With more than a dozen half marathons and a handful of marathons under my belt — some of those run with coaches — I know the pre-race script. But for my first half marathon in an international locale, I went off script. As one tends to do in Jamaica.
Now before you conjure up an image of someone in a smoke-filled room, listening to reggae and surrounded by Rastafarians, let me assure you that’s not what happened. But only because pot makes me paranoid.
That said, left to my own devices and swept up by the excitement of my first visit to the country, I did make some rookie mistakes in the few days before the Kingston City Run in Kingston.
And you can do the same! Here’s how:
Don’t prepare for the weather: Perhaps there isn’t much one can do about training for a tropical race from the depths of a New York winter—even if it’s a mild winter. But it was almost as if I went out of my way to make the transition as jarring as possible. Two days before landing in Jamaica, I was in Iceland. I guess I could have arranged for a treadmill in a hot-yoga studio or run in place for extended periods of time in a steam room, but the former seems impractical (and expensive) and the latter seems like the sort of thing to get me barred from the gym for life and possibly arrested (and expensive). So to say I was unprepared for the heat would be an understatement.
Don’t familiarize yourself with the city by foot: I’d had every intention of getting a short run in, not only to get used to the weather but to see where I’d be running. But it turns out Kingston traffic is nuts and, get this, they drive on the wrong side of the road. Also, it was hot and, frankly, the pool at the hotel seemed more inviting. So I ran two miles inside a very small, very flat and very lovely Emancipation Park. The race, of course, wasn’t six loops around this park. More on that in a bit.
(Over) Indulge in the local customs: Jamaica has a carnival season. But unlike Catholic-influenced countries like Brazil and my homeland of South Louisiana (it’s a separate country; trust me), Jamaica’s does not shut down when Lent starts. Jamaica’s goes straight through to Good Friday. And on the Friday before the Sunday race, participants were encouraged to attend the Bacchanal Party outside National Stadium. The Jamaican Tourist Board folks were keen to take us. After a rather chaste (i.e., non-alcoholic) dinner, I figured it wouldn’t be too out of control. We arrived fairly early: 11 p.m. And upon stepping beyond security (where I received one of the more intimate friskings of my life), a rum drink was placed into my hand. After getting in two more rum drinks and taking in the sights of this outdoor bash, my compatriots decided that … we needed a more legit party. So off to another club where, in the words of local realtor Andrew Griffiths, we spent some quality time with Uncle Wray and his nephews listening to the hottest tunes in Jamaica. Wray & Nephew is 126-proof white rum. And it was served in a manner I’d last seen 20 years ago in a Zydeco dance hall in Louisiana: We were given a pint bottle in a bucket of ice and allowed to mix it as we saw fit.
It wasn’t a complete rager, though. I was back in my room by 1:30 a.m.
Do some aggressive sight-seeing: Saturday could and should have been a day of rest. But one of the other reporters on the trip had heard about a café up in the Blue Mountains and a trail that led to a waterfall. The previous Saturday I’d literally been hiking on a glacier and the day before we’d toured all over Kingston, so this seemed easy enough. Turns out some of the trails in Blue Mountains National Park are steep. And in some places they’re wet. It wasn’t so much the exertion I was worried about, it was breaking a leg. While branches whipped at my bare legs and I tried not to slip and plummet into tropical ravines, I could practically hear previous running coaches screaming, “What are you doing!?!”
Ignore advice (or: Fall for your own mansplaining): This ties into not familiarizing yourself with the course. A member of our group, Pat Montague, a radio personality and marketing entrepreneur – and a Jamaican – had run the race before. She warned us about inclines. Despite the fact that I’d literally spent the day before the race walking up and down a mountain, my thought process went something like this. Inclines? I actually do hill training on my own. Incline sounds like such a friendly word. Not like HILLS. Besides, hadn’t I run two miles around Emancipation Park and not seen any hills?
Guess what happened. Go on. Guess. I screen grabbed the elevation change from my Garmin. It looked like so:
The only saving grace was that the race started at 5:45 so the heat wasn’t as bad as it could be. Oh, and because an overzealous security guard doing his rounds shut a neighborhood gate on the course, meaning our Half ended up being 10.8 miles. I’m tempted to special order a 10.8 bumper sticker. But I don’t have a car.
Despite all that, I had a blast. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage anyone to spend the couple days before a race pursuing this sort of itinerary, but at the same time I wouldn’t NOT encourage you to do so. Even if I have no earthly chance of winning or even setting a PR, I usually end up stressing in the days before a race. Partly because this had been a last-minute addition to my race calendar, but mostly because of the Jamaican vibe, I went with the flow. I prioritized tourism over running and said in advance that I’d take the race easy, enjoy the 120 or so people running the Half, take in the sights and snap some pictures. It not only gave me peace of mind, it gave me plenty of excuses to stop and walk.
And I still got a medal.
Kingston City Run
Half Marathon, 10K, 5K
From US $20 to $75 for International participants
Expo/After Party: Yes