The team designing and mapping out this year’s Off the Beaten Track have quite literally been cutting out the route for the challenging race later this month.
Race designer and runner Derek Larner, along with race director Anna Keating, have been hacking their way through the bush to prepare the track that will take runners through the beaches, dirt paths and little-used back roads of Grand Cayman.
The duo spent last Wednesday getting one of the legs ready. “[We] spent the entire day cutting through bushes on Leg 2 and can say it is definitely part of Cayman that no-one has raced before. It has a bit of rock, puddles, ditches, prickly bushes, fences, and tricky going underfoot. Runners will either love it or be cursing the course designer for about a one-mile stretch,” Larner said.
In the 50 kilometer (30 mile) run, to be held on Feb. 21, relay teams of up to six members take part. With six on a team, each runner covers about 5 miles, or 8 kilometers, in the cross-country event. Long-distance runners can also take part in the annual charity run if they want to cover the distance on a solo run.
Larner begins work on figuring out the course a year in advance. Initially he maps out the course from aerial photographs, outlining a rough trail that he then explores on foot to determine if the route is passable.
Keating explained, “For instance, when we were out on Wednesday, we had been chopping for quite a bit and hit a large area of swampy water. Unfortunately, we had to turn back and find an alternative way around this trail.
“Needless to say, once we have to change the course or build in a detour, it alters the distance for that leg and then Derek has to go back to the drawing board in terms of placing changeover points, water stops, etc. He’s very patient.”
Once the course is finalized, she said, volunteers from sponsor KRyS Global “tidy” up the trails a bit, with the use of a chainsaw or machete. “We don’t necessarily clear a path,” Keating said, “but we do tidy the bush and foliage up to avoid any nasty thorns or twigs that can cause injury or deep scratches, etc., to runners passing through.”
Once Larner has outlined the course, it takes a team of about eight people to fully prepare the route, she said.
Larner says that with more construction and fewer trails around each year, it is becoming increasingly difficult for runners to truly get “off the beaten track.”
“With a course as long as 50K, it is not realistic to have the entire route off road, but when we do have to go through George Town, I try to use back roads in to areas many people have not been before, so to them, it remains off the beaten track,” he said.
Keating agrees, saying, “Vast swathes of land that were virtually untouched in the past have become cleared and developed in many cases. However, Cayman’s beauty still exists in its beautiful beaches and coastal tracks and so far Derek has come up trumps year on year. Just when I think we’ve seen it all, he finds another trail or path that will keep our athletes challenged to the end.”
Larner invents a new route each year, which, he says, he tries to make unique by introducing areas that have not been run on before.
“I also try to create routes that get runners off the roads for as [long] as possible whilst allowing access for water stops and changeover points,” he added.
He said the initial design of the course is already done, though there will likely be changes before race day, and the route map will not be revealed until the week before the race.
Larner is only willing to say that the route will start “somewhere in the region of SafeHaven” and finish at the George Town Yacht Club.
“The rest is a surprise.”
Keating, however, gives a little more away, saying: “I can confirm that the starting line will be at the waste ground between Pinehurst Drive and the Esterley Tibbetts.”
Since it’s still dark when runners set off, the beginning of the race is usually on the road, with runners delving into the brush as the light improves.
Money raised in this year’s run will go toward Meals on Wheels in Cayman and the international charity Facing Africa.
For more information or to register, visit www.offthebeatentrack.ky.