their own battle with each other for third as Logvinov pulled ahead and increased the time gap.
With almost a five-minute lead, Neal Ainscow only needed to cruise for In It to Win It to complete the rout, but that is not the Englishman’s nature and he duly ran the quickest leg 6 of the day for the winning team to complete in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 06 seconds.
The MDRs had Tiffany Cole with a two-minute lead but she was being chased by Phoenix’s Samuel Young.
He bolted away trying to chase Cole down and pulled ahead of Tony Mendez of the Hash. It looked promising for Young as he seemed to flow effortlessly and was closing the distance. But he started to quickly and began to fade.
Sensing this, Mendez picked up the pace and closed with every mile. To widespread surprise, Mendez grew stronger, overhauling Young on South Sound to take back the third spot by the finish line. Phoenix Flashers were fourth and Joy of Six fifth.
Acker was In It to Win It’s team captain. In terms of excitement, he said it was certainly up there with racing the British Bulldogs and the corporate UBS team that included Scott Brittain in the recent past.
“This race had the unknown factor to it, you didn’t know who was in the other teams until race day,” Acker said.
“If runners like Chadwick Webster and Dom Corbin were part of an opposing team and were running the later legs, they could wipe out any lead that might have been gained in the earlier stages of the race.
“We did not know if these two were in opposing team so we were not sure till the start of leg 6 if we will end up in front. The fact that we had a wild card running leg 5 also made it interesting.” Webster and Corbin did not compete.
“Andrew West was a wild card for me, I had no guarantee besides a team-mate’s word and that was good enough for me,” Acker said. “In my opinion, he had the run of the day, no one knew about him and he had an absolute screamer, just missing out on breaking 24 minutes running leg 5 when the heat starts to kick in.”
Acker runs the Valentine’s Mile this weekend, which for him is a fun event because the short distance counts against him but he would nevertheless like to make the podium.
Then it’s the Off The Beaten Track race before he aims to defend his Duathlon title in April.