When Jerome Blackett was a student at St James Secondary, he hid to avoid training.
These days, the 22-year-old has chosen the gruelling, lonely road of distance running to make his mark on history’s page.
For the last two years, Blackett has been the first Barbadian male home in the annual Run Barbados Series. This year, he was eighth in the 10K in 34.41 minutes and seventh in the half marathon in 1 hour 18.53 minutes.
Both of them were personal best times in the series. He did the 10K personal best in the week prior to the Run Barbados – 34:09 – in the North America Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) event in Tobago, running in the morning.
“I am very proud of myself because I started running late and it is not easy running after [leaving] school. I used to come out for Inter-School Sports. I had the potential, but I used to hide from training,” he recalled.
“I chose distance running because I am good at it, better than sprinting. I was a sprinter, but when I got to secondary school, I wasn’t fast enough.
“I have the willpower to endure. I feel more comfortable when I am running long [distances] and you can do a lot of thinking.”
But it is also a lonely trek.
Although he is a member of Pacers Track Club, none of the guys there can keep up with him, so he does a lot of his training alone.
“When I go on the road and I want to go longer, I have to wait on them. Sometimes, I go ahead, but there is no one to push me, so I would run behind cars or bicycles for as long as possible if they are going at a reasonable speed.”
He also incorporates preparation into his daily activities at the Mango Bay Hotel.
“I run with the chairs in my hands across the sand and stack them on the beach. Then, when I get home and I still feel I can use more energy, I go and play football just for the running aspect,” Blackett said.
If there is spare time in the morning, he also runs from home in Redmans Village, St Thomas to Hillaby in the same parish and back and he has also been doing a lot of speed work with the club.
Training alone hampers his performance when he comes up against regional and international runners. Although he would like to go harder and try to match their pace, his body doesn’t respond.
“Most of the best runners have competition. They have training partners who are as good as they are and they also get a lot of high altitude training, which I get none
of, but when I get that competition, I try to run at them despite having less training.”
The youngster also talks with other Caribbean runners about their training regimes and tries to pick up tips to improve his performance.
From former Barbados road running great Leo Garnes – who ran bare-footed for many years – he learnt the lesson of wearing lighter shoes and his times have lowered.
The best tip he got this year, is to wear a snorkel while running to simulate the conditions for high altitude training where the air is thin.
Although Blackett’s motivation comes from within, he did stop for a brief time.
“When my first coach St Clair Cox died, I didn’t really want to stop running. I wanted to carry on a legacy. Every time I go to run, I think about him, so that gives me energy to run,” he explained.
Blackett said distance running was an area in which Barbadian athletes could excel.
“I would really love to see more people doing distance running. People tend to shy away from it because it is long and boring. They want to do something quick like the 100 and 200 [metres] and go home.
“We need to get more people running and have them training together. We would do well in distance running. I am trying to hold on for as long as I can to be that role model,” he said.
Barbadians have rarely mounted the podium in their own distance running event. Reuben McCollin and Adelbert Browne won the marathon back-to-back in 1988 and 1989, but the pickings have been slim since then.
Blackett dreams of winning one of the longer events in the Run Barbados Series, but he knows the challenges he faces coming up against those with better training.
As 2013 approaches, he is looking forward to the track season. He has a personal best time of 16:10 in the 5 000 metres and he wants to lower that, especially since he has put in a lot of speed work this year.