Proud Emblem of a Proud People

No posts for a month (you know why from my last one), now they come thick and fast! I wanted to get this one out because there is still time for you to get yourself down to Negril and have the best race experience EVER!

Next up for me is one of my very favourite events: The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. I am very excited to be going in 2018 because I was kind of resigned to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen. We live within the various pensions coming to my wife and I, but I make little bits and pieces of money from other sources and like to protect that money for special stuff, like traveling to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon. Well, after thinking our big 50th Anniversary trip to India and Nepal would take all the travel money for this year, didn’t a few crumbs fall into my run fund. Now, my 2018 Reggae Marathon trip is going to be probably the shortest one I’ve ever done, but do it I will. Ya mon!

The near miss got me thinking about the event and the country and friends and some of what makes it special, and special to me. I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Young Cummings at Negril 1969

Judi and Dan at Negril in 1969

As anyone who follows this blog and my posting around this time of year will know, my first time to Negril and the Reggae Marathon was eight years ago (2011). That would be my second ever trip to Jamaica, the first being in 1969 and funny enough also involved a visit to Negril, even though we were staying way over in St. Mary Parish. In fact, my involvement with the race and its organizers resulted from a photo I shared with the official blogger, Chris Morales. That photo was my pretty much new wife and me on the Negril Beach in 1969.

I had my eye on the Reggae Marathon for some time, but it was and still is on the same weekend as the California International Marathon, which was on my favourites list for several years. Long story, short, I decided that 2011 would be the year I gave Reggae Marathon a try. I had been running well through 2010 posting many recent PB’s (not bad for 65) and was looking forward to a great year in 2011. My big focus would be the Eugene Marathon where I had posted (in 2010) my third best raw marathon time and second best age graded. Best laid schemes of mice and men…………………. I injured my knee while training for Eugene, tried to run it and really completed the job by refusing to take a DNF. The rest of the year was spent in recovery. Negril and the Reggae Marathon was only going to be for the experience. Well, that was probably true regardless, due to the heat expected, but while I was recovered enough to do the marathon, I had no illusions I was running for a great time.

Got the coconut, now where’s that Red Stripe?

Perhaps it was the running gods looking out for me or something, but something conspired to keep me (and my wife) from getting to the start on time. I have described that in detail and referenced it more than a few times since. If you want to read the whole story you can find it HERE. Suffice it to say, arriving almost two and half hours late for the start, there was no way I  was doing a marathon. The RD, Frano Francis gave me permission to do the 10K and said they would fix my time later. I did, they did and that was my first Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. I think that probably sealed my fate for years to come (8 and counting). Debacle of planes, trains and automobiles, or not, the spirit of Reggae Marathon had got a hold on me and it still hasn’t let go.

Part of the reason for being so late to the start (which is conveniently located in the MIDDLE of the course) was where we stayed, a resort out between Green Island and Orange Bay. Funny enough, I had originally found an attractive little resort called Rondel Village and I think had even booked there. Then we found our time-share would let us book at this other resort, so we changed.

Breakfast time – Rondel Village, Negril

From 2012 onward it has been Rondel Village, including this year. It has become my home away from home when in Jamaica! No more excuses for being late to the start though! In fact one of the best parts of each year’s race is the walk to the start at Long Bay Beach Park. Logistically, you should know that the races all start at Long Bay Beach Park. They head toward Negril Town, turning back at around 5K at the round-about JUST after you cross the Negril River. Now, you are headed back to the start area and the finish of the 10K. Half and Full Marathoners continue on to just past the RIU resort complex and then they turn back toward the start finish, and naturally, when they get there the Half Marathoners peal off to their just reward at the big Reggae Beach Party. The Marathoners just do it all again. Now, I must say I am not a big fan of multiple loop courses, but in this case, it is strategically and practically, almost two different races. The first circuit is done in the dark or early dawn. The second is going to be in full sunshine. But, I get ahead of myself.

Getting ready for the Start – Reggae Marathon

The walk to the start is along a pretty quiet road in the dark or mostly dark morning (there ARE street lights). Other people are making their way to the start and the shuttles are running, but compared to what is to come after the start, it is pretty tranquil. To an old guy from the “Great White North” the air feels warm and soft. It is quite funny that us northerners are generally wearing shorts and singlets and nothing more, while many locals have jackets on to keep warm in the predawn ‘chill’! Everything is relative. Anyway, this brings me to my first point of contemplation.

Day dawning along the Reggae Marathon Route.

Historically, low temps in early December are about 21-24C. Highs are around 31C. Whatever the actual start temperature, it generally stays the same until the sun rises. That got me wondering what ‘hot’ would be in Negril. It seems that in July and August highs can easily reach 34-35C with the lows in the 25C range. That may not sound like much of a difference, but in practical terms, I would so much rather be doing this in December! And, in practical terms, considering that the race starts at 5:15am (sharp) and the sun rises around 6:30 am, most people can finish the 10K before the official sunrise and decent half marathoners can probably finish before the sun is truly up and getting warm. In fact, it is closer to 7:00am when that happens, notwithstanding meteorological absolutes. So if you can finish a half marathon in 1:45 or so, you only have to deal with startline conditions in terms of heat. Now, I’m not suggesting that these temperatures are ‘cool’, but they are not that hard to deal with if you take it easy and avail yourself of the hydration options along the route. According to the weather forecast for December 2nd, we are expecting mostly sunny, with a low of 24C and high of 28C.

Almost enough to halt you in your tracks. Almost.

This will be my 8th Reggae Marathon in a row (despite the fact that I have never actually run the marathon, even if it WAS my intention that first time). I would love to do the half again, but practicality says 10K. I haven’t really run in a month and 2018 has generally been a disaster for running and training, notwithstanding that this will actually be my ninth race of the year. There were good reasons for doing all of them, but maybe we can just say there were no recent PB times in 2018! I would like to run this year’s 10K smart and get a much better time than last year. That shouldn’t be hard. I imported some kind of nasty bug from Canada, but it really got to me after arrival. Although I was having a ‘good’ day on race day, I was still not great and basically dragged myself through the 10K (running-wise). Even under those personal conditions, the whole thing was great, and when I finished, my good friends looked after me at the finish.

One it is all done, the beach draws everyone to the sea!

Enough about me for now. This little gem of a race has a world reputation. The number varies by a couple of countries year to year, but there are usually some 35 countries represented at Reggae Marathon. There are three events and notwithstanding the event name, the marathon is no longer the BIG event. You can take it all very seriously. The course records are more than respectable for any race, but as things have evolved over the years, there are a lot of runners and walkers there for the experience rather than to set PB times. I’d love to know the stats but the returning participant ratio must be huge.

Chris Morales

Chris Morales

My friends and I (The Four Amigos) have been streaking for at least eight years. Chris Morales, the de facto leader in all this and official Reggae Marathon Blogger is going to be in Negril for his 10th year in a row. Collectively, we will represent 34 individual races (from 10K to marathon) over those years. Repeaters may not come every year, but it is harder and harder to find true first timers! As the slogans used to say: “Once you Go, You Know!” Another slogan that is ever so true is: “Come for the Run, Stay for the Fun“.

Pasta Anyone??

You could ask the Reggae Runnerz. Apparently THEY KNOW! I haven’t heard the numbers for 2018, but at least 500 can normally be expected. There are a good many other groups that have been coming for some years and continue to return. Reggae Marathon, Half Marthon and 10K is a race. Make no mistake. BUT, it is also an experience and that experience starts upon arrival at package pick-up and continues through to the Reggae Beach Party at Long Bay post race. A highlight is the best pasta party in the world! The WHOLE world? Possibly. I have never attended a pre-race pasta party to better it. They take the whole thing very seriously and if you think the competition begins on Norman Manley Blvd at 5:15am on December 2nd, you would be wrong. There is a big competition going on among the cooking teams, trying to make the best pasta dishes possible and we, the runners get the benefit. That, and steel-drum bands, dancers and sweet, sweet reggae music. This is the place where Reggae Marathon friends (who have no other connection) find each other and renew friendships and catch up on what has been happening. Either being too sick or fairly smart, I skipped the party last year. It was clearly a good decision health-wise, but I sure missed it.

Getting in the Christmas Spirit on Norman Manley Blvd!

As I mentioned, there are some serious racers out there in all events, but otherwise and even if you are running to do reasonably well, once the races start, it is a bit of a rolling party with reggae music blasting from sound systems all along the course, and then from the stage at the finish. The first part done in the dark just adds to the party atmosphere and it doesn’t hurt that resorts have usually started putting up Christmas decorations.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

Regardless of which event you choose and how long it takes you to complete it, inevitably everyone arrives at Long Bay Beach Park. Fun and refreshment and dips in the sea, coconuts, bananas, Red Stripe beer, massage on the beach and dips in the sea (oh, I guess I mentioned that before), Red Stripe (Hmmmm, that too). Oh yes, and true to the name of the event REGGAE MUSIC. The stage acts, often two different ones, are top quality acts, usually rising stars. Friends find each other and do whatever they do. People gravitate to the stage and just kind of dance to the music, with or without anyone else being involved.

Sweet Reggae Music – so hard to resist!

Getting down with the Reggae Sound.

Eventually, there are awards. They are definitely important to those who have won them, especially the school teams that compete for computers to enhance their schools’ resources. The winners of the marathon (male and female) are rewarded with a trophy: of Bob Marley for the men and his wife, Rita, for the women. The organizers have personal links to the reggae music industry and to the Marleys and the trophy statues were donated to the event by Rita. That said, very, very few of us are there for the placings (well, OK, I admit I like getting a podium finish in my age group, which is NOT that hard at my age). That said, and for whatever reason, a ‘podium’ finish is nothing more than a number beside your name in the official results. As much as I would love to be able to have some medals to show my placements over the years, it is also somehow fitting to the tone of the event, not to do this. There is some kind of great equalization across the event by which we are all just there as part of a kind of celebration of running.

Masters Women Half Marathon

On that note of a celebration, it is probably worth noting there is truly something to celebrate. I won’t get too deep into this because I am not fully versed in all aspects, but I know enough to flag the ultimate result. Reggae Marathon started in 2001 by the Jamdammers and under the direction of Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis and his team. There were a number of goals, but one was to promote distance running to Jamaicans. With the fabulous history of running in Jamaica (I am getting pretty old and I can’t remember when there wasn’t a prominent Jamaican sprinter on the world stage), ‘distance’ seemed to start at 400m! Those sprinters, men and women, could KILL up to 200m. All the kids want to be Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Longer running is not just competitive but part of a healthier life-style. Reggae Marathon was a nod toward making a shift. In the very first year, the marathon WAS the big race (Total finishers = 691, Marathon finishers = 401). While numbers were not huge the first year, the largest group was clearly those doing the marathon distance, and oh, there was no 10K back then. The 10K was introduced in 2008 when 227 took part. As time has gone by, there is now a whole race series of 5-10K events leading up to Reggae Marathon as the last event for the year. Thousands of Jamaicans are now training for and running the longer distances. The goal is not directly to put Jamaican distance runners on the world stage. That is for other sport bodies to do, but the movement has put distance running into the minds and legs of young Jamaicans and the rest will surely follow. Actually, back when he was a high school athlete, Usain Bolt did (I am told) run in the schools competition at Reggae Marathon.

I’m sure that most of the visiting people enjoying the fun on December 2nd won’t know of this back-story, but it is important. It is part of what has made this race grow from a few hundred to around 2,300 across the events over the last couple of years. Now, the marathon itself is the small event among the three (118 finishers in 2017) with the 10K attracting the most people (1282 finishers in 2017) and the half marathon quite popular (at 518 finishers in 2017). But, the big story in growth is at least as much the local numbers as the foreign. This is what the dedicated effort to get Jamaicans running longer distances has produced. As much fun as Reggae Marathon may be, this is going to be a lasting legacy, along with the boost in tourism fueled by all us ‘come from away’ folk who trek to Negril every year at this time.

Oxtail with rice and peas.

I could go on and on, but maybe this is the time to stop. Sure that last bit is kind of serious, but it is an important part of this gem of an international running event. Two weeks from tomorrow night, I am on that red-eye to Toronto, with early morning transfer to the Jamaica flight. By late in the day, I expect to be tucking into a dish of oxtail, or maybe curry goat, at Rondel village. Soon come, Jamaica!

Negril, JA West End Sunset



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