Jamaica Day 3: Lifting with Yohan Blake; Hanging at the car wash with Warren Weir; Getting pumped up with Calabar High; and a 1 AM 10 Mile Run In Kingston

by Steve Soprano
March 27, 2014

LRC note: Empolyee 1.1 Contractor 1.1, Steve Soprano, had never left the USA until this January. After travelling to World Indoors in Sopot, Poland two weeks ago, he had a one week stint at 2014 NCAA Indoors in Albuquerque, NM, and now he’s off to Jamaica for the IAAF’s Caribbean Day in the Life Project where he will spend the next 7-days in Jamaica meeting some of the world’s top sprinters like Yohan Blake and Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce and giving you an inside glimpse at their daily routine and training regimen. Steve will try and write a day-by-day journal plus provide more in depth coverage once he returns. 

The IAAF had a similar program a few years ago in Kenya where we spent 20 days in Kenya with the likes of Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, Wilson Kipsang, David Rudisha, Mary Keitany: LetsRun.com Goes To Kenya – IAAF Day in the Life Kenya.

Kingston, Jamaica – My third day in Jamaica was a significant one as I hadn’t yet met a single big name athlete, but then got to spend time with two: Yohan Blake and Warren Weir.

The one big negative with Usain Bolt being the face of track and field is the greatness that is Yohan Blake is often overlooked, particularly since Blake missed 2013 Worlds with an injury. Contemplate this for a minute. Blake is still just 24. At age 21 in 2011, he became the youngest 100m world champion in history. Bolt wasn’t in the race because he false started. However, there are no guarantees Bolt would have won that race had he been in it or if they’d clashed at 200 at Worlds. Blake might have been even better at 200 as he ran 19.29 for 200 in September of that year – the 2nd fastest time in history. In 2012, Blake ran 9.69 for 100 (tied for #2 all time) and won silver in both the 100 and 200 (plus gold in the 4 x 100) at the 2012 Olympics.

The 24-year old Weir is no slouch himself. He won the bronze medal in the 200 at the 2012 Games and followed that up with silver in the 200 at last year’s World Championships in Moscow. At 19.79, Weir is the 14th fastest man in history. Both Weir and Blake are training partners with Usain Bolt in the Racers Track Club under Coach Glen Mills.

Blake And Weir Start Their Day With A Quick Weights Session

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ZJPD5304 (Credit: Jean-Pierre Durand – IAAF)

Our day started early as we headed off to Kingston’s Spartan Health Club at 8:30AM to watch Blake and Weir do their weight routines. They did this separately as Blake came to the gym more than an hour after Weir had left.

I was shocked by how quick their workouts were over with. These are two of the fastest sprinters in the world so I figured they’d be in their pumping iron for hours, but Weir was in and out of the weight room in 20 or 30 minutes and from the time Blake entered the building until the time he was done lifting was 40-minutes. For Blake that even included his short warmup, changing shoes/putting on weight gloves and stopping a couple times to talk with gym buddies. (Note: We were told they had a hard track workout today so weights would be less intense.)

The word I would use to describe their workouts is efficient. They both started with a very short warmup on the treadmill: Weir did 4-minutes going from 5 mph to 6.4 mph while Blake did only 2-minutes around 6 mph. Then they put on their weight lifting shoes and gloves and got to work. They went from lift to lift doing a few sets of each exercise with very little rest in between each. The exercises included inclined bench press, calf raises, leg press and some other things I don’t know the official name for (check the embedded videos below if you’re interested or click here for Weir and here for Blake).

Weir was pretty relaxed in the gym. He was quiet, got in, did his lifts and got out of there. Blake, on the other hand, was more intense and a bit louder (even though one girl joked with him and asked why he was being so quiet). The West Indies vs Bangladesh cricket game was on the TV and Blake pretty much always had an eye on it, clapping loudly when the West Indies scored did something that’s good in cricket. We had been warned about getting too close to Blake during his workout as he isn’t crazy about cameras, but he was in a really good mood today since the West Indies were winning and at one point he even joked around with one of the cameramen. After his workout, he stayed around to watch the test (that’s the name for a cricket game we believe) on the TV.

The Spartan Health Club is where a lot of the top Jamaican sprinters, not just Weir and Blake, go for their weights. Usain Bolt uses the same gym and we coincidentally saw 2008 Olympic 100m silver rmedalist Kerron Stewart doing her weight routine there as well.

Hanging With Warren Weir At The Car Wash

IMG_0856After the weight room we spent time with Warren Weir at one of his favorite local hangouts: the local car wash. We joked that maybe Weir was trying to turn the IAAF “day in the life” program into “day of helping me run my errands”, but it turned out that the car wash was pretty cool.

I’ve never been to a car wash in the US that could be considered a hangout spot, but this one definitely was. It wasn’t an automated wash like in the US as all the vehicles were washed by hand. This takes a while, but while you wait there is a restaurant and bar overlooking the washing area where you can chill. Weir said this car wash had always been a place where he’s hung out with friends and grabbed something to eat, but got some laughs from the media crew when he said it wasn’t until he won an Olympic medal that he actually had a car to wash.

Not my fav. Not my fav.

We had lunch with Weir and got an interview with him (more on that in another article) while his car got washed. The restaurant was unusual as they didn’t have a formal menu and the waitress just listed the items you could order. This was a bit scary for me since I only understood half the things she was naming. I definitely heard her say chicken so I got that and then as a side I ordered what I thought were “banana dumplings”, but turned out to be banana and dumplings.

The chicken was good, but can’t say I was crazy about the rest of it (although I’m glad at least I tried some actual Jamaican food on this trip). The banana was the weirdest part. It was not sweet and fruity at all, but instead kind of had the same texture as the dumpling, but a taste that didn’t agree with me. Someone after said it might have been a plantain that was baked or something like that. Either way, I didn’t finish it or the pineapples (I think they were pineapples anyway) as they were the same.

 Calabar High School And The “Champs”

Calabar HS (Credit: Jean-Pierre Durand – IAAF)

Post-lunch, we had a decent sized break back of around 5-hours before we were scheduled to go to Calabar High School at 7:30 pm to see Warren give a pump up speech to his alma mater for the Jamaican Boys And Girls National Championships (aka the “Champs”) as they prepare to go for an almost unheard of third straight title.

This was my chance to get my mileage in, try to bang out an article or to and maybe take a short nap. I went back to my room with the plan to do some work, get in at least 10-miles, and nap. However, after a lot of travel, a few long nights (not partying, at every event the LetsRun.com staff is literally almost always the last people to leave the media room, two nights in Sopot they had to kick us out) and only a few hours of sleep the night before, I was absolutely beat and 15-minutes into working on my Zharnel Hughes article, I was done. I had to nap. I set my alarm for 1.5 hours later and was asleep as soon as I closed my eyes.

The problem was the next time I opened my eyes it was 6:47PM. Yeah, in my extreme exhaustion I had turned off my alarms in my sleep and just kept sleeping for about 4-hours. I don’t even remember the alarms going off and I’m lucky I didn’t miss the 7:30 departure.  It was kind of hard to be too mad though as I felt well rested for the first time in days

Learning behind bars. Learning behind bars.

At 7:30 we headed to Calabar for Warren’s pump up speech. When we got to the school, however, we were informed the team was actually at a hotel where they stay during ‘the Champs’. I didn’t mind the detour though as it gave us a chance to see one of the most famous high schools of Jamaica. It was definitely way different than any US school I’ve ever been to. Using the analogy of a hotel vs motel, US schools would be hotels with a main entrance and many classrooms within the main building. The Jamaican school buildings would be motels as each classroom had its own entrance to the outside. They were a little old and rundown but Calabar is one of the top schools in the country. The classrooms actually didn’t even have doors, they were locked up with steel gates almost like a jail cell. A classroom with bars … I think many of the world’s high school students would find this highly appropriate.

Moving on, we drove to the hotel the Calabar team was staying at and the scene there was just crazy. The narrow road had several hotels and the whole area was packed with cars and people. There were multiple high school teams gathered together in front of their hotels, loud music, some shouting and general overall chaos.

Calabar Pump Up Cheer (Credit: Jean-Pierre Durand – IAAF)

When we got to the Calabar camp, the team was gathered around the front of the hotel waiting for the captains to speak and hear a special talk from the Olympic medalist who once went to their school. The speeches were intense and impassioned. Even though I could only understand a fraction of what was being said (either because of slang or accent), I was totally inspired. The team and Weir ended with a deafening team cheer that any rival team staying at the nearby hotels definitely heard (Video coming later in another article on the “Champs”).

A Midnight Run Through Kingston

The visit with Calabar went very late and it was almost 11PM by the time we got back to the hotel and got some dinner. I can talk track forever which can be dangerous when you’re spending a week with 10 people who do this for a living. Between that and giving my stomach some time to let my food digest, it was 1:15AM before I was hitting the roads for my run.

I decided to disregard the advice of the LetsRun.com community and that of the hotel security guard who unlocked the hotel parking area to let me out (he straight up told me I shouldn’t go), and went running on the streets. I wanted 10-miles and the treadmill has been making my hip/hamstring tight and I knew both mentally and physically I wasn’t going to make it to 10 if I started on the treadmill.

So, I ran on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica after 1AM in the morning and I’m not going to lie, I was a little freaked out. My plan was to run to the nearby park that had a 500m jogging loop, but the whole thing was locked up so I was forced to stick to the streets. For the most part it was quiet, but in a few areas I would run by some people hanging by a bar or gas station and let’s face it, a white guy running down the road in short shorts at 1 or 2 in the morning is going to attract some attention in Jamaica. I got some cat calls and one old drunk guy yelled to me, “White man running to church, man?” Not sure what that meant. My path was also occasionally blocked by homeless guys passed out on the sidewalk.

I can say that the setting out at 1AM in Kingston isn’t optimal for a worry-free, relaxed run. Still, it beat doing the whole thing on the treadmill. I did almost 5-miles out on the road, then another mile in the fenced in area of the hotel parking lot (I made a loop that was just short of 2-minutes) and then finished up the last 4-miles on the treadmill to get 10 in for the day.

Between the late run, shower, subsequent work and having taken a long afternoon nap, I pretty much pulled an all-nighter. Thankfully our day wasn’t starting until the afternoon on Wednesday so I was still able to get some sleep. Blake and Weir videos and photo gallery appear below.

Messageboard discussion: MB: Employee 1.1 has lost his mind – going for 10 mile runs at 1 am in Jamaica.
MB: Employee 1.1 is in Jamaica – is it safe for him to run there, particularly at night.

Editor’s note: LetsRun.com paid for Steve to get to Jamaica. The IAAF pays for Steve’s accommodations and in country travel while in Jamaica. They have no say on what we publish or what he writes.

Weir In The Gym

Blake In The Gym

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