PERSONAL COUNTDOWN IS ON FOR REGGAE MARATHON

09.28.2017

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

You would have to be a first-timer to this blog if you didn’t already know that the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K is one of my favourite running events, and probably most favourite international event. This December will mark my 7th year in a row of attending.

At least part of the attraction is Jamaica itself. It is a favourite place of mine, including the people, the food and the vibe. Don’t ask why. It just is. I suppose there is a personal element in all of this. Maybe it is the time of the year. As old as I am, I still go pretty hard most of the time with projects and such. Maybe December is just when I get to ease back, and getting away tothe #HomeOfAlright, is the perfect way to get out of my normal surroundings and routine. I consider Negril my ‘happy place’. Of course, Negril does claim to be the Capital of Casual! Soon come, mon. Evry likkle ting gonna’ be alright!

Oh yes, and on the personal side, there are all the friends I’ve made over the years. We stay in touch through the year by social media, but the Reggae Marathon is when we get to meet up in person. More on that later.

As readers of a blog on running, you probably want to know more about the Reggae Marathon (short reference for the multi-part event, in which more people run the Half Marathon and more than that run the 10K). I’m even up on 10K and Half Marathon – three each. I shouldn’t be, actually. My first time was in 2011 and I was registered for the Marathon. It is an interesting and convoluted story. You can check the blog piece out HERE. Let’s just say the fates conspired to see me arrive at the starting line about 2.5 hours after the start, and completing 10K vs the marathon.

Where, besides the Capital of Casual, could you run anyway if you are more than two hours late?  Huh? Where?

Finishing it up 2011

Well, 2.5 hours after the start is about 7:45am. That doesn’t sound all that late, but by then the sun is up most of an hour. Starting a marathon that was going to take me more or less five hours just did not seem prudent. In those days, a marathon was not taking me anything like 5 hours, but I had prior experience with this kind of run (see Maui Marathon – 2008).

My Reggae Marathon medal collection (2011-2016)

I begged to be allowed to do the 10K and Race Director ‘Frano’ Francis gave me the thumbs up and assured me they could adjust my time and event later. That leaves me with three 10K finishes and three half marathon finishes. What should I do to break this tie? Logic says suck it up and get that red ribbon (marathon). Sound thinking says that at the age of almost 73, that would be really STUPID! I’m registered for the Half. We’ll see how the training goes, but I do want to see that end of the course and Bob’s Mile, one more time.

What does all this mean for someone thinking about doing this event? For all events, the start and finish are the same time and place. The races start in the ‘middle’ of the course at Long Bay Beach Park. The course is actually the main and only road along the Negril Beach – Norman Manley Blvd. For the duration of the event the road is closed to regular traffic. In fact, well before start time (5:15am Saturday morning), the road is closed and only runner shuttles, race and emergency vehicles are on the road/route.

Negril Town Round-About – Day before race day.

2014 Start Line. Just before it all got going!

Starting at Long Bay Beach Park, everyone heads south toward Negril Town. Plus or minus, it is 5K to the round-about, where runners turn back toward the start.

Sunrise over the Reggae Marathon

Upon approaching the start/finish area, 10K runners continue a few hundred metres and then make a 180° left turn back toward the finish, inside Long Bay Beach Park.

Unless it takes a person more than 1:30:00 for 10K, the sun may just be rising (cue Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds) as you finish. If you are closer to an hour for 10K, it will still be dark and you can watch the dawn break with a fresh coconut in your hands. Whatever, there WILL be Reggae Music!

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

If you are running the Half or Marathon, there is still work to do and you keep going. About 5-6km out, you will turn back toward the start/finish. By now, notwithstanding the start in complete darkness, regardless of who you are (OK, except if you are winning the Half), the sun should be getting up and the course will be transformed! The Reggae Marathon happens less than a month prior to Christmas and most resorts have some kind of decorations up. And, I must say as a boy from the far north, it is somewhat confusing to be running in a singlet and shorts, sweating like it was July, past all those Christmas lights!

Obviously, the route doesn’t change, the aid stations are still there, as are the spectators and music systems blasting inspiring Reggae sounds. The difference of ‘night’ and ‘day’ transforms the appearance of the course. Temperature too!  Now, don’t get me wrong. Negril is warm at all times for us folks from “The Great White North” (aka Canada), but as tropical places go, the start temps are often quite reasonable (21-25C). However, as soon as the sun rises, so does the temperature.

Early Morning Beach Scene – Negril, JA

Again, it is a relative thing. Negril in December is not blazing hot, nor terribly humid. In fact, daytime temperatures are ideal for vacationing, ranging around 28-30C. It is also relatively dry at that time of year, so while there might be a sudden cloudburst (generally in the late afternoon), the rain does not settle in. Chances are good that you will run in bright sunshine with a clear sky. The start temperature usually doesn’t change until after sunrise. That means everyone gets about an hour and a half of running at starting temps. Many 10K participants and the quicker Half Marathoners will finish before sunrise.

This race has a brilliant hydration system. Water and electrolyte come in 250ml sealed plastic pouches. No spillage on transfer from volunteer to participant, and easy to grab one of each if you want. It is a mile between aid stations and you can carry the pouch as far as you like. No need to gulp down fluids, then hold on to the next aid station. Nope, just sip as you go. The pouches are kept very cold, so the contents are refreshing. When you want to, you just tear off a corner with your teeth. Because it is so warm and you are going to sweat, I generally drink the electrolyte and pour the water over my head. I often joke that this is a perfect early warning safety device as well. The first time you get it wrong, drinking the water and pouring the electrolyte over your head, is a mistake. The second time (there shouldn’t BE a second time), you should take it as a warning that you may need help!!

Getting it done at the Reggae Marathon

If  you are running the Half Marathon you will be done upon returning to Long Bay Beach Park, and will slide off to the right, into the finish chute. Because of course and traffic logistics total race time has been reduced to six hours. It was seven hours until 2016. If you cannot make it half way by about 3 hours, race officials will divert you for a half marathon finish, awarding an official half marathon time and medal. “No Problem!” In 2016, they allowed runners to self divert “on the fly”, including from full to half and really, any distance to 10K. It worked well enough from the runner side, but as an old RD, I’m pretty certain it was a logistical nightmare. The policy for 2017 is that if you feel weather conditions are looking too difficult or you aren’t well enough prepared for the distance you chose, you CAN “step down and be alright”, but you have to do it at package pick-up, not during or after the race.

Early morning on the Negril River

After the first loop, Marathoners do it all again: down to the Negril River, around the round-about, back to the start/finish, out to the north end of the course and back through Bob’s Mile to the finish line. OK, even if you are running the Half, you get to do Bob’s Mile (the final mile for both events). Marathoners get a double dose. It is one of the prettier parts of the course with lots of views of the sea, off to the right. In terms of on course music there is nothing you won’t have experienced already, but what there is, is a series of sandwich-board signs with lyrics from Marley’s music. To the casual eye, they don’t really look like much, but they aren’t random. I can tell you that. What I can’t tell you is how emotional some will make you as you finish the Half or Full Marathon. I’m just going to leave it at that. You should really experience it for yourself. One Love!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

As with the Half Marathon, once Marathoners reach the finish area, they too make that last dash to the finish line and the Reggae beach party that will be well begun before any marathoner reaches that point!

PARTY!  Did he say Party?? Well, yes. And, it was an oversight on my part, because the Finish Beach Party is the SECOND party, and true to the name of the area (Long Bay Beach Park), it IS a beach party. OR, maybe you could say it is the party of the SECOND PART! Which, of course, would make the Pasta Party, the Party of the FIRST PART.

What I forgot to mention was the pre-race events. The Reggae Marathon claims to have the best pre-race pasta party in the World. That’s right, THE WORLD! Now, I haven’t been to all the pasta parties in the WHOLE world, but I’ve been to my share, and have no evidence to refute the claim! In fact, I support the claim. How many of us have attended the standard ‘spaghetti with red stuff, a bun and some lettuce’, pre-race carbo/pasta party? Right.

Pasta Party just Getting Started – Couples Sport Complex

Pasta Anyone??

Just one of many pasta stations! Looks pretty – tastes great!

Package Pick-Up and the pasta party happen at Couples Swept Away Sport Complex, and catering is by many of the bigger hotel cooking squads along the beach strip. They set up their tents and cooking gear, and go to town on an amazing range of pasta dishes, salads, breads, even a few Jamaican twists on the whole thing, such as Rasta Pasta and for those who believe fast running requires “Food” (starchy root vegetables), some will have that, too.

Red Stripe, So Good at the Finish! (Even if this is from the pre-race party.)

There is Red Stripe beer. Of course there’s Red Stripe!! There is also lots of entertainment and that is where old friends meet up. And, where new friends meet for the first time. I have lost count of just how many people I’ve met at Reggae Marathon, a lot of them either at the pre-race or post-race parties. Some have become people I look forward to seeing every December and a good many, I now keep in touch with via social media.

Four Amigos (L/R Larry, Navin, Chris and Dan) demonstrating the 2016 ‘count’, now at 26

This is Reggae Marathon #7 for me and I can’t wait to see the other three of the Four Amigos who will be counting a total of 30 Reggae Marathons. There are many others who can’t quite claim our ‘streak’ of attendance,  but are regulars and even participants in the Reggae Runners’ Half Marathon Challenge.

The ‘hub’ around which a lot of this is centred is Chris Morales, the official blogger of the Reggae Marathon and “That Runnin’ Guy”. He is the one who knows all of us and a whole lot more.

Chris at Rondel Village restaurant by the beach. Ready for breakfast (ackee and salt fish).

Chris and I fell into housing ourselves at Rondel Village, a whole lot of years ago. Except for the first time when my wife and I stayed at a small resort between Orange Bay and Green Island, I have stayed at Rondel Village. Chris and I generally have a preview run on the road and at least one on the beach. I love running barefoot on the beach, but have learned the hard way, if you are a tender-foot, to leave that until post-race. You can work up a blister pretty fast from sand shifting between your toes. That said, I’ve never seen a better beach for running with hard-packed sand close to the water and a very gentle slope, so you are more or less on the flat as you run.

That Runnin’ Guy, runnin’ the beach at dawn. Not sure why I didn’t ask him to take my photo too.

I can’t say how many times Chris and I have gone out for one of those pre-race shake-out runs and met up with people we know.  They either join up with us or we stop for a quick chat, making that first blast of warm tropical air a bit easier to deal with (Chris is Jamaican by birth but now hails from Canada too). We both need to acclimatize fast!

Total registration is nearing 2500 and in 2017, for the first time, a cap of 3000 has been applied. Since I’ve been attending (2011 through 2016) total finishers have gone from 1192 to 2060. One must remember that registrants will always be more than finishers. All runners know stuff happens and as much as we want to, we don’t always make it to the start.

Year after year Reggae Marathon garners recognition among the world’s best international marathon events and in 2017 has been named #1 by Men’s Running of the UK. Women’s Running gave the race special recognition, too!

Some of the school teams movin’ to de Riddim.

While boasting registrants from more than 30 countries, one of the big stories is how many Jamaicans now take part. Everybody knows Jamaica is about sprinting and sprinters! However, at longer distances there aren’t too many Jamaicans to be seen. Reggae Marathon is the fruit of much work by the JamDammers (Kingston running club). It started with the first race in 2001. Over the years, much has been done to encourage local participation and a big success has been the high school team challenge with winning teams being rewarded with computers for their schools. More recently, there has been development of a country-wide race series, of which Reggae Marathon is the final event. Series participation has grown steadily and now many of these people are traveling to Negril for the grand finale of the year. This year will see involvement of a corporate challenge of Move Jamaica that encourages even more activity.

How the race is run varies from the very serious (stay out of the way of the 10K School Challenge runners – female and male – they are VERY serious and fast), to strictly participaory for the shear joy and fun of it all (check out Reggae Runnerz, if you don’t believe me). How fast are those school kids? Well the fastest male recorded a 32 minute 10K in 2016. How serious are Reggae Runnerz? Admittedly, a bit slower mostly, but you can expect 500 of them at the start line, so you could say they are pretty serious – serious about having an amazing time! Check the official video on the Reggae Marathon web site.

Record times are very respectable, regardless of the warmer than ideal (for record times) conditions.

Marathon (M/F): 2:21:05/2:42:25,

Half Marathon: 1:08:32/1:16:12,

10K: 29:55/36:17.

Record holders come from St Vincent, Russia, Kenya (2), USA and Jamaica, making it truly an international festival of running. Although Canadians hold no records, Canucks have won individual races, and more than once. The two most recent were Karen Warrendorf of Vancouver taking the women’s marathon in 2016 and Heather Colasuonno of Ajax (ON) taking the Half in 2015. I was most interested to note that in the first year the Marathon was the big event! Of the total number running (625), 401 ran the marathon (there was no 10K in those days). Last year (2016) 157 ran the marathon, 599 ran the half and 1333 ran the 10K. I suspect that word is out on how much fun post-race is, so why not get there as fast as possible????

Doctor ‘One Drop’ Dread (my Reggae Name)

And, to the last point, the vast majority of people are really just there for the fun, before, during and after. It is a great opportunity to get your Jamaica on. Get some gear in the Jamaican green, gold and black, or add some red for Rasta reggae colours.

Take it from me, not everyone sporting ‘dreads’ actually grew them! And, if you just can’t help it, well stopping to dance a bit at one of the sound system locations is all part of Reggae Marathon. So is singing along as you run! Fun doesn’t necessarily mean slow, but time isn’t the first objective, either.

As they say: If you go, you’ll know!

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