by Paul Josephson
Imagine coming into the finish, draping a medal over your neck, having a freshly macheteed coconut handed to you, downing the milk, pulling off your racing flatsÛ_and anything else you want to, crossing white sands and hopping into the ocean.
All you have to do is run the Reggae Marathon, held the first Saturday of December in Negril, on the western end of Jamaica. This well-organizedÛÓIÛªd say delightfulÛÓmarathon attracts second-, third- and even eight-timers. IÛªve put this on my annual listÛÓalong with Sugarloaf, Quebec, Maine and a few other marathons. Why canÛªt New Englanders claim a tropical marathon as their own?
Although a small race (105 people finished the marathon, 362 the half, and 227 the 10K), Reggae gathers people from Europe and North America. I met German, Austrian, Mexican, Slovenian, Canadian and Jamaican runners.
I noticed one older fellow on the flight down and fortuitously stayed at the same hotel with Burt Carlson. Burt began running marathons at age 58 as part of a ÛÏlifestyle change to travel, meet interesting people and have tremendous experiences.Û Reggae was his 301st marathon or ultra. Burt has cut the number of marathons from 20 to 10 or 12 annually.
He ran his slowest marathon ever in the blistering sun this year, yet still took third place in his age group. The organizers awarded him an honorary plaque at the awards concert for his dedication to this race, the fifth time heÛªs run it.
Reggae deserves a medal for the best pasta dinner in the world. Under the stars to the music of a live reggae band, runners and friends enjoy (and this is what I sampled): rasta pasta, spaghetti with tuna, fettuccine bolognaise (light and spicy, my favorite), and shells with tomato sauce and capers, mushrooms and bacon. I enjoyed: chicken and pineapple salad and pasta salad with smoked marlin. DonÛªt forget the grilled vegetable, pumpkin, fruit, potato and other salads, plus boiled dasheen, yams, potatoes, dumplings and bananas.
For New Englanders, the heat and humidity of tropical Jamaica presents particular problems. Drink copious amounts of liquids the days leading up to the marathon. Avoid the temptation of lying on the beach before the race. Because of the heat, the race starts at 5:15 am.
My hotel was but a 10-minute walk from the start and a seven-minute walk from the pasta party and registration. Runners line up for the start serenaded by Reggae music, and charge off through flaming torches on their journeys of 10K, 21K or 42K.
Water/gatorade stops every mile are well-stoked, and sealed plastic baggies are much more convenient than cupsÛÓjust bite the tip and comfortably squirt the liquid. GuÛªs also available, but bring a few extra.
You can get lots of things in Negril, man, some of which may lead you to question why youÛªre running 42K in 90è_ heat and high humidity, but you wonÛªt find Gu.
Essentially a flat out and back course along a blacktop road, you wouldnÛªt notice the light, undulating hills as you head east from Negril out of town through Orange Bay toward Green Island if it werenÛªt for the heat and humidity.
There are few spectators from mile 10-24, but this is to be expected early Saturday morning. YouÛªre on your ownÛÓwith the ocean and sand to your west, especially when the hot sun comes up and the temps rise 10-15 degrees in a matter of minutes. The organizers close the road from 3:00 am until noon except for shuttles for people who work at local hotels, restaurants and other places of business.
First aid cyclists and an ambulance move up and down the course; if you need emergency help, youÛªve got it. A few more portopotties at the start would help, but they have enough along the route.
The winners this year were Linton McKenzie in 2:40:08 and Arieta Martin in 3:28:16, both well off the record times. As for me, I worked as hard as I could, but had nothing the last 10 miles. My quadriceps checked out at mile 10, and I dropped from 8:30 to 11:00 per mile for my second slowest finish ever. But I finished, drank my coconut juice, jumped in the ocean, walked down the beach to my hotel, lay in the sun, and IÛªm coming back. With a four-and-a-half hour run, I got a nice tan.