Journey to Jamaica – The Story

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Greetings race fans. Welcome back to another riveting race tale. This particular narrative comes from the sunny and warm skies found in Negril, Jamaica, where I have just come back from participating in the 14th annual Reggae Marathon. So how exactly did I find myself in Jamaica for a brief 4-day reprieve from the Canadian winter? And how did I do in this hot weather? Well read on for the answer to those questions and several more that you haven’t even been asking yourself!

A few months ago, a simple call out came via Get Out There Magazine, whom as you know I do work for now and again. The call was to see which reporters might be interested in covering this event for the magazine and product 3 videos for it. Even though I was just back to work after 2 months of time ‘off’, and in spite of the pending move AND trip to Belgium for the holidays, I simply couldn’t ignore the call. I threw my hat in the ring, and was lucky enough to get picked! So now you know how I ended up toeing the line down there.

As to how I might actually perform in the event, I had high hopes at the outset, but life got in the way, and by the time I was flying down there, I had to come to grips with the fact that this would likely not be a very impressive performance by me. I’ve been having some ankle issues, rolling it a fair bit in the late fall on leaf-strewn and dark trails at night. One in particular had been sidelined for a good 3 weeks. Then, just when I felt I was getting better, I headed out for a very short, innocuous trail run, and ended up rolling the same ankle THREE TIMES!!! This was a week before boarding a plane. To add ultimate insult to injury on race morning, on the warm-up, in the dark, I couldn’t see a drop-off on the side of the road, and ended up badly rolling my OTHER ankle, forcing me to let everyone else head off ahead before I felt I could at least hobble across the start line and start my own journey to the finish. More on that later.

Despite the poor lead-up, there was no way I wasn’t at least going to have a great time while down there! I was again almost sidetracked the day of my flight, as the plane was delayed so much that they re-booked me on the NEXT DAY! That would shorten my trip to less than 3 days. Luckily, some quick work on my part and sweet talking had the airline re-booking me on another airline and getting me I Montego Bay only about 30 minutes later than originally scheduled. Crisis averted. That put me on the ground in time to catch my transportation to Negril, but didn’t get me to my hotel until round 5:30pm on Thursday night, with the sun already setting. But still with enough light to exit the hotel grounds, find a grocery store, and grab some local cold beers to sample. Yum. No problem, right?

So began my whirlwind 3.5 day visit to Jamaica. The next day, I grabbed a cab to the registration area to meet up with the organizers and some of the other international media folks. I picked up my race kit and took in the surroundings. Gorgeous blue skies overhead. Temperatures hovering around 30, and pretty high humidity. Pretty reminiscent of the hottest summer days in Ottawa. You know, the kind of day you’d really rather NOT run a marathon in? Before dwelling on that too long, I piled onto a shuttle bus to whisk us off for a ‘tour’. Sadly, it didn’t work out that well for me First stop was supposed to be at a school to witness Jamaican high school kids in the middle of a track workout. I was looking forward to getting footage of this. Unfortunately, we arrived too late, and the workout was over. The majority of media folks were staying elsewhere and had arrived earlier and caught the fun. From there, we were supposed to go to Mayfield Falls, a nice natural place nestled in the hills and wilds of Jamaica. Unfortunately, once our largish bus got the road we planned to take, we were strongly encouraged not to even try. 4x4s were okay, and MAYBE smaller cars, but definitely not a bus. So another strike on the tour, which instead turned around and headed right back to where I’d started my day! In other words, my tour was about 3.5 hours of sitting on a bus going nowhere.

Oh well, I certainly wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff. We ended up at Cosmos, a restaurant right on the 7 mile beach in Negril, and spent the rest of the afternoon there, eating first, then having ‘free time’ on the beach. In other words, they just off-loaded us there, a mere 500m or so from registration. On the plus side, I was getting to know some really cool media folks who do this stuff for a living, and heard some pretty wild stories. In the end, a writer with the LA Times and I bargained with a resort dude to get our hands on one of those oversized aqua-tricycles you may have seen. We figured we could squeeze in a leg warm-up. Hilarity ensued, with the resort eventually sending a speedboat after us in a mere 30 minutes. I guess they weren’t used to seeing people actually trying to locomote somewhere on those things. I don’t know if they thought we were making a break for it or not, but they basically shepherded us back to the start point. Either way, we’d had a good time out there, and were ready to end our fun!

Next up, back to the registration area to attend the World’s Best Pasta Party. Unsure what to expect, I can honestly say it pretty much lived up to its self-aggrandizing name. There were probably 1300 or more racers and local in attendance, but that wasn’t a problem. There were a ton of unique pasta booths there, manned by many of the excellent chefs from the various resorts in Negril. I was blown away when I realized that each ‘booth’ had its own twist on pasta and fixings, so you could truly get massively gluttonous there. Knowing we’d have to get up at around 3am the next morning, I tried not to gorge myself too much. They also entertained us with an excellent steel band as well as circus-type performers including aerialists, contortionists, and fire jugglers. It was pretty spectacular. Oh, and did I mention there was beer too? Luckily, it wasn’t free for unlimited, so I was good (in fact, I had only 1 beer that day!). Soon enough I was back in a shuttle, and at my hotel by around 9pm.

Good thing too, as I had to get all my race and filming gear sorted before heading to sleep. I was getting up at 3am, eating at 3:30am, and picked up by 4am to catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to make the 5:15am start! That’s a whole lot of scheduling for a country that operates a bit on ‘island time’ isn’t it? Turns out, my 4am taxi also didn’t show up until 4:26am, stressing me out just a little! However, I made it just in time to do a little shooting, stash my gear in the media tent, and head out to the darkened roads for my fateful warm-up disaster. Given that I had already planned on a pretty slow running day, the rolled ankle confirmed it even more, and dare I say even cast doubt on my chances to finish. Luckily, the whole course was flat and fast, and was double out and back loop, which meant in theory I could easily pull out at the ¼, ½ or ¾ mark if I really had to. But you know me, I really had no intention of stopping no matter what. Having just finished reading ‘Born to Run’, I was tapping into my sheer fun of being there, pasted a non-fading smile on my face, and got busy with the task at hand.

At 5:15, it was still pitch black out, with the rapidly sinking full moon our main source of illumination. This was simultaneously exciting and terrifying, as I couldn’t see potential ankle busting potholes as I dodged around armies of walkers and shufflers taking on the 10k and ½ marathon course. You see, it is a free-for all at the start, with all distances starting at the exact same time. Owing to my warm-up mishap, I literally started at the very back of the pack, so as not to risk anything. However, I soon realized this was a pretty big mistake, as I was in the middle of the slowest-moving mass of humanity for the first 5k or so. You see, all these people seemed petrified of the dark and apparently were devoid of any desire to actually move quickly in this RACE. Oh well, no biggie, this way I was also guaranteeing myself that I would push too hard at the start!

Let’s just cut to the punch line now shall we? This marathon ended up being the absolute slowest I have EVER run in! I was even slower than my first ever marathon. Oh course, I have a myriad of excuses, so I’m not really disappointed at all. Amazingly, it still nabbed me something like 26th overall! Nuts, right? The first half was also my slowest ever at that distance, but what really killed me (and all others around me) was the fact that when the sun finally rose in the sky, the temperatures becoming unbearable, and running in that heat was a true slog, Looking a the stats though, it appears it didn’t hurt me as much as others, as I was consistently moving up the rankings with each subsequent checkpoint, passing people all along the way. In spite of that, when I did finally cross the finish line (as the first place media runner I might add ), I was overheating and beat. Not to mention that once the endorphins were switched off, the ankle pain kicked in nicely. Thank goodness for fresh coconut water and beers!

Another sad consequence of the early mass start was that although there were all sorts of things planned out for the finish area, but the time the marathoners were wrapping up, of which there were less than 200 of us, the party had already subsided. Most of the free ‘stuff’ was all gone, and most people had already buggered off to escape the heat and continue their day. After all, it was only around 9am!! I stayed around to cheer on more finishers, including the media types I had hung out with the day before. Then, I tucked in to my 2 free Red Stripe beers, and had a fresh coconut. Afterwards, it was back to the hotel to pick up the pieces of my day. With the 3am wake-up, the effort of the marathon, and my ankle issues, my day was pretty shot. I dozed in a hammock for a while, finally had a nice big lunch at around 1:30, then showered and continued to just relax and read magazines. I was BEAT. After a late-ish 7pm supper, I basically returned to my room and crashed around 9:30pm, after sorting my luggage for a pending room change in the morning.

To avoid any sort of disappointment on my final day, I planned NOTHING. I was just going to have a straight-up relaxing day drinking beers idly, swimming, exploring, and doing some filming. After breakfast, I changed rooms, and then did some ‘work’, ironically filming a gear review for some thermal gear in the 30 degree heat! From there, it was back to my favourite cliff jumping spot at my hotel, to do some filming there too and swimming. I cruised around in the water till I decided I’d had enough exercise (and seen the neighbouring resorts from the water). That meant it was time to enjoy beers. I later also scored some snorkeling gear, so I popped back in the water for another 40 minutes. Upon emerging, I met a group of 4 couples who had just arrived. I befriended them quickly enough, and by later that evening, we were drinking up a storm and playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’. It was a great ending to my short Jamaica Jaunt. I closed out the night by myself at the water’s edge watching the stars and moon playing games in the sky while listening to the restless ocean crashing into the cliffs below. I turned in at midnight, happy with the end of my trip. One Love indeed. Everything always ends up the way it should when you just let life happen.

As I type this, I am high above the ocean in a plane bound for Ottawa. Forecast is calling for 20-25cm of snow in the next few days, so thoughts of waxing my skis are top of mind, as is returning excitedly to our new home. Looking just a little further out, I also just realized Deanna and I really have to start a little bit of planning for our Belgian holiday coming up way too soon!! So till the holidays, I hope everyone is doing amazing and enjoying life to its fullest. Respect. See you all back on the ground! To close, below I’m embedding the three videos I pulled together as part of my coverage.

Video 1: The Preparation

Video 2: Around Negril

Video 3: The Race

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