The Castaway Cay 5-kilometer run ... and some unfinished business
Call it unfinished business.
Back in 2012, and again in 2015, I was registered to take part in the Castaway Cay five-kilometer run around Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. The Castaway Cay 5-k is sanctioned by runDisney and, as such, is a "real" race: You get a race number, support along the course and a medal when you cross the finish line. It's the only runDisney event that doesn't charge an entrance fee ... although one might argue that the cost of the cruise itself ends up making the race the most expensive on the planet.
In 2012, there was a hurricane lurking in the Carribean and the waters off Castaway were abnormally rough. It took the captain of our ship [the Disney Dream] several hours to dock the boat, forcing the race, as well as other off-ship activities, to be canceled.
In 2015, we were on the last leg of a trans-Atlantic voyage on the Disney Magic. I was registered to run and had spent about 45 minutes each day in the ship's gym going stride-for-stride with my wife Janet in preparation. But a nagging [and painful] hip injury, as well as the prospects of a sunny, hot and humid day, forced me make the prudent decision of not taking part.
Which brings us to our most recent DCL cruise, aboard the Disney Fantasy, earlier this month.
We boarded the massive ocean liner on Feb. 4 and I was the first person to sign up for the race. At 67, I also was among the oldest. Our friend Julian, a national-class race-walker back in the day in his native England, was the second to register. It turns out, there were more than 350 people who'd be toeing the starting line less than a week later.
The Fantasy left Port Canaveral at 4 p.m. on Saturday. With the race scheduled to be run on Friday, Feb. 10, Janet and I again made it a point to hit the treadmills almost every day of the cruise ... me to prep for the race; her to work off some of the delicious meals we enjoyed during the week.
Race day dawned windy and comfortable [not nearly as humid as previous visits]. At 8 a.m., I mistakenly went to the D Lounge for the registration; with so many people taking part, check-in was moved to the Walt Disney Theatre [clearly noted on my event ticket]. Although I was the first person to sign up, I was among the last to receive a race bib.
After listening to about 20 minutes of corny jokes from well-meaning cast members, the ship was cleared by Bahamian officials. Julian and I and the rest of the participants began the long trek from Deck 4 of the ship, down the stairs to the gangway and then about a one-mile walk to the starting line, which is rather nondescript ... and narrow.
The start is located near the bike rental hut. There's a small wooden sign that says "5k start" and the official race clock was set up on a tripod to the right. Unlike other runDisney events, there are no fireworks, no loud music and no Disney characters milling about. Pretty much no-frills racing. It was simply "ready, set ... go!" and we were off.
It took about 30 seconds to reach the starting line, but by then, Julian had broken out into his arms-held-high, heel-toe-heel-toe race-walking gait. When I spoke to him about the race during the cruise, he said he was hoping to break 45 minutes. The way he started, I knew he'd do much better than that. As for me, the hip injury that had precluded my participation in the Castaway Cay 5k in 2015 had persisted through much of 2016. It wasn't until November that I began the long, arduous task of getting myself back into some kind of respectable shape.
My goal was to finish in around 40 minutes, using a combination of speed walking and jogging. My plan was to walk for seven minutes, run for three minutes, walk for seven, run three, etc., and then see how I felt over the last mile or so.
As you might expect, the Castaway out-and-back course is flat, but that's not to suggest it's easy. After leaving the start area, you wind your way out onto an abandoned - and sun-splashed - airplane landing strip. A few minutes later, you make a right turn onto a narrow, thickly-wooded loop. While the vegetation did keep the sun at bay, it also blocked most of the wind, which made it seem hotter than it actually was.
The loop takes you to the island's observation tower, where you bear left and head back toward the airstrip. There's a water stop at the end of the loop, which competitors end up passing four times during the event. Once out onto the airstrip, the sun felt noticeably stronger. A turnaround arrow is located at the end of the strip, near the adult beach area, which means you've reached the halfway point. During my trek toward the arrow, I spotted Julian - still looking strong - on his way back to the loop and we exchanged greetings.
By now, the field was beginning to thin out and those competitors near me seemed to be following a similar course of action ... walking, jogging, walking, shuffling ...
I exited the loop, made a left turn and decided to jog the rest of the way to the finish line in hopes of breaking 40 minutes.
At the finish - 40:10 according to my watch - was a cast member handing out finisher's medals [actually, they're rubbery, not metallic]. I reunited with Julian, who finished in around 37 minutes, and we made our way back to the ship to meet up with our wives and enjoy breakfast before heading out to the island again for a day of relaxation.
It had been nine years since I last took part in a runDisney event ... the 2008 Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. Although I have continued to lead an active lifestyle, I've had to clear a lot of medical hurdles along the way to keep going. Exactly one month after completing the Goofy Challenge, I had prostate cancer surgery. In the years that followed, I also had rotator cuff surgery and a procedure to relieve trigger finger ... not to mention that annoying hip injury.
So, although 3.1 miles pales in comparison to the 39.3 miles over two days needed to complete the Goofy Challenge, I was quite proud to have set a goal, trained to reach that goal, and then go out and achieve it.
Unfinished business no longer.