BRINGING MY 2017 RUNNING YEAR TO A CLOSE – ALMOST

11.14.2017

Negril Beach scene, just before sunset on Day One.

Yes, it is almost time to put the 2017 racing season to bed. Almost!  But First, and as anyone who follows this blog even a little knows, there is one more bit of ‘business’ to take care of, if you can call it business!

That’s right, it is time for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, Jamaica.

Who would have thought in 2011 when my wife Judi and I headed for Jamaica to attend the Reggae Marathon, that in 2017 I would be heading down for the seventh year in a row? Well, not me! As a quick bit of background, it was not our first time visiting Jamaica. We had been there in 1969. We were married the year before and while we certainly DID have a honeymoon, it was not a long or exotic trip, so the visit to Jamaica in ’69 was a kind of ‘second honeymoon’.

Negril 1969 – Judi and Dan

I’d been eyeing up the Reggae Marathon for a year or two, but it conflicted with the California International Marathon (CIM) and still does. I ran CIM a couple of times in pursuit of the ever elusive BQ. It is a great event, but it was looking like time to move on and the beaches of Jamaica beckoned. I picked up on the official Reggae Marathon blog and Chris Morales (aka That Runnin’ Guy). We exchanged some info along the way, including the embedded picture of Judi and me on the Negril beach in 1969. One thing led to another and he asked me to participate in a feature called ‘Ask Dan‘, me supposedly knowing lots of stuff about running. At the same time, two other guys were also blogging and we all kind of loosely linked up through Chris and the Reggae Marathon blog. They were Larry Savitch and Navin Sadarangani. You will see the importance of this later.

I did not actually meet any of these people until we arrived in Negril in December 2011. How four so truly different people could hit it off so quickly, still amazes me. Anyone watching us torment each other on social media would never believe how much we actually like and respect each other!

Four Amigos demonstrating the 2016 ‘count’, now at 26

I won’t recount each and every year between 2011 and 2017, but we (aka the Four Amigos) began a tradition back somewhere around Year 3, where each of us holds up fingers representing the number of times we have run one of the events of the Reggae Marathon. As of December 2nd, the annual photo will show the four of us displaying a total of 30 fingers! Except for Chris, we should all be showing seven fingers. Chris is two races up on all of us, so he will have NINE digits proudly held up. He has one more year to go, before running out of fingers! I suppose he still has both feet left, but that is going to make for a rather awkward pose, I would think!

Negril 2011 – Judi and Dan

2011 was meant to be the first time for me to run the Reggae Marathon, yes the MARATHON. I still get ribbed about the ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ debacle that surrounded getting to the start on time, and the fact that my marathon turned into a 10K. If  you want to know, you can check out the earlier blog account right HERE. What did come out of it, was a re-enactment of the original photograph that I sent to Chris as partial explanation of our intention to come to Negril in 2011. Negril has changed a lot in the intervening years, but our original photo from 1969 may very well have been taken somewhere near to where the 2011 photo was made, just outside Long Bay Beach Park (start/finish venue of the Reggae Marathon).

Anyway, let’s fast forward to 2017 and look ahead to this year’s Reggae Marathon!

Beach just outside Rondel Village – so glad – still there, just like last five times!

Arrangements are made for travel, accommodation and race registration. Actual packing has not commenced, but the mental inventory is well advanced. Of course, as Chris noted in a similar anticipatory blog piece this morning, you really don’t need too much for sitting on the beach outside Rondel Village, running the beach in the early morning and the race on December 2. Mind you, being retired and all, I will be there longer so may need a couple more T-shirts to see me through. I have learned it is best to try for a somewhat unique race outfit, simply so I can differentiate the year with a glance at the many photographs that have, and will come home after the event! Neither background, nor people will necessarily tell the story!

Time for that ackee and salt fish breakfast!

I am taking two weeks this time. From the West Coast of Canada, it is too big an ordeal to just go for a few days. I always take a week, but every once in a while I will take a bit longer. Negril has become a kind of ‘happy place’ for me. You’d think that for an old retired guy, life wouldn’t have too much stress or hassle, but you would be wrong. I can’t seem to keep myself out of things that create demands on time and energy. I should be clear, most of them are ‘voluntary’ and of my own doing, but that doesn’t make them less demanding or time consuming. Negril is a great, quiet break from it all. Other than the day or two immediately around the race, the most pressing decisions tend to be -shall we go for a swim? Is it time for a Red Stripe? Should we run before breakfast? What shall we have for breakfast? OK, the last one is not actually a regular decision. It is really hard to find good ackee and salt fish when you aren’t actually IN Jamaica. Rondel Village serves up a nice ackee and salt fish breakfast, so it is pretty much a daily thing.

Has anybody actually noticed how little I’ve been talking about racing? Well, let’s fix that soon. However, I do want to stress that Reggae Marathon time is a ‘whole body’ (and mind) experience. The race is, without qualification, one of the best organized events anywhere. That is not just my opinion. Reggae Marathon has regularly won ‘best’ event accolades from various sources, especially as a destination event. There will commonly be as many as 35 countries represented, but one of the BIG stories is how many Jamaicans now participate. There is a big focus on high school teams, so that may explain the continuing involvement by many. Anyone familiar with track and field will know the reputation of Jamaicans (for decades) in the world of sprinting. Role models like Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce have every kid in the country striving to be like them. Careful work to encourage younger people to add some distance into the mix has seen a huge success, much of it spear-headed by Reggae Marathon Race Director, Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis and his team, along with the Jamdammers Running Club.

Morning run on Negril Seven Mile Beach

Once the others start arriving around November 29-30, the Negril vibe turns from a laid-back beach retreat into Reggae Marathon! If you go out on Norman Manley Blvd or the beach in the early morning, you will find runners out doing just what Chris and I are planning. You really do need to get a little acclimatization happening, especially if you come from The Great White North (Canada), like we do. Negril is a VERY pleasant place to be, with almost perfect vacation weather at this time of year. Lows will be 21-24°C and highs in the 30°C range. It will be sunny most days. Some years I have not seen rain the entire time. Others times the odd storm rolls through, but it is usually very quick and often very welcome. Frankly, it is not much warmer than some parts of Canada in full Summer season. The thing is, it is NOT Summer now and our lows are getting close to 0°C and depending on where you are, highs seldom break into double digits. Most of Canada has already had some snow, including Vancouver. That is one sudden change when you hit Negril and it is good to take an easy run or two before the race.

Easy Skankin’

For me, a big part of the Reggae Marathon experience is going to package pick-up and hanging around in full expectation of meeting friends from earlier years. Those you don’t encounter Thursday, you will surely meet on Friday at the “World’s Best Pasta Party”.

While I am not soooooo fond of the 3:30am wake-up, once we step out onto Norman Manley Blvd and are walking to the start (Rondel Village is just a bit over a mile away), the excitement of the other runners becomes completely infectious. You can take a shuttle from anywhere on the strip, but an easy walk is a good way to get ‘warmed up’, so to speak. The race starts promptly at 5:15am. No ‘soon come’ for Reggae Marathon! It is wise to give yourself time to check your bag, find one of the porto-potties (just in case), and of course connect with your run buddies.

Christmas lights on the Reggae Marathon route.

At 5:15am, when Bob Marley starts booming out (usually “Jammin”) the race has begun! It is still pitch black dark and temperatures are as cool as they are going to be. I describe the air at that time as ‘silky’. It really does seem to have a texture to it. Now, when I say it is dark, the sky is truly a night sky, but the street is quite well lit and many resorts already have Christmas lights. The range of pace of the many runners (could be a total of 3,000 this year) runs from the very, very speedy elite runners to those who will walk the 10K and more or less create their own rolling party. It all works and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more fun race crowd.

Early morning on the Negril River

Depending on your pace, sometime after the first 5K at the Negril Town round-about and the 10K finish, you will see the sky lightening and if there are a few clouds around, a dawn like you won’t experience many other places. Average runners doing the 10K will be at the finish around 6:15 to 6:30, before sunrise. However, the post-race beach party will be in full swing and as hard as it sometimes may be to believe, the elite half marathoners will be finishing too. I have some photos from the 10K finish, where you would think at first glance, it really isn’t a very nice day. Nope; look for sun on the tree-tops! It just isn’t full daylight yet. When the sun first pops over the horizon there is another short time of other-worldly light before it turns to bright blazing sunshine.

Afterwards, it is all about the beach!

As more and more people reach the finish, the party just gets bigger and better with live Reggae Music blasting from the stage. Fresh coconut, bananas and other post-race food awaits, as does the sea and beach. Some just go straight to the water and then come back for the rest. No Problem!

I plan to run the Half this year. I am 50/50 for Half/10K. I never have run the marathon. Being two and a half hours late to the start in 2011, and it being plenty sunny and hot, RD, Frano, took pity on me and let me run the 10K. I have realized that a guy needs to know his limits. At my advancing age and slowing pace, thinking about a full marathon in tropical conditions is probably just silly. Even the half marathon is going to see me slogging along in full sun for at least an hour. I know how that will be and will go prepared. Participants are well looked after on the course, so no worries there. What I AM worried about is that my ‘friends’ will drink all the Red Stripe and be having too much fun before I get back to Long Bay Beach Park!

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Maybe they will get a massage on the beach or get into the crowd dancing to the music by the stage. We usually wait for Navin, who DOES like to do the marathon, but he broke a leg earlier this year (no, not running), so is only planning to run the 10K and not so fast. I won’t have the cover of him taking around four hours for that marathon distance. Oh well, it is important to me to do the Half this time. I am 99% certain I won’t be back next year – something to do with the fact that 2018 is our 50th Wedding Anniversary and we have some (even more) exotic travel planned. Anyway, by the time I could get back for Reggae Marathon 2019, I’ll be just a month shy of 75 and who knows if the legs will stand for even a half marathon. Yep, has to be the Half in 2017!

Stay tuned! You KNOW this isn’t going to be my last post on the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K!

2 responses to “BRINGING MY 2017 RUNNING YEAR TO A CLOSE – ALMOST”

  1. ThatRunninGuy
    11.14.2017 - 1:51pm

    As usual Dan a through and entertaining read about Reggae Marathon. 2 weeks today for me 🙂

  2. RITZadmin
    11.14.2017 - 3:21pm

    Right on Runnin’ Guy! I’ll have cold one and a plate of Stamp-n-Go for you when you arrive!