Jamaica has always been high up on my bucket list of destinations. I mean, who doesn’t want to visit sandy beaches and, post-race, sip fresh fruit cocktails? The temptation to travel to the Caribbean and race one of the “happiest half marathons in the world” – the Reggae Marathon – was too much to resist. And it delivered on that claim – and more.
After recovering from the 10-hour flight, the first thing on my agenda was getting numbers sorted. Registration was straightforward and, race bibs in hand, we had to abandon all cynicism and strike a few “lightning Bolt” selfies. Afterwards, we headed to the pasta party, hosted at Couples Swept Away (no prizes for guessing their target demographic). With the Caribbean Sea and a picture-perfect sunset as backdrop, Negril’s white sands played host to the top chefs and dance acts in town. We were more concerned with stuffing ourselves on tasty pasta than wasting too much pre-race energy on the dancefloor, but we enjoyed listening to the musical talent on display. My top tip for racegoers would be to arrive early – queues did form later, and no one wants to be on their feet for too long before a race.
The temperature in Jamaica doesn’t dip much during the night, but the strength of the sun certainly makes a difference. The race starts at 5.15am. Alarms set for the crack of dawn, we had no problems hopping on a shuttle bus to the start. A tad bleary eyed at first, in pitch black surroundings, by 4.30am our bags were dropped off, bibs pinned and the energy at the Long Bay Beach Park race village was already electric. It was like nothing I’d been a part of before.
Once underway, the course looped around the residential roads, heading north into the town of Green Island. Admittedly, it isn’t the most scenic of routes – you run parallel to Negril’s seven-mile beach, but views of the sea are few and far between. Nonetheless, watching the sun rise while ticking off the miles was pretty special. The route is, mercifully, mostly flat, and lined with hotels, supporters and volunteers providing locally made HiLyte water pouches, Gatorade and gels. I beamed for the entire 13.1 miles, singing along to reggae tunes and cheering along with the local support.
It’s the finish line that really makes the race special, though. Instead of the usual cross the line, stop for a bit, head home, you are thrown into a beach party for 3,000 runners and their supporters. A medal around your neck, you receive a freshly cut coconut, and an ice-cold Red Stripe – that you can drink while cooling your overheated body in the clear Caribbean waters. Absolute post-race heaven.
By mid-morning, we were travelling back to the hotel, cheering on the final marathon runners. That blue sparkling pool was a welcome sight, and – having felt we had thoroughly earned it – we lazed with a cocktail in hand for the rest of the day, enjoying fresh food and local drinks. It would be wrong not to, after the happiest race in the world …
The 2018 Reggae Marathon takes place on 2 December 2018. The race entry fee is currently $105 (£76) for the half-marathon and $110 for the full marathon. There is also a 10k run for $75. All registrations are currently discounted for ‘early bird’ entry, valid until the end of July. reggaemarathon.com
Nicki stayed at the Riu Negril hotel