I spent last night in Miami, in preparation for my flight this morning to Montego Bay. After watching The Apprentice at the hotel (with my mom watching at home and us comparing notes via phone on commercial breaks – gotta love adapting to my travel!), I got to bed by about 11:30pm, and woke up at 8am – not a bad night’s sleep! And as I’ve stated so many times, it’s the sleep you get two nights before the race that really counts.
When I woke up, it was a rush to get all my work done before I needed to be at the airport for my flight, but I lucked out and finished all my calls/touchpoints, which meant I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to find a way to call from Jamaica.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful – I mostly got work done. However, I was a bit frustrated upon landing at Montego Bay to find that the couple in the aisle and middle seats decided to sit and wait and let several rows go ahead of us instead of letting me (trapped in the window seat) out… I thought that was rather rude. As soon as I was able, I grabbed my bags from the overhead bins and then hurried through the airport, mindful of th fact that the faster you get to customs, the faster you’ll get out – better not to have a full 747 ahead of you already.
In the airport hallways, I made it a game to see how many people I could pass on the way to the customs line – 23! Not bad. Then I got to the immigration hall and groaned – there were several hundred people all queued up in tensabarrier lines. It looked like it would be a good two hours at the least before I could get out of there.
Today really turned out to be my lucky day though – the race organizers who had invited me to come (and cryptically asked for my flight information) had arranged for a representative from the Jamaican Ministry of Tourism to meet me at the entrance to the immigration hall, skip me to the front of the lines, and escort me to my car service that would take me across the island to Negril! Wow, this ranks right up there with the VIP tent at the starting line of the New York City Marathon. I feel so special!
My mom was surprised that I had to go so far (1.5 hours) from the airport to Negril, where the race would be, but I’m actually really glad I got to take that ride – it helped me to see a lot of Jamaica. The contrast between the poverty-stricken areas and the resorts is huge, though not as bad as when I was in the Dominican Republic this summer. Still, I had been warned a lot while I was here about Jamaicans coming up to you on the beach and trying to sell you things, and now I really see why – a lot of people here just have so little. I want to make it a point to patronize the locals as much as possible while I am here.
But despite the crowded and slum-like towns that I passed through, and the ramshackle huts on the beach, Jamaica seems to be a very beautiful country. The mountains are beautiful, and if we hadn’t been driving on the left side of the road (good thing I had a driver, because it was rather disconcerting!), some of the mountain passes we went through reminded me of my drive from Cincinnati airport to Louisville, Kentucky last spring. It’s so green and beautiful! But as soon as you get out of the mountain passes and move to be along the coast, the water stretches out in an endless line on the horizon – surprisingly beautiful even with the storm clouds that were out today. On the one hand, the contrast is like nothing I’ve seen; on the other, it always strikes me how much all the new places I visit somehow remind me of places I’ve been in the past.
My hotel, the Negril Tree House, was older, but very cute. The guest rooms were in little wooden villas, each of which had a hammock or two outside. So cute! It really did feel like you were in the treetops.
The resort that was hosting the pasta party was only about 1/3 mile down the road from my hotel, but I hadn’t counted on how early it gets dark – probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to walk there, but I saw plenty of other people doing the same. In any case, it was a short walk, and very well marked. When I arrived at the entrance to the resort, several guards were out to direct runners the appropriate way, which I thought was a nice touch.
I headed straight for the media tent, where I was to pick up my credentials (so I could provide a great report for all of you!). I then stopped to take a quick pic with the “welcome to the Reggae Marathon” sign, using some awesome “Usain Bolt arms!”
From there, it was into the pasta party – which was included in the price of entry! I was a bit skeptical of the claim that it was the “world’s best pasta party,” but it actually ended up being amazing, and I’d agree with that assertion. We started with a salad table, which I took a picture of (before I needed two hands to carry my overflowing plate). Gorgeous, though, right?
Next up were about a dozen different stations, each of which had a different kind of carb-based meal. From basic spaghetti and marinara sauce, to macaroni and cheese, to spaetzle, to basil and polenta cakes, to seafood paella, to some traditional Jamaican root veggies…the list went on and on. Unlike many pasta dinners I’ve been to where you can only take one plate and then they cut you off (or they run out of food), there seemed to be an endless supply, and you were encouraged to eat and eat and eat. I certainly did that! Everything was so incredibly delicious, and while I did my best, it was impossible to try it all. Thumbs up! And to make the atmosphere even more festive, a nationally known steel drum played throughout the meal.
The only glitch in the pasta dinner was something that unfortunately the organizers had no control over: the weather. It started raining about an hour into dinner, which wasn’t good news for the outdoor pasta party. Too bad! However, on the plus side, it meant that there were now almost no lines for any food you might want to keep eating 🙂
After I had my fill (and then some), I headed back to the media tent for the briefing from the race director.
I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about the race. First of all, it was the ten year anniversary, and the organizers had gone out of their way for the last ten years to make sure it was “by runners, for runners.” The people organizing the marathon had all done many marathons themselves, so they knew exactly what runners wanted. (If the incredible pasta dinner was any indication, I’d say they were spot on!) Next, the race director introduced some of the many personalities who would be running: an 85 year old who had run 341 marathons and an Olympic athlete were the most prominent (sorry, no Usain Bolt). Furthermore, there would be some pretty good prize money for the winners of each of the races (10K, half marathon, full marathon). But the part that I liked the best was that many Jamaican schoolchildren were participating, and whichever school had the top five athletes in each of the races would be given a prize of computers for their school. How wonderful! I was so excited to have such a generous and charitable prize being offered.
When the media briefing was over, I did my packet pickup and then headed home – with a race start time of 5:15 (to mitigate the rising temperatures), I wanted to get to bed as early as possible. I couldn’t wait for the race!