No Smartphone, No Cry

3 Feb

Back in November I wrote here about preparing for the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica. My friend Rebecca LeHeup and I trained together when we were both home in Toronto and kept in touch via Instagram when we were travelling for work, sharing our solo runs everywhere from London to Denmark to Newfoundland to New Brunswick to the Philippines.

Things were going well, but after several months of sweat, blisters and runner’s highs, I started feeling like someone was stabbing me under the kneecap with a red-hot dagger when I ran.  I realized the only way I’d manage 21 K would be if Rebecca agreed to give me a piggy back. She did not. So I did the 10 K instead, feeling guilty, nonetheless, that my pal would be out there struggling on her own. I needn’t have worried. Here’s her story:

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The Perfect Pace
Or how I survived the Reggae Marathon
By Rebecca LeHeup

At 2:30AM at the Grand Palladium Resort, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, I awoke from a very short but sweet sleep, after taking part in the Rasta Pasta Party in Negril, the night before. Why, you ask, would anyone get up at 2:30AM—isn’t that a time for going to bed, not getting out of it? Often things sound better in the months before, but come into sharp focus in the moment of the commitment. This was one such instance. I was here with a group of Canadian travel writers for the Reggae Marathon, and we had to be in Negril before they closed the roads for a 5 AM start.

Coffee cups in hand, we arrived by shuttle bus at the Seven Mile Beach at around 4. We had an hour to stretch and psych each other up, surrounded by 1,800+ other enthusiastic souls.

Team Reggae marathon, 4 AM, Negril. Smiling on the outside, snoozing on the inside.

The Reggae Marathon was a first for me in many regards: first race outside of Canada, first race in the dark, first race with a starting temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. It was also the first time I was racing without a pace bunny (a volunteer runner who sports bunny ears and a target finish time, to help keep runners at their optimum pace). That made me nervous. It’s easy to get pulled into the excitement, and run at pace you can’t maintain.

With reggae music blasting, the race began with a bang, and my crew of runners and I took off at different speeds. I typically run with my Smartphone and track my pace with RunKeeper, but had left my carrying case in Canada, so I had no idea how fast I was going. But somewhere near the 3-km mark, I realized that for the past ten minutes I’d been on the heels of a runner whose pace was strong and steady. I pulled abreast of him and asked him what distance he was running. “The half” he said. Had he run it before? “Yes, it’s my eighth time.” His name? “Graham. Graham Junior.” Graham was from Kingston, Jamaica, and his target time was 2 hours, 15 minutes—just like mine. “Can I run with you?” I ventured. “Sure thing.”

The number of folks who’d gotten up before the crack of dawn to cheer us along, including the amazing Silver Birds steel drum band, impressed me. Their good spirits carried us for the first 10 km. And as we made our way towards the heart of Negril and the turn-around point at the town’s centre, Graham was helping things go smoothly for me too, chatting a little and watching the road. “Pothole,” he would shout, saving me more than once from wiping out in the semi-darkness.

But around the 12-km mark my new running buddy grimaced and started clutching his side. He had a stitch. I suggested we slow down, so he could walk it out. “Put your shoulders back,” I said. “Take slow deep breaths.” And he did.

After a few minutes, Graham was standing back up tall with a smile on his face. My coaching had worked! “Let’s go!” he exclaimed, and we picked up the pace and broke into a steady jog.

By 14 km, the sun was coming up and heat rose in waves from the asphalt along the flat course. At every water station I made sure to grab a drink, I didn’t think it was possible to sweat as much as I was sweating at that point. We became intensely focused; only breaking our silence occasionally if we intuited the other was struggling:

“You can do it, Rebecca.”

“Almost there, Graham.”

By 18 km I was convinced I was done. I was overheating (it was already over 30 degrees) and the lactic acid build-up was making my legs feel like they weighed a hundred pounds apiece. This time it was Graham who slowed his pace to talk me through my struggles. ”Don’t give up now Rebecca, we’re so close.”

Rebecca and Graham

The final 500 metres are always emotional but it felt so great to have someone by my side, pushing me to finish strong. Seeing my pals, who’d been running the 10 K, cheering me on and hearing the steady beat of reggae music gave me that rush of adrenaline I needed. Graham had a burst of energy and made it to the finish line about 100 metres ahead of me. But then he waited until I crossed, to give me a hug and say congratulations. I crossed the finish line pretty much on target, in 2 hours and seventeen minutes.

Elated, I hobbled to the fresh coconut table where two locals bearing machetes were chopping the top off of coconuts, sticking straws into them and passing them along to the spent runners.

coconut

Photo: Thomas Wenning

Then I reunited with my friends. We joined all the other finishers (who’d come far and wide for the run) for the post-run party on Seven Mile Beach, swigging cold Red Stripe beer from the bottle and eating slices of pizza. Runners were splayed out on the beach enjoying the music and complimentary massages, or running into the ocean to cool off.

I Finished
On our way back to the shuttle bus, I came across Graham with his friends. I was really happy to be able to introduce him to my crew.  “It was so great to run with you, Graham,” I said. “I’m not sure I could have finished without your encouragement.” We posed together with our medals for the camera, then I promised to e-mail my running buddy the photo.

medals

The bond Graham and I made over those two hours was a powerful one and a true testament to what it means to be a runner: to be part of a global community, making connections and memories as we indulge our crazy passion for hitting the open road—no matter what the challenges. Who needs a Smartphone when you’ve got a brand new running buddy, and he has got your back?

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High Fives to Rebecca and Graham Junior! Check back in later this week to find out how we replenished the calories burned at the Reggae Marathon on Part II of our run-to-eat Jamaican tour. For this part, I did not abandon my friend.

Bammy

3 Responses to “No Smartphone, No Cry”

  1. Rebecca February 3rd, 2014 at 9:28 PM #

    Looking forward to our next #culinary #running #adventure Val! Can you make me some jerk with a side of calalloo?? xoxo

  2. Valerie Howes February 3rd, 2014 at 10:58 PM #

    I felt like a jerk for bailing on the half. Glad you were able to upgrade running buddies! x

  3. ReggaeMarathon RunninGuy February 4th, 2014 at 2:36 PM #

    Really nice re-cap of your first Reggae Marathon Rebecca. We are so happy for you that you were able to accomplish so many of your ‘Firsts’. We hope you’ll be back for your 2nd Reggae Marathon December 6, 2014

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