At the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica, you have to start by torchlight at 5:15 am, because it gets so hot when the sun comes up. But there’s lots to keep you motivated as you run: The route winds along the coast, by sparkling white sandy beaches and palm trees, and there are live bands playing loud reggae music every mile along the way.
When you reach the finishing line, you get the kind of massive medal that really deserves its own hairy chest as a display cabinet, and then a Red Stripe beer or a coconut with a straws to keep you refreshed as you run straight into the ocean. In the saltwater, you can cool down your aching muscles and share the euphoria with all your fellow runners. Then a little while later, if your legs are still holding up, you can head to the beach for a dance party that lasts into the evening.
Running this race has been my dream since I first heard about it, so this year I bit the bullet and started training with my friend Rebecca LeHeup back in April. We’re eager to do the race on December 7, then try some of the good food Jamaica has to offer over the next few days.
Getting ready for the race has been challenging at times, and as winter begins and the days get shorter, I can’t say I’m always excited to lace up my shoes and get outside. Rebecca and I would love to train together all the time for motivation, but we both travel frequently for work, so we created an Instagram account, @r1luv, where we could share the views from our runs–wherever we were–and give each other words of encouragement. We’ve trained everywhere from New Brunswick to Newfoundland to England to the Philippines over the last few months.
I love how our training has created so many memories. Running gives you the opportunity to explore, talk with locals and discover sites, cafes and trails you might otherwise have missed. It gets you out of bed early, so you can make the most out of every moment in a new place. This album has become something quite special to us, and when we look back on all the work that we’ve put in so far, it pushes us to keep training for this final stretch.
I’ve injured my heel and my knee so far, pushing myself further or faster than my body was ready to go. Rebecca struggles on hills with her right hip. But we’re learning not to try and get ahead of ourselves. We’ve started figuring out when to skip runs for the sake of our limbs, that stretching right after a run changes everything the next day, and that our long-term goal–running a full marathon before we turn forty next year–is much, much harder than we anticipated. But we still really, really want to do it, and look forward to the half marathon in Negril as a big landmark in our adventure.
Sometimes we run to eat: Our joint training sessions have ended in everything from bacon, eggs and toast drenched in maple syrup to Jamaican patties and oily goat curry. But for the most part, we eat to run. We’ve been focusing on natural, anti-inflammatory foods, like green vegetables, fish, seeds and berries, in the hope we’ll feel energetic and as pain-free as possible on the big day. The last time we did a big race together, we were not so diligent and paid for it in wrecked knees. Rebecca started describing stairs as “pain traps.” I could only make it down the pain traps in my house on my bum.
And we’re trying so hard to give up wine–at least for this final month. That may have been our biggest challenge to date.
In our bid to do things as naturally as possible, we’re following vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier’s advice on hydration, drinking coconut water or homemade citrus energy drinks over Gatorade. This week, I tried one of his recipes for gels, from The Thrive Diet.
Gels are high-carb liquids to be consumed for an extra burst of energy during endurance sports. Brazier suggests transporting them in plastic zip-up bags or in gel flasks as you run. They can be stored for three days in the fridge, but are best consumed fresh. I tried the lemon-lime gels. They’re sweet, sharp and tasty, like citrus boiled candies, and they don’t just help you run, they kind of make you fly.
So along with the months of training, the reggae tunes and the promise of that post-race dip in the ocean, we’re counting on these gels to get us to the finish line in good enough shape to party till sunset in Negril, come December 7. Here’s hoping… and here’s the recipe!
4 Medjool dates
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tbsp lime zest (loose)
2 tsp lemon zest (loose)
1/2 tsp dulse
Sea salt to taste
In a blender, combine all ingredients; process until blend reaches a gel-like consistency. Refrigerate.
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Find Brendan Brazier’s advice on how to hydrate like a pro here.