Don’t ramp down your run training this fall, amp it up and fly to Jamaica in December for what is known as the Happiest Marathon in the World!

With a long, cold Canadian winter ahead, this is a perfectly timed marathon– a way to elongate summer into December and postpone the chilly months to come, even for just a few days. You’ll come back happy, refreshed, perhaps a little sunburned and with plenty of time to prepare for the holiday season. At least that’s how I felt after being invited to attend and run in the event.

Negril is approximately an hour and a half from the airport in Montego Bay, located across two parishes – Westmoreland and Hanover. It’s famously known for its beautiful Seven Mile Beach.

Upon arriving, I was warmly welcomed, and immediately felt as though I was surrounded by family. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the friendliest people in the world, including marathon organizer Diane Ellis, Race Director Alfred ‘Frano’ Francis and their friends Anna Kay and Jurgen von Duerszein who moved to Jamaica over 25 years ago and who have participated and volunteered at the event for years.

I stayed at the lovely Couples Resort in Negril (as a single it was like I was on my honeymoon but forgot my husband!), and vowed to bring him back with me next time. The food choices at this all-inclusive were absolutely delightful, including an abundance of fresh, plant-based, gluten-free options, and a fresh juice and health bar by the pool. There was also an excellent gym with treadmills, bikes, weights and yoga classes that was perfect for before and after race day. For water lovers, this is a perfect place to paddleboard and overall the property and the beach were beautiful.

There is so much culture, music and beauty here. One of my highlights was sitting on the back of a scooter with Jurgen, who toured me along the coastline, weaving past local markets, the incredible white coral sand beaches and contrasting rocky cliffs.

There’s Something in the Air – Race Day

The race starts in the dark at precisely 5:15 am to beat the heat, although you will likely need to be up around 3:15 am. Somehow this didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time.

Arriving at the site you can’t help but feel the excitement, with local reggae music blasting and people smiling in anticipation of the event. You definitely get the feeling right away that this race is for everyone, racer or enthusiast. Everybody is welcome. All runners start at the same time, regardless of the chosen distance.

This course is flat, and lined with enthusiastic, cheering locals and more good vibes and reggae music filling the air. I’m pretty sure there was something else filling the air too that made for an even more pleasant running experience – you’re in Jamaica, after all!

You will notice a substantial number of youth in the 10K event, and the race team has done an amazing job of encouraging youth to participate and compete in a coveted, special prize category, which includes winning new computers for their school.

Most hotels are close enough to walk back to along the race route, where you can continue to cheer on the runners, and then enjoy a swim and well deserved cocktail. A nap under a palm tree on the beach while listening to waves break on the shore is the most perfect recovery.

In addition to the friendliness and tropical location, there are a few other things this race is well-known for:

  • The best, and probably the largest, pre-race pasta party in the world with endless offerings of different pastas, salads, and deliciousness by local, top chefs. The entertainment draws you in with the local music and dancers, and the community of happy volunteers adds to the exuberant atmosphere.
  • Finish line offerings include coconut water from a freshly cut coconut and a cold, local Red Stripe beer that you can enjoy on the beautiful, white sandy beach just steps away from the finish line. It doesn’t get much better than this!

With participation from over 35 countries, Norway’s Ann Vilyugrein was the first woman to cross the finish line at 3:29:09 with her first marathon appearance. Japan’s Daichi Okano was the overall winner at 2:47:17 with this being his first marathon win, and who also happens to be autistic.

Many reviewers have quoted this event as ‘the best marathon experience they have ever had,’ which is confirmed repeatedly in the testimonials on the Reggae Marathon web site. IMPACT Magazine also listed this event in our The World’s Best Marathons feature which was published in the March/April 2019 edition.

As I reviewed my notes, I found one entry that simply said, “Everyone is so happy here. I am so happy here!” This is a truly special place, and an equally special event.

Reggae Marathon

  • Race Date: December 8, 2019
  • Getting There from Canada: Your best bet is to fly via Toronto, where direct flights are available from Toronto to Montego Bay
  • Recommended Accommodations: Couples Resort, Beaches Resort – both offer rides to the starting line
  • Prize Money: Over $10,000 plus the Bob Marley and Rita Marley Trophies for the top male and female winners
  • Boston Qualifier: Yes
  • Temperature: Averages at 30 degrees Celsius daily
  • Race Start: 5:15 am
  • Starts and ends: Negril beach
  • Course: Fabulously flat, IAFF Certified Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K featuring great music!
  • Transport to Race Start: There is a race shuttle that will pick you up on the main road outside your hotel.
  • Entry Fee: $85 – $120 USD
  • Contact:
Reggae Marathon Winner
Women’s winner Ann Vilyugrein crosses the finish line.
Photo: Karen Fuchs – Reggae Marathon

Race Origins

This event started with a group of runners in Kingston called the Jamdammers in 1995, organized by member-turned-president, Alfred Frances who puts on over 60 running events over the course of the year in Jamaica. Their mission has always been to promote a healthy lifestyle through distance running in the community. The Reggae Marathon has put Jamaica on the map as a world-class race attracting runners from North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Jamaica has produced some of the world’s top track athletes, such as Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser–Pryce and Yohan Blake to name a few, which is quite remarkable considering the overall population is less than three million people.