Tortola Torture should be on every runners’ bucket list of races. The Torture is held mid-April every year in the British Virgin Islands. The race is a point to point 54k, road race. “Road” being used very loosely in this case. The island has no protocol when it comes to designing their roads, except build it cheap. If there is an incline they take the road straight up it (this means they can use less materials), no matter how steep the pitch. At one point you are running up a 33.3% grade, and then down a 36.7% grade. There are a handful of stories of vehicles just flipping over backwards due to the steepness. At different points along the course runners encounter free roaming chickens, cows, sheep, and ponies. Another key characteristic of the race is the fact it is a British owned island. Locals drive one the left side of the road, but in cars made to drive on the right side. The roads are almost completely devoid of any paint on them, no center line or shoulder markings, just a strip of pavement. Most roads are intended to be a two lane road, yet they are only wide enough for one car to be on. Paying attention to vehicles is a nice way to keep runners on their toes while running. A true island race.
The race starts at 5 AM, in Road Town as the temperature hovers in the mid 70’s and the humidity in the mid 80’s. This year runners were fortunate enough to be greeted with warm rain in the early miles. Making the road shiny, as a symphony of crickets chirping, roosters crowing, waves breaking upon the shore, all combined with the rhythmic sounds of runner’s feet hitting the pavement. After running through Road Town the course follows a road along the coast for 10 miles. The Caribbean Sea only a few feet to the left. As the sun slowly comes up, runners approach the first aid station (mile 10.4). Here they drop their headlamps, and start a small ascent of 300 feet, a precursor to much more dramatic climbs in the future. The course then takes you back down to the ocean, through Apple Bay and Carrot Bay, before the real climbing starts on Windy Hill. There is an aid station less than a mile into the climb, Stoutt’s Lookout Bar (mile 15.3). For the next 2.1 miles, the course takes participants straight up until they reach the Mourant Ozannes aid station (mile 17.4). The mountain they just climbed, they must now run back down from, to Brewers Bay aid station (mile 21.2). Good news! Ridge Road aid station is only 2.1 miles from the Brewers Bay aid station. The catch is, it’s 2.1 miles heading back into the sky. To get to the next aid the course follows a ridge, until you slightly drop into the Little Bay aid at mile 28.1. Are you tired just reading this? Need a little push to the finish line? No problem! The race now takes the runners right by the prison, where it’s members hang on the chain link fence watching the event. It helps put a little pep into everyone’s step. One more steep downhill, a handful of free roaming ponies, and a bridge crossing onto Beef Island. There is a quick loop around Little Mountain to add a couple hundred feet of climbing, and one more little kick to the gut before the finish line.
The end is so close! Have you ever ran through an airport before? What would a tour of the island be with out taking runners back full circle, where they flew in just a few days ago? Right through the pick-up/drop-off lane of the airport, and straight ahead to the sandy beach in the distance. The after party can be heard from the airport. Runners go from the airport drop-off zone right on to the beach, turn left and cross the finish line! Now the after party starts!
There is a beach bar, with a DJ, masseuses, free Baileys and Guinness for the runners: making it a full-on beach party! After participants finish their own race they stick around to cheer on runners that are still coming in. Every runner comes in to a slew of cheers, no matter what time they finish the race. The entire event is an experience that every race director should strive to achieve. Richard and Nellie Morgan, along with their team of volunteers have perfected it, and I am so grateful to of been part of it this year!
A note on Hurricane Irma: Irma hit Tortola head-on last September, making it the largest hurricane to hit land in recorded history. The island is covered in scars that Irma left, many will be here for decades. Irma swept away large chunks of road, so a few sections of the race are ran on dirt where the road use to be. There were sustained winds of 180 mph, and gusts up to 210 mph. It was 5 months before power was restored to the island, and even today many homes are without it. There is still a large population of locals on the island that are homeless, because their house literally blew away. Irma cost an estimated $65 billion dollars in damage. A few major cruise lines have decided to stop using Tortola as a stop. This means that Irma is costing the island millions of dollars in future funds brought in by tourism, their main source of income. Tortola is trying to rebuild as fast as possible, but they need help to do so. If you would like to donate, please do so at the links below.
A HUGE Thank You to my sponsors who make every race possible!!!
Michael David Winery
Vertical Runner of Breckenridge