With international registration officially open in January, droves of fitness-focused members of the diaspora have already begun to sign up for this year’s Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K.
For many, the event, which will be held on December 4th in Negril, Jamaica, is more than simply the culmination of a fitness goal. It’s a remedy to their longings for their island homeland, and a chance to indulge in the love of Jamaica through cultural immersion, community building, philanthropy, and human connection.
Immersing in Culture
First off, the Reggae Marathon is a deeply immersive experience, reminiscent of their beloved Jamaican culture.
The race’s backdrop of Negril is one of the island’s most serene locations for beautiful sun, sand, and sea. Reggae music is an omnipresent feature of the event, carefully built-in by the event organizers. And, since the race is held in the small, close-knit town, there are ample opportunities to engage with locals and absorb the community’s laidback lifestyle.
Fittingly, the finish line is on the famous Seven Mile Beach. Many racers immediately dip into the crystal clear, blue Caribbean sea, gulp down coconut water fresh from the husk, and celebrate their accomplishment at the Reggae Bash closing event.
There is no other setup quite like this at any other race in the world, and many participants opt to extend their stay to a full-fledged vacation.
Connecting with Loved Ones
Phoenix-based, 55-year-old Michele Harrison uses the Reggae Marathon as an opportunity to vacation and reconnect with family.
Harrison moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was only three years old. “I still feel very much Jamaican,” she says. “I was raised by Jamaican parents and have Jamaican siblings.” She was introduced to the race by her sister Gina, who moved back to Jamaica many years ago, and is a key member of the event’s organizing committee. Joined by a third sister, Joanne, the Harrisons meet up at the race every year to participate, vacation, and enjoy much-needed sister-time.
Harrison comes to the event every year with the Reggae Runnerz, a US-based collective, specially formed by travel agency owner, Lisa Laws.
Laws, who is a longtime triathlete and marathon runner, was born in the United States to a Jamaican father. Her successful travel agency, Black Onyx, serves over 2000 clients per year, with offices in New York City, Philadelphia and Dallas.
After running the Reggae Marathon years ago, Laws decided to create a “runcation” package as an annual travel experience and aptly named it Reggae Runnerz. The first Reggae Runnerz trip was in 2012 with 18 people and has since grown to host up to 500.
A key feature of the Reggae Runnerz “runcation” is giving back. “We’ve worked with Green Island High School since 2013. Last year we raised US$19,000 for the school, and over the years we’ve donated around US$80,000. We also donate to the Dawn’s Hope Foundation… We have fun, we run, and we always give back to the community,” Laws shares.
The charitable element of the Reggae Marathon experience is important to many of its diaspora attendees who are always on the lookout for opportunities to give back to their homeland.
The event’s official charity partner is the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ). “We encourage participants to give back to this worthy organization, as heart disease is the number one killer in Jamaica,” says event sponsorship and marketing director, Diane Ellis. HFJ is at the forefront of education and prevention of heart disease on the island, she explains.
Supporting the Local Economy
Beyond directly donating funds, with race participants converging in the town, the event also has a positive impact on the local economy. “We encourage participants to stay at locally-owned properties and support local businesses,” Ellis points out. While local transportation, tour, and attraction companies are direct beneficiaries, funds also disperse to smaller community vendors, as well.
“Over the years I’ve found that the event gives the community a great financial boost before the end of the year and the Christmas holidays,” Laws reflects.
While the Reggae Marathon is good for local’s pockets, it’s also an ideal place for friendship and network-building.
Keith Francis is a 64-year-old who was born in Jamaica but left at 22 to live in New Jersey. He has been participating and volunteering with the Reggae Marathon for over a decade, and believes that one of the most magnetic aspects of the event is its socializing side.
Francis shares one of his many stories of forming lasting friendships at the event.
“At my first Reggae Marathon, a white gentleman with an arm in a sling, caught up with me with three miles to go. So, I stayed right behind him to the finish, where I congratulated him, and he did me,” he remembers.
It turned out that the duo were staying at the same all-inclusive resort. So, they met up for lunch and Francis learned that the gentleman had been in a car accident on his way to the airport in London. “He decided that his arm injury wasn’t going to stop him from attending his first Reggae Marathon. He and I became friends, and after that we met up in Toronto for a half marathon. The Welshman recently reminded me that my invitation to spend time with him and his family in Wales is still open,” Francis beams. “That’s the magic of the Reggae Marathon!”
The Reggae Marathon is a gathering of like-minded people invested in health and wellness. It’s also a space where first and second-generation Jamaicans can meet others who understand the nuances of immigrant life, and the ever-present longing to reconnect with one’s roots. It’s an opportunity to make new friends who also live abroad, unwind with old friends in one of the most chill places on Earth, or meet locals to form lasting bonds.
“It’s nice to see the beach filled with beautiful, brown-skinned people having fun and experiencing Jamaica in the way I know they should,” Laws says with pride.
Ultimately, what makes the event ideal for the diaspora is the comfort of an optimally organized event of international standard, enjoyed while basking in the best of Jamaican culture. For the diaspora, that combination is always going to be a win-win.
Registration for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K is available on www.reggaemarathon.com.