We couldn’t have asked for a lazier Sunday. Perched on our seats, a new friend and I settle in and let our bamboo raft float down the green river as we listen to Captain Walker’s stories about Jamaica. We let the current bring us down the river as Walker points out cotton trees on the banks and steers our raft forward. Above us on a hill sits a gorgeous Caribbean mansion and I’m jealous of the owner who is spoiled with this view. It’s the perfect rest-day activity to follow up running the Reggae Marathon 10K the morning before.
Four days earlier, I fly from Toronto to Montego Bay to start December off with a bang. I get off the plane and grab my bag containing my running shoes, racing outfit and whatever else necessary for my destination race in Jamaica. Outside the airport, the humid air is a pleasant break from the chill that had taken hold of Canada. I’m ready to see what a destination race getaway in the Caribbean is all about.
My eagerness isn’t surprising. While I’m one of those runners who isn’t always motivated by the “goal race” on the calendar, when it comes to combining running with travel, I’m the opposite. The shoes are first into the suitcase every time. I firmly believe that when you use running to explore new grounds, you see more and have a more rewarding experience because of it.
From the airport, a fellow runners and I make our way nearly two hours over to beautiful Negril—the host of the Reggae Marathon. I stare out the window to take it all in. Pictures of Jamaica flash by in seconds: magenta and bold yellow colonial-style homes, groups of stray goats, curvy mannequins dressed for the beach, lush rolling foothills, school girls in uniform and storefronts selling Jamaican patties. We reach Negril and the sky is already turning pink and I spot houses peeking out behind palm trees. The start line is just a short drive away but for now, we rest up in our villa.
Waking up the next morning, I temporarily forget where I am. When I remember, I forgo my usual a.m. battle with the alarm clock and get out of bed and dress for the perfect day-before-race-day activity: yoga on the cliff. After a slice of French toast and a power smoothie of freshly squeezed juices, our group of four is good to go.
We get to the hut set on the rocks with the strip of Caribbean blue stretched out in front and after an hour of downward dogs and warrior poses, I feel relaxed, limber (even my shoulders) and ready for whatever happens out on the course in less than 24 hours. In her butter-smooth Jamaican accent, our yoga instructor calls me out on my tight hamstring and calves. She can tell I’m a runner. Before we head back to the villa, she leaves us with positive words and a good luck for our race. When I look at the photograph of this group of runners/journalists mid-yoga pose now, I genuinely miss them.
The next day in Jamaica speeds by. As runners know, the pre-race dinner is a big deal. This one in particular blew me away. Set on the beach, this party had rows upon rows of chefs cooking every type of pasta imaginable (full disclosure: I sampled six) to the soundtrack of steel drum bands. On stage, a dance group is performing. This party looks like a Pinterest photograph with its strings of lights brightening up the beach. Before I know it though, I’m back at the villa settling for an early night.
I rise well before dawn and pin my number to my shirt. It’s not long before our group arrives at the start line. I don’t usually run at 5:00 a.m. but I’d make an exception for this race any day. The race starts and I settle in to my pace appreciating the supportive crowd and the reggae music blaring from parked cars. Looking at the runners in the pack, I can tell that people have come from all over. At one point, a local girl runs up alongside me and keeps up for a half a kilometre. People are running solo. Others run in pairs. I see plenty of international attire and team t-shirts. And unsurprisingly, many of them are Canadian (In fact, it’s Canadian women who own the podium winning both the half-marathon and the full!). They tell me they are here on vacation while sampling the running scene at the same time.
I hit the ninth kilometre ready to bring it in. The music continues to motivate me as I kick. I spot the finish line and go hard as I hear my name and home city being announced. It’s finished. I cool down, drink some water and head straight onto Seven Mile Beach where local high school runners are already wading in the water. Today was a competition for them too. The winners won computers for their school. They splash in the water in their green and yellow race uniforms. The sun has just risen and everything is pastel coloured.
I’m reluctant to stick my sandy, blistery feet back into my running shoes but post-race hydration must be addressed and someone is cracking the tops off fresh coconuts. When I put the straw to my lips and taste the cold, sweet water, I know I’m right in saying that few things are better than running abroad.