Touring Tortola – the hard way

The course may be scenic, but the Tortola Torture is not for the timid.

With only 7.5 miles of flat running for the entire course, the Tortola Torture is not for the faint-hearted. A 33.4-mile trail-running ultramarathon, the 2016 KPMG Tortola Torture will take place on April 16th. In its second year, the event’s course on this mountainous Caribbean island encompasses 6,587 feet of climbing over 12.8 miles, and 13.1 miles of descending.

Runners of wide-ranging abilities participated in the inaugural race last year – both the serious competitors along with those who approached it as a great day out with friends and a novel way of taking in the amazing scenery that Tortola has to offer. The KPMG Tortola Torture was affectionately dubbed “The Torture” by last year’s participants due to the distance, heat, humidity, and gradients (33.33% at the steepest), with over the 12,000 feet of climbing and descending.  It was described by one finisher of the Marathon Des Sables (the grueling race in Morocco known as the “toughest foot race on earth”) as the toughest one-day running event he had competed in.

Seventy competed in the inaugural race in 2015 including 27 individual entrants; 23 individuals finished. The top three finishers were women, with Bridget Klein from St Croix sweeping the men off the roads of Tortola with a time of 5 hours, 25 minutes and 59 seconds. Kat Brownsdon from Virgin Gorda was second (5:43:30) and Pam Terry, also from St Croix, was third (5:57:53). A US runner, Tom Cripps, was the first man with a time of 6 hours, 2 minutes and 43 seconds.  The last individual crossed the finish line five hours after Bridget.

“In the BVI we have lots of great short races, but they are all flat,” said race organizer, triathlete, and Ironman, Richard Morgan.  “I love running hills and wanted to have a race that would challenge people. There was a small group of us that wanted to run round the island, but we only ever talked about it. Finally I decided the only way people were going to do it, was to turn it into a race.  I never expected we would have 70 people in the first race!”

This view-laden event starts in Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands, and winds its way clockwise around Tortola taking in many of the island’s most popular tourist destinations along the way. The course heads west out of Road Town along the south coast of Tortola with uninterrupted views of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and the islands beyond.

On arrival at the west end of the island the course begins ascending the trails around Steele Point and through the exclusive Belmont Estate, home to many of Tortola’s luxury vacation villas and private residences.  Passing the white sands of Smuggler’s Cove beach it continues along the scenic north shore.

Upon leaving Carrot Bay, runners commence the long 2.7-mile climb from sea level to Sage Mountain, the highest point of the race at 1,523 feet and location of Sage Mountain National Park.  Runners then head back down to sea level and into Brewer’s Bay before making the steep climb back up to the top of Tortola where they join the Ridge Road.

As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, competitors head all the way to the east end of the island, passing the entrances to both Lambert Beach and Little Bay. Taking a lesser-known trail that offers spectacular views of the private island resort Guana Island, runners finally descend down to the bridge that joins Tortola to Beef Island, finishing on the beach at Trellis Bay, a vibrant local community of artisans and beach-front bars.  The post-race party will be held at De Loose Mongoose, a bar specializing in local food and cocktails.  It is a fitting end to a grueling day and a great opportunity to relax on the beach and recuperate after the race.

Jess Santos, who competed as part of a two-woman relay team with Gillian Plaxton, said:  “Last year’s Torture was my first ultramarathon experience and I had no idea what to expect. The atmosphere along the course was fantastic; people I didn’t know were stopping their cars to offer me water.  Supporters of other participants cheered me on as well. One spectator stood outside my house with her hose pipe and offered the passing runners a much-needed cool down. And what a great welcome at the finish line.”

Both visitors to the islands and local residents are welcome to join the event and experience the Torture for themselves. The KPMG Tortola Torture is open to individuals, two-person, and three-person relay teams.  Entry fee is $85 per person and includes a ZootSports official tee shirt, finisher’s medal, five water stops, and pre-race pasta party.  Full details including course information, course profile, registration form, photos and results from 2015 event are online at


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Official webpage of The BVI Welcome Guide. Source of information for everything in the British Virgin Islands since 1971.

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