RW Race Report: Reggae Marathon, Half and 10K

RW's former Deputy Editor packs his trainers to soak up the sun and sounds of Jamaica



by Matt Gilbert

When: December 4
Where: Negril, Jamaica
First man: Rupert Green, 2:30:27
First Woman: Elizabeth Mondon, 2:55:50
Last Finisher: 7:12:17
No. of Finishers: 120 (for the full marathon)

As the one time Deputy Editor of this esteemed title, I garnered a reputation among the RW team as a 'race-dodger'. Generally, they just aren't for me. You see, firstly, I've never been that competitive. Secondly, and most importantly, the idea of travelling to, say, Freckleton, to race on a wet and grey Sunday morning has never appealed (it's nothing personal, Freckletonites). Hold a race somewhere guaranteed to flash a bit of sunshine in my direction, however, and I'd have been on that start line before you could say Piz Buin. 

So when I was invited to travel to Negril to take part in Jamaica's Reggae Marathon in 2008, I accepted the kind offer, took part in the half-marathon and recounted my experiences - good (swimming pools, cocktails), bad (thoughts of quitting) and ugly (untaped nipples) - in the pages of the magazine. And I got a pretty nice tan, too. So, when the invitation to take part in 10th anniversary event, in 2010, landed in my inbox, there was little chance I would decline.

It would be hard to blame me. Located on Jamaica's south west coast, offering a charming, chilled atmosphere and sporting the kind of powdery white beaches and turquoise waters that the Caribbean is famous for, the resort town of Negril is particularly hard to resist. 

The increasingly popular Reggae Marathon is a huge draw in its own right. Held every first Saturday in December, the event forms part of a Grand Prix Series of road races organised by Jamaica's best-known running club - the Jamdammers - which over the past decade has significantly raised the profile of long-distance running in a country long synonymous with sprinting.

Having arrived in Negril in the early hours of Friday morning due an unexpected flight detour and then spent much of the day recuperating, I was ready to put in a solid performance at the pre-race feed-up, billed as the "World's Best Pasta Party". With my limited racing experience (see above), I'm possibly not the world's best person to verify this handle, but with a relaxed reggae soundtrack, delicious offerings from local restaurants and a buzzing atmosphere, I can confirm it is pretty damn good. 

Towards the end of the evening came something I hadn't been expecting: rain. A lot of rain. Torrential, better-start-gathering-animals-two-by-two rain, which continued right up to the 5.15am start time. Although the biblical downpour had moistened many competitors, spirits were not dampened - thanks largely to a pulsating beat from local drummers and a guard of flaming torches surrounding the start. 

Distance-wise, a broken foot I suffered three months previously meant a downgrade from my favoured half-marathon distance to the 10K this time around. I'd hadn't raced or timed myself over the distance before as I had never been that fond of it in training, but I felt excited about the challenge ahead as we set off into the darkness from the Long Bay Beach Park on the long, gentle slope down to Negril. 

One of the considerable appeals of the Reggae Marathon is the fantastically unique support, with steel drum bands, cars blaring tunes from speakers stacked in the boot and curious tourists from the resorts and guesthouses that stud the route along the coastline. And the wall of noise from the crowd that gathers every year at the turn point in Negril - a roundabout in the centre of town - can always be relied on for a boost.

During the second half of the half-marathon back in 2008, I'd been overtaken time and time again as I slowed under the heat of a rising Carribean sun. But as we headed back to the finish at the Long Bay Beach Park in the early morning half-light, it was me turning up the heat. Picking up my pace, I targeted runners ahead of me, reeled them in and passed them. 

   With about half a mile to go, I could only see one runner ahead of me. He easily had a 200-metre lead that my legs and lungs were keen to point out could not be made up over the distance still left to cover, but my competitive streak - notably absent for the previous 33 years - took over and I upped my pace.

To get the distance spot on, the 10K course travels a couple of hundred metres past the finish area then doubles back. It was at this point that my rival, whose lead had been cut to 30 or so metres, realised I was on his tail. This was also the point that I realised he was in fact a she. 

What followed was a frantic, limbs-flailing sprint finish - less Usain Bolt and more Benny Hill on fast-forward - in which I managed to prevail. I overtook my 'man' five metres from the line, then promptly collapsed to the ground on the other side for a good five minutes before indulging in the welcome post-race pampering - a cool mist tent with ice cold sponge-wielding volunteers and fresh coconut juice - that I'd enjoyed so much last time.

The next few days were spent contemplating the pros and cons of my newfound competitive streak - on a sun lounger. So would I sign up for this race again? Well - how quickly can you say Piz Buin?

Find out more and enter this year's race at www.reggaemarathon.com


GET THERE Virgin Atlantic fly from London Gatwick to Montego Bay (1hr 30mins by car from Negril). Flight time is 10 hours.

STAY
MID-RANGE:
Rondel Village. Set amid lush tropical gardens, this charming hotel has two outdoor pools, two spa tubs and a beachside bar and restaurant. From £27 per person per night* (pppn).
UPMARKET:
Riu Negril. Curving around its own stunning peninsula, this high-end all-inclusive resort is set in beautifully maintained gardens and features nightly entertainment. From £114 pppn.

SIGHTSEE With 21 natural pools and two waterfalls, Mayfield Falls and Mineral Springs - an hour's drive from Negril - is Jamaica's number one eco-tourism attraction.

FUEL Kuyaba on the Beach is as rustic, laid-back, and funky a setting as you'll find. The pasta dishes are hard to beat, especially conch-laced spaghetti with a garlic, wine and tomato sauce. Le Vendome Restaurant is described by owners Daniel and Sylvia Grizzle as a "dash of Jamaican spices" with a "pinch of French flair".

WARM-UP Where better to take your run than along the famous snow-white seven-mile beach.

*approximate prices per night are based on two people sharing

For more information visit www.visitjamaica.com


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Hey, really liked the article. I'm the Reggae Marathon blogger but I'm also a long-time, average runner.  I fell in love with Reggae Marathon in 2009 (my first) and am back this weekend for my 3rd.  This year 2 of my sons are joining me as well.  I'm looking forward to a great morning running in Negril.
Posted: 30/11/2011 at 23:44

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