How Jamaica’s Reggae Marathon is impacting the island & engaging the world

At the end of every year, there’s an especially sweaty, reggae-thumping, heart-pumping celebration held against the backdrop of the breathtakingly white sands beaches of Negril, Jamaica. No, it’s not another dancehall fete or music festival. This is the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, which has been held for the past 20 years at the beginning of December. 

Seasoned and novice runners and walkers, from across the island and around the world, converge on the small seaside town to move their bodies while immersing themselves in an authentic Jamaican cultural experience. Reggae music is on blast every step of the way, while participants zip through one of the most serene locations on the island. For many, the race ends with a beeline straight into the blue Caribbean Sea, followed by a freshly chopped coconut, a hearty Jamaican meal and maybe even a full on vacation. 

Since its inception, marketing and sponsorship director Diane Ellis, has been a quiet yet powerful force behind the success of the trailblazing event. 

When the Jamdammers Running Club of Kingston and Diane’s life partner, race director Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis, were staging the first event, Diane had just wrapped up a business venture. She had time to help. “I offered to assist while I figured out my next step. Twenty years later, I am still loving the rewards of seeing my efforts bear fruit, drawing from my previous work in reggae music and other experiences, and learning to grow with the challenges that the event may present,” Diane told us.

Needless to say, the pandemic has certainly presented its share of challenges. The event has had to go virtual for the second year in a row. The upside is that last year, international participation came in from 30 countries, and this year is poised to surpass that. To top it off, so far sizable, live spin-off events are being planned in both Japan and Australia, with all the cultural frills fully in place, including reggae music, Jamaican food and the works. 

Those participating this year are required to complete their run between November 13 and December 5 on a course of their choice. But, there are still many who insist on experiencing the event live and direct in Negril, despite the seemingly never ending threats of the time. Over 300 runners and walkers are already booked to travel to Jamaica to run along the race route during that three weekend span, before they go off to vacation on the island.

That kind of diehard following is no surprise… Reggae Marathon has steadily built an international following over the years, making a significant positive impact on the country’s wellness tourism. To date, the event has seen over 25,000 runners from approximately 40 different countries, and of that amount over 13,000 were international. It has also stamped out its presence in the international world of long distance racing. “The event has been recognized amongst the world’s top ten marathons multiple times during its 21 years,” Diane explained.

She believes that normalizing healthy eating and exercise are critical factors in Jamaica’s social and economic development. “As a country with limited resources, but with an abundance of healthy options, there is no reason why each citizen should not be contributing optimally to our country.” 

The event’s positive impact doesn’t end just with its support of a healthy lifestyle. Social good is also built into the fiber of its model. Each year the Reggae Marathon provides funds to the Heart Foundation of Jamaica for preventative, screening and treatment services for cardiovascular health, while other participants contribute to the charity or social cause of their choice. 

“Seeing how the event has helped countless individuals personally and professionally, and positively impacted the lives of many, is my greatest reward,” Diane reflected.    

“I am very prejudiced in my belief in the power of our reggae and Jamaican culture,” she added. “Early in my career, I saw firsthand the impact of reggae music worldwide. With the growth of technology, the positive impact of our music and culture is more immediate. Jamaica is poised to capitalize greatly once we aim to have all our ducks in a row. I am grateful to be alive during this exciting time and for the support from the younger generation around us who can help to propel the event forward digitally.”

All in all, the Reggae Marathon is indeed a unique, at-home celebration of Jamaica, with international standards and global appeal. Boundless opportunities for continued expansion are clearly on the event’s horizon. 

Visit the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K online at: 

www.reggaemarathon.com | IG: @reggaemarathon

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