Well, I’m trying to ‘bask’ but it is a bit hard with the current weather in Vancouver.
Upon returning from a few days in Montego Bay, after the race time in Negril, I discovered that winter had come to Vancouver. While cogitating on this factoid, I got thinking about the contrast. When we left MoBay it was 82°F. That was Thursday afternoon around 3:30pm. Saturday morning, maybe 36 hours later, I led a small but brave pace group at the Forerunners marathon and half marathon clinic. The temperature was 32°F. You can do the math, just as I did. That is a difference of 50°F! FIFTY DEGREES!!!!! And then, it got colder.
Undeterred, I am just letting warm thoughts of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K keep me in the Jamaican moment. You can tell how much you like a vacation experience by whether or not you start looking up real estate listings. I looked. Of course, I never do anything about it, but if the place has enough charm and good stuff to make you think about moving there, you know you must have had a good time.
Negril is not a new experience for me, nor is the Reggae Marathon (regardless of which of the three races you actually run). 2016 was my sixth Reggae Marathon in a row. I guess you call that a streak. Speaking of ‘streaking’, that (or as close to it as you can reasonably come on a public beach) is what I love doing, at least as much as the actual race. Running the beach in the early morning with little more than a pair of shorts is magic. I have a rule that I don’t run barefoot until the race is over. It turns out that until you toughen up your feet a bit, shifting sand can work up a nasty blister in an amazingly short period of time. After the race though, the shoes stay behind and you just takes your chances. Most times out there, I will be with friend Chris Morales (That Runnin’ Guy). We’ve had some great beach runs over the years, including the time we, plus Jetola Anderson-Blair and Navin Sadarangani, put on a running exhibition for ESPN Latin America. They were doing a feature piece on the Reggae Marathon. We were ‘runners preparing for the big race‘. I’d love to put up the link but it seems to have been taken down for good and all. Too bad; they did a good job.
The first time I went to Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, my wife Judi went too and we made a two week vacation of it, with a week in Negril and another in Ocho Rios. The first time I almost actually RAN the marathon.
I was registered and everything, but a little personal episode of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” conspired to see us arrive at the start about two and a half hours late. Some would say in Jamaica that was kind of normal, but it doesn’t fly at the Reggae Marathon because that event starts dead on time at 5:15. It was even four seconds early this year, according to satellite time. Anyway, in 2011 and after only a wee bit of begging, I was allowed to go run the 10K and get my time and race adjusted to be a 10K (officially). If you really want to hear the whole story, the link is right HERE.
After that first time, I have gone alone (until this year). Well, not really alone in the sense that all the usual crowd is there, including the Four Amgos who now count a collective 26 Reggae Marathon races. But, alone in the sense of traveling there with someone. This time I asked my friend Al Helmersen if he would like to come and see why this has become such a ritual with me. Al and I met in third year of University, way back in the last century! We have known each other for more than 51 years and have been good friends for all that time, even though we have but seldom actually lived in the same place. Sometimes, like now, not too far away, but sometimes on separate continents and once, nearly half way around the world. Our families are similar in structure with them having the first kid and then just alternating, although we did slip in one more than them. We stay close as family friends and while Al and I have known each other the longest by just a little bit, both our wives go back to the same era (as our then girlfriends). So the women have known each other almost as long. Anyway, Al jumped at the invitation and in due course, off we went to that Island in the Sun (cue Harry Belafonte). Al is not a runner, but thought maybe he would walk the 10K, since you can easily do that while all the rest is going on. It is one course, one start and one total allowed time (6 hours) for completion.
We decided it was too far to go for what might be a ‘long weekend’ strictly focused on the race. Some people who come from closer will often just arrive Thursday and depart Sunday or Monday. OK, those who live closer and those who are actually gainfully employed and have jobs to do back home. We departed Vancouver on a red-eye through Toronto to arrive in Jamaica about 2:00pm, with immediate transport to Negril. Because the transport service thought there were going to be a couple more passengers, there was nothing for us to do but wait patiently. That was when Al, got to have his first Red Stripe in the land of its origin! In the end, it turned out nobody else appeared and off we went in an over-large (for just two of us) mini-bus, with a very knowledgeable driver who was able to do a pretty good travel narrative as we passed through the outskirts of Montego Bay, past various notable locations, through the very old village of Lucea, then Green Island and Orange Bay, finally sweeping around a corner (just where the half marathon turns back toward the start) and the first of the Negril resorts. I have this very personal relationship with Negril and I always get a wonderful feeling of being ‘home’ when I get there. As a matter of fact, if you’ve been to Jamaica before (or a lot, like me) locals will often say “Welcome home!”. I think I’ve become what they call “100% Jamaican by Association”.
I haven’t lived all this long without figuring out a few things. I was very aware that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder and therefore, a little worried that friend Al might not see it at all as I do. Jamaica and Negril both have plenty of warts. And, the ‘fun’ I have with my Reggae Marathon friends is somewhat unique to us. It is the main reason my wife, Judi, elects not to go (although I think there was a bit of last minute wavering this year). As it turned out, my worries were without foundation. While I’m not going to claim Al enjoyed Jamaica on the exact same basis that I do, he found his own high points and was very glad to have gone. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Because I can, I like to take a few extra days and with my buddy along, they were well spent in getting our own experience going before the rest of the usual crowd arrived; the Usual plus others, this time. Rondel Village is, in my opinion, the perfect choice of local resort and we had some time to appreciate that with our early arrival.
While I expected a large group of familiar folk, at the very last minute there was a Winnipeg connection via a running friend who used to live in Vancouver and run with our running group where I live. Suddenly, there were three more who wanted to meet up and join us for fun and frolic. Funny enough, the ‘connection’ wasn’t among them!
I made good use of the early arrival to have a few short runs along the road (the route of the race) and also on the beach (with shoes). Al and I sampled the food and wandered about to get the lay of the land, so to speak. By Wednesday afternoon, That Runnin’ Guy was on the scene and I was able to make first introductions. It turns out that Chris’ current occupation and Al’s former professional interests revolve around the marketing of things. They were soon off and running without much assistance from me. Chris was soon explaining to Al, all the ins and outs of the social media promotion of the Reggae Marathon.
By Thursday, we were over at package pick-up and started to meet runners arriving for the big event. Friday afternoon involved more of the same and MORE , many more friends (old and new). Friday night is the pasta party, which is normally right at the same venue as the package pick-up, but because of some ongoing construction, had to be moved across the road to Cosmo’s, a beach restaurant and day visit complex. I gather some liked it and some not so much, but I personally thought it was pretty darn good, with a very nice Negril sunset laid on to impress the visitors. Poor old Al was now starting to get a bit inundated by Reggae Marathoners, but he seemed to be coping.
Easy Skankin’ showed up again, which itself is a given. What we are never sure of is ‘how many’. I think they hit a high at one point of about TEN. And, of course the newly-weds, Navin and Daivati were there ‘in the house’.
Chris and I had to slip away to the media briefing, which seems to get bigger each year. This year there was a team from China and a Japanese sister-city delegation which involved the winner of their marathon, competing in Negril with the Jamaican winner of Reggae Marathon heading for Japan to compete there.
Of course, this is all just the build-up to the main event: the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. As already mentioned that would be at a non-negotiable starting time of 5:15 AM, just outside the Long Bay Beach Park. One of the best parts of that start is the walk to the start from our quarters at Rondel Village. It is something like 2km and with the balmy temperatures, even at 4am or so, enough to get a little bit of a sweat going. After the usual ritual of dropping off a gear bag and finding your way to the line of porto-potties, there is not much left other than to find a place in the starting corrals. While I never really take the run time too seriously in an absolute sense, I do like to do my best in the circumstances and to get a decent placing if I can. Of course there is the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge.
THAT is serious business! All the bragging rights fall to the winner of that little event within an event. In a nutshell, it started years ago and not even at the Reggae Marathon. In Spring of 2012 Chris, Larry and I (the Reggae Runners) discovered we were all three running a half marathon in three different races, in three different places (Toronto, New Jersey and Vancouver) on the same day. We decided we would just age-grade the results and have a winner. We even had prizes! That was in May and because it was so much fun, we took the idea to Negril in December and have followed through ever since. Normally, because various people have been running different events through the gamut from 10K to full marathon, we ‘normalize’ the event to half marathon (you can do that with well known calculators) and THEN age-graded. However, this year everybody, with two exceptions, were planning to run the 10K. The two who were doing the half marathon agreed that as much as you shouldn’t theoretically run the first half a lot faster than the second, the practical reality is that it is usually significantly cooler before the sun comes up, so most people try to take advantage of that. There is a timing mat at 5.8 miles that everyone crosses, but where you get an official time. We agreed it would be a fair point of comparison and that we would just age-grade that official split time. Oh, what, you want to know how that turned out? OK. Larry was FIRST, Navin was Second and yours truly, was Third (gotta love the age grading!). And, with me dropping down to 10K there MUST be a shout-out to Karen who stuck it out through the Half Marathon, just as she said she would. Bravo, Karen!!
The race was shortened by an hour this year because it actually shuts down the main (only) road through Negril. Because of this the organizers instituted a rule that if marathoners did not pass the half point by a certain time, they would be diverted off the course to the finish, BUT would have their time switched over to the half marathon and would be given a medal for completing the Half. Not every race is physically set up so this can work so simply, but the Reggae Marathon is. Not only that, but it also works for the half marathon and 10K. So, they just said runners could voluntarily ‘Step Down, and Be Alright’. You just had to tell the official at the finish that you had switched races and provide your name and bib number. Well, long story short, even though I was registered for the half, for a variety of reasons, when push came to shove, I elected to cut off at 10K. I was probably not committed enough in the first place but as I was about 8k or so into the race, the humidity more than the temperature was getting to me. While I knew I COULD stumble through the second half of the Half, I was also pretty darn sure it was going to take quite some time and would NOT be a whole lot of fun once the sun was up and temperatures started to rise along with the high humidity. As it happened, there was a thunder storm in the later afternoon and once that passed the humidity dropped like a stone. Would have made a huge difference, but it is what it is.
Friend Al discovered the Reggae Runnerz (about 350 0f them showed up this year). Several years ago they keyed on this event and have come in numbers ever since. Many (most?) are members of Black Girls Run, an American movement of empowerment and fitness. With those numbers (not including others who accompany but don’t run) they fill up a lot of resort space (including a fair number of rooms at Rondel Village). There is a fair component of walkers and walk/run participants among them so Al found himself walking and talking as he went along the way.
In addition to not being a runner, he is somewhat hindered even on the walking front by a bum knee that requires a brace and regular treatments to keep him going. He took it very easy and just enjoyed the experience. I KNOW he enjoyed the experience, partly because he told me so, but all you have to do is check his expression at the finish line!
As I said, I cut short on my race, so was there to greet him on arrival and introduce him to the joys of the fresh coconut, Red Stripes at dawn and a few other things like live Reggae music on a beach. We met up with various folk from our usual group as well as lots of others. Al got to meet Lawrence Watson, a fine runner who won his age group in the half marathon and who would soon be our host at his Castle Vue Bed and Breakfast in Montego Bay.
To my surprise and chagrin (because I didn’t realize it until it was long over and done), a Vancouver runner – Karen Warrendorf, who I know, won the women’s marathon. Felt a bit sheepish about that! Well done, Karen!
A big feature of each of the last five Reggae Marathons (big for the Four Amigos) is the official finger count of total races run. Three of us, Larry, Navin and I can count SIX, but Chris is now up to EIGHT. This year we hit a total of TWENTY-SIX (26). I think this is the first year in which all four of us is wearing the same coloured ribbon on our finisher medals. Navin usually runs the full marathon, so of his six, I believe five are marathons. Chris ran the full marathon his very first time at the event, but after that has been strictly a 10K guy. Larry has been almost 100% half marathon, except this year and I am even up at three each. So, that looks like about Six X Marathon, Eight X Half and Twelve X 10K. That is a lot of Reggae Running, 542km to be precise! And that doesn’t count the other people in our challenge who have not been there every year or participated every time.
For me, the Reggae Marathon isn’t really over until the beach experience is over. The white sand beach is just outside the finish venue and many people stay around to play in the sea and enjoy the sun, not to mention a Red Stripe or two! Once that part is done, the journey back to Rondel village is pretty much ALWAYS barefoot along the water’s edge at a slow stroll. The pace is partly because legs are tired from the race, but I think mostly to keep it from really being over. Imagine all of this happening, racing, partying, recovering, beaching and then strolling ‘home’, all to be at your accommodation for breakfast at about 9:30-10:00am!
Ove the last few years, the final, final part of the Reggae Marathon Experience has been the One Love bus tour of the West End of Negril. OK West End funky local bars! The object of the exercise is to be there for the sunset and usually, that is accomplished. Unfortunately, I think it was the only night out of seven that Al and I were in Negril that there wasn’t a sunset (just a bit too much cloud). The Winnipegers showed up for this part of the fun and showed that they know how to have fun in the sun!
Monday, the beach party was over many and we all started drifting in different directions. Chris had to head home and back to ‘real life’ while Al and I got to stay in Jamaica, but changed the venue to Montego Bay for a few more days. Conveniently we all managed to ride together as far as the airport.
Al and I headed for Castlevue and a surprise meeting with a Polish couple who had also done the Reggae Marathon. In their case, they both really did do the Marathon. Lots of fun stories were shared. I really only know Lawrence Watson through running and the fact that I stayed at his BnB a couple of years ago. So, it was fun to meet up with a chap he worked with in the US and his wife and adult daughter. I know Lawrence as Lawrence or just ‘Watson’. I’m older than him so don’t have to call him ‘Mister Watson’ if I don’t want to! It was kind of funny (to me) when his friend and work colleague kept calling him ‘Larry’.
As it turned out, we wound up hiring a car and driver to take us over to Ocho Rios for the day, including lots of history and geographical stories from Sydney, our driver. We made a stop at Dunn’s River Falls (last time was 1969). It has changed. Had a great lunch in a little local backstreet restaurant and took a drive through Fern Gulley. In the end it was more a driving trip than anything else what with it being hotter than a couple of people liked and Al’s limited ability to walk and clamber about. The one thing I kind of hoped to do was make a return visit to the family related location near Robin’s Bay. That didn’t happen. It was a bit far and without doubt the roads near the site were pretty poor, so after some discussion we agreed it would have to be another time. Oh well, I have photos from the visit that Judi and I made in 2011.
Too soon it was time to head home, but not before a couple of walks through downtown Montego Bay and a couple of visits to the Pork Pit, a fine source of jerk pork and chicken and smoked sausage. Accompanied naturally, by a Red Stripe or two.
Vue sits high on a hill above the airport and we could watch the planes taking off, from above. Wonder if anyone up there watched us take off? Guess I’ll have to ask the next time!