Reggae Marathon: Negril, Jamaica

21.1km! Half way.   The sun is now attacking my face.  They say a marathon is made up of 2 halves.  The first 32km and the last 10km!  I feel like I am at the 32km mark!   This is going to be a long day out.  I need some Bob now.  “Buffalo soldier” does the trick.

Team SA

I will never be a star athlete. In fact, I am barely an athlete! But I try really hard.  There are few times in your life you can unofficially represent your country in an overseas sporting event.  In marathon running you can.  Worldwide, thousands of patriots from all around the world travel abroad and wear their country’s flags with pride as they run a marathon. Whether it’s London, Berlin or NY, their pride is on a par with that of Usain Bolt and Eliud Kipchoge.

* Eliud Kipchoge is the world record holder in the Marathon. The 33- year old Kenyan obliterated the field in Berlin in 2018, with a time of 2:01:39. Machine.

I have never felt so much pride as I did when I saw the South African flag being hoisted in Negril, Jamaica.

I am here to run the Reggae Marathon with my wife Marliese.  A decision born out of our mutual love for travelling and road running. And a mild obsession with the movie “Cool Runnings”, we knew that the Reggae Marathon was a must-run!

What makes this run so special is the location and the people.  My fellow foreign runners added some novelty, but it was the locals that really made the day.  Jamaicans are the friendliest, care-free people on earth. You cannot help but smile and chill when you’re in Jamaica. Yeah man!

The race is run on a Sunday at 05:15am.  “Too early?” I hear you say.  Then you’re probably from a cold climate.  Let me explain.  When the sunrises at 7am in the tropics, it all goes pear-shaped.  Jamaica is not hot. It is BOILING!  Humidity is 100% so the more running you do in the dark the better.

Route description:  Flat and fast.   The marathon is 2 laps of a 21km circuit along the A1 (Norman Stanley Blvd).

Reggae Route

From the start line, near ‘Couples Swept Away’ resort, you run 5km south to the roundabout, then 5km back to the start. Then 5km north past the airport and back another 5km.  And repeat!

If you’ve ever run a marathon, then you know the day starts well before the gun.  Here is a run down of my Reggae Marathon day:

3:30am – Alarm. Snooze!

3:40am – Get up Steve! I play Bob Marley “Redemption Song”  for inspiration!  Drink tea and rusks to the get the bowels working!

4:00am – WC = Relief!  Apologies for being graphic. No one wants to use the porta-Johns!

04:10 – Eat a banana and rehydrate.  Then my check-list:

  1. Cap, shades & sunblock – check
  2. Lube nipples – check
  3. Nougat Racebars – check
  4. Smile – check!

04:20 – Leave hotel and catch a shuttle to start line 2km away.  Due to road closures, the organizers have a fleet of minibus-shuttles transporting athletes from their hotels along the A1.   Transport begins from 4am in the morning.

Marliese on the bus!
Marliese on the bus!

04:30 – The starts line is a party.   It’s called the Reggae Marathon for a reason and Uncle Bob Marley has us jammin’ to “One love, One heart. Let’s get together and feel alright!” This feels right!

Start line dark

This year there are 3-races being run concurrently which means almost 2000 people are bopping to the beat. The race numbers are as follows:

  • 42,4km marathon – 133 runners (me included!)
  • 21,1 Half – 439 runners
  • 10km – 1336 runners

04:40 – I sit down on the pavement as I know I will be running for the next 5 hours.  It’s still dark, but the temperature is around 27 celsius.  I drink some more water.

05:10  – The race-director announces that it is T-minus-5-minutes.  Bob Marley sings, “Get up stand up!”. We respect his wishes!

Friendly people
Jamaicans are very friendly

05:15 – Race time.  Everyone is “Jammin” literally!  What a vibe.  The start is a shuffle.  Nothing faster.  I am not here to run a PB. I am here to smile, and have a good time.  With the field comprising mainly 10km fun-runners, you have to be über patient.   More seasoned runners respect the crowd and walk on the side.  With a fun run anything goes. That being said, I am glad the field is having fun. That’s why you come to Jamaica right?

05:25 – It is LOUD!  The volume of the boom-boxes along the road!!!  Every 1km there is a car parked with speakers on the roof,  belting out Bob!  The tune in my head is “turn the lights down low”.  I shuffle along trying to conserve energy, enjoying the fact that sun will only rise in 1 hour.

05:50 – I reach the 5km turnaround point.  The spectators are going insane. Cheering us on, and telling us that we are nearly there?  What?  I have 37km more to run!

06:25 – 10km mark. Legs feeling good. I am now back at the start line with a 5km trek north ahead.  The sky is turning orange to my right.  It’s twilight and I can make out inspiration-boards along the road heading out.   Throughout the race there are wonderful lyrics written to inspire you.  “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright”. Could there be a tear in my eye?!

Bob's boards

06:30  – The 10km fun runners are in the rear-view so the crowd has thinned out. No more bunching.  I see the 21km runners swoosh past headed to the finish. They run 21km faster than I run 10km.  Tail between legs!

07:00 – 15km into the race I start to miss hills!  I seldom run flat courses so 15km of flat terrain is having its effects.  Hills allow the work load to be spread across many muscle groups.  Flat running is a different ball game.  I must watch out for cramps.  The sun is now out, but still low on the horizon and the large trees along the road shade us from the rays. Thankfully every 1km there is a hydration station with electrolytes.

07:40 – 21.1km! Half way.   The sun is now attacking my face.  They say a marathon is made up of 2 halves.  The first 32km and the last 10km!  I feel like I am at the 32km mark!   This is going to be a long day out.  I need some Bob now.  “Buffalo soldier” does the trick.

09:00 – I make it to the 32km mark without too much drama. From 32km to 36km I run with the blue Caribbean to my left. This is what I had come to Jamaica for. Paradise.  The crowd is now down to the last 133 marathon runners.  As a slow back-marker the spectators had come to recognize my wife and I.  “Go South Africa”.  Those words are like fuel for our legs.

09:10 – Some poor guy has passed out on the side of the road form exhaustion. You can’t blame him. It is 37 celsius with little shade, as the sun is over the tree line. The race medics on bikes attend to him. I notice that he isn’t running with any food.   It is impossible not to hit the wall (hypoglycemia) after almost 4 hours of not eating. I eat another nougat Racebar.

The blue Caribbean hugs the road for much of the run
The blue Caribbean hugs the road for much of the run

09:20 –Between the 33km mark and the 42 km mark I am trying my hardest to have fun. I smile when the camera is on me.  But it’s hard.  I revert to a run-walk strategy for the last 9km.  More walking than running.  I was never going to run a PB but I was hoping for a bit more form. I need a beer!

10:25 – I can hear the finish line. And Bob is blaring “Easy Skanking”.   You can do it Steve!  I was promised a cold, Red Stripe beer (several) at the finish line. This is my motivation.

Finish line

10:40 – Finish line.  Hugs, kisses, cold beer, relief! The legs are remarkably fresh. I even manage a few star-jumps for the camera!   I wonder if I could have pushed harder?  Doubt is part of running.  All I know is that this was unlike any race environment I have ever run.  The heat and humidity made it feel like an Ultra 50.  That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!!!!

Success S&M

10:45 – Cool off in the ocean.  How amazing is this race?  Where else can you strip off and cool down in paradise after a marathon.  Here you can!

Beer

What made the race extra special were the other South Africans who entered. Second only to Jamaicans in friendliness, it was a pleasure to share the road with Nkhensani and Sibongile.  Hola!

Other Saffa

Side note: Well done to the men’s and woman’s winners. Daichi Okano – 2:47:17  & Ann Viljugrein – 3:29:09

Jump joy
Well done to us!
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