Reggae Marathon, Negril, Jamaica
Runners sport glow sticks and vibrant Caribbean outfits and cars parked along the course blare Bob Marley’s reggae to a beat that will match a racer’s pulse.
Humid air is a welcoming hug when travelling south to the Caribbean from Canada at the beginning of winter. Jamaica really brings the heat and the beachheaven town of Negril is balmy even in the pre-dawn hours of race day. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the Reggae Marathon, it’s evident that it’s going to be a hot one but the iconic Seven Mile Beach and icy coconut water that wait at the finish line are prizes that settle any pre-race worry. Actually, this lazy town is the place to be for any runner who suffers from the jitters – the slow island vibe, soothing mellow accents and national slogan “Home of all right” are perfect antidotes to dissipate a case of the butterf lies.
In December, this tropical Jamaican spot is paradise. While a run in Canada at this time of year requires navigating ice-encrusted streets with expert balance, the cliff-side Negril hosts views of tinsel-sparkly waters and sunshine. To overlook the beach pasta party on the eve of race morning is a rookie mistake. Strings of twinkling bulbs light up the beach making it a Pinterest-ready scene. Drummer boys on stage bang out a steel drum anthem. Laid out in rows along the sugary sand are huts where locals are busy cooking every type of pasta imaginable – bolognese, lasagna, seafood, veggie, you name it. If carb-loading is king, welcome to the palace.
The Reggae Marathon has been a magnet for travel-savvy runners for 17 years. A sample of the crowd on race day will feature runners from Canada, the U.S. and Japan as well as those from down the beach. Not marathon fit? Don’t worry about a thing: runners can sign up for the halfmarathon or 10k.
We start running at 5 a.m. in the dark. The scene at the start line may look like nighttime to the untrained eye, but the energy indicates it’s anything but. Runners sport glow sticks and vibrant Caribbean outfits and cars parked along the course blare Bob Marley’s reggae to a beat that will match a racer’s pulse. It may be the wee hours but neighbours crowd the course to cheer and sing. For a few minutes, a girl about 10-years old, leaves her front yard to match my pace. When travelling, most of us don’t want to waste a minute. Working up a profuse sweat on a run into sunrise would be a good example of making a vacation in Jamaica worthwhile. The 10k will take you on a generous tour of Negril. As you near the finish line, you’ll have experienced a morning saturated in Jamaica’s rich one-of-a-kind culture. In the final steps, an announcer shouts out each participant’s name and hometown. When you hear yours, it’s time to head to the beach. Seven Mile Beach in the morning is shrouded in a dusty pink sky. A dip in the water is the ultimate reward for hard training and a fast race. But before you go, break the top off a coconut and take a refreshing sip.