Black American Participation a Pillar of Jamaica’s Reggae Marathon

NEGRIL, Jamaica – The much-anticipated Reggae Marathon is just around the corner, set to take place this Sunday, December 3 in Negril, Jamaica. This iconic event not only signals the beginning of Jamaica’s winter tourism season, but also serves as a celebration of diversity, with participants from around the world eagerly preparing to take part.

Among the enthusiastic participants is a large contingent of Black Americans like John Lewis, who each year add to the vibrant tapestry of the event.

Black American Participation a Pillar of Jamaica's Reggae Marathon

Meet Reggae Marathoner, John Lewis

North Carolina-based John Lewis – renowned for his roles as a vegan influencer, cookbook author, and documentary filmmaker – is gearing up for his second Reggae Marathon. His journey to this year’s event is as unconventional as his multifaceted career.

Unlike most runners who aim to shed pounds, John Lewis, a former Division I basketball player, is on a mission to bulk up for the Half Marathon race. Standing tall at 6 feet 6 inches and weighing over 230 pounds, he defies stereotypes e of a typical marathoner’s physique. He is a testament to the fact that vegans come in all shapes and sizes, breaking the misconception that veganism is limited to a particular image. He adopted the moniker “BadAss Vegan” to embody this idea and show that vegans can look like anyone, even him.

While Lewis is diligently training for the Reggae Marathon, he is also eagerly anticipating the release of his documentary, “They’re Trying to Kill Us,” on Amazon Prime. This thought-provoking documentary, executive produced by NBA legend Chris Paul and pop superstar Billie Eilish, delves into the complex issues surrounding the food-industrial complex in America. Featuring interviews with celebrities, doctors, and politicians, the documentary also explores Lewis’s personal journey while highlighting the profound impact of modern diets on health.

Lewis reflects on the alarming health disparities, particularly among Black Americans, emphasizing the 70% higher chance of developing heart disease. He draws parallels between our bodies and cars, underscoring the importance of proper fuel for optimal performance. With the widespread release of “They’re Trying to Kill Us” expected by year-end, Lewis hopes to spark meaningful conversations about the need for dietary change.

Reggae Marathon Ambassador

Amidst his busy schedule, Lewis eagerly counts down the days until he returns to Jamaica to compete in the Reggae Marathon as an ambassador of the race. His connection to Jamaica is deep-rooted, with two of his best friends being Jamaican. “I feel like it’s a dishonor to say this, but I’ve never had ackee before,” he admitted, referring to a popular Jamaican dish.

Determined to rectify this, he has a full itinerary of Jamaican restaurants to explore during his stay, including Veggie Meals on Wheels, Juice Queen Cafe, Sweet Spice Restaurant, Zimbali’s Mountain Cooking Studio, Bamboo Blu Restaurant, and Ah… Yah So Nice Vegan Restaurant. His temporary abode while in Negril will be the luxurious Ocean Cliff Resort, renowned for its scenic vistas and serene ambiance.

The main draw, of course, is the Reggae Half Marathon. Lewis humorously compares it to the challenging Boston or New York marathons held in November, highlighting the stark contrast in both culture and temperature that awaits runners in Jamaica. “That’s the number one thing, especially in Jamaica; you can’t go wrong. Anyone who says they

Jamaica's Reggae Marathon attracts black Americans like John Lewis
John Lewis

“It’s majority Black people, and there’s this sense of community. That’s just how we are… We’re gonna relish in the positivity,” Lewis explained. In contrast to other races, he highlights the absence of a similar communal feeling elsewhere.

“I’ve run events in South Florida, and there’s no flock of people going to the beach and getting in the water,” he shared. “Here, everyone was just happy for each other.” The marathon routes offer breathtaking views of Negril’s coastline, with the beach serving as the finish line.

“The music is just great,” Lewis enthused, recounting the memorable soundscapes of the event. “There are these cars with mega speakers, and they’ll play Reggae and Afrobeats. Witnessing the steel drums playing and seeing the crowd get into it… There’s nothing like it.”

Undoubtedly, John Lewis plans to make the Reggae Marathon a recurring part of his life for years to come. He is a testament to the diverse group of participants drawn to the event, showcasing the unity and inclusivity that the Reggae Marathon embodies.

Transcends Borders

The Reggae Marathon is an event that transcends borders and brings together people from various walks of life. In 2023, it is poised to be particularly notable, with the USA set to bring the largest contingent of runners, with a large percentage being Black Americans. Jamaica will follow closely behind, as the second-largest participant group this year. In total, runners from 25 countries have already registered to be part of this world-renowned race.

These countries include Austria, Bahamas, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Panama, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK, among others. The Reggae Marathon has truly become a global celebration of running and culture, attracting participants from diverse backgrounds.

Reggae Marathon Boosts Tourism

The impact of the Reggae Marathon on Negril, the host city, has been transformative. In 2022, Negril experienced a record-breaking tourism season, with revenues reaching nearly US$1 billion, contributing significantly to Jamaica’s total tourism revenue of $3.7 billion. The winter season from January 2023 to March 2023 witnessed an astonishing surge, with over 1.18 million visitors choosing Jamaica as their destination—a staggering 94.4 percent increase compared to the same period in 2022.

Over its 22+ year history, the Reggae Marathon has consistently played a pivotal role in boosting tourism in Jamaica. Prior to the pandemic, participants’ average expenditure steadily increased year after year, benefitting both international and Jamaican attendees.

While 2022 saw a dip in spending due to the unique circumstances, experts anticipate a rebound and a return to the previous growth trajectory as the event continues to gain momentum with consecutive in-person editions.

Multiple Races

In 2023, the Reggae Marathon’s focus will center on the in-person half marathon and 10K races. Enhancing logistical coordination to ensure an exceptional experience for all participants. With a renewed emphasis on music and seamless event execution, resources will be concentrated to deliver the best in-person marathon experience in the event’s two-decade history. For virtual competitors, the option to participate in the full-length marathon remains available.

The Reggae Marathon is not only a celebration of running but also a vital component of Negril’s collective effort to lead the resurgence of tourism following the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Tourism is Jamaica’s leading industry, responsible for nearly a third of employment and economic output. The adverse effects of the pandemic were deeply felt, with a 9.9 percent GDP decline in December 2020, marking the sharpest economic downturn in the country’s history, in stark contrast to the 0.9 percent growth in 2019. The depreciation of the Jamaican dollar was also a significant concern during this period.

Optimistic Outlook For 2024

Looking ahead, the projections for 2024 are exceedingly optimistic. Experts forecast a 25 percent increase in revenue for the tourism industry. Plus, GDP expected to rise between 3 and 5 percent.

The revamped Reggae Marathon is well-poised to continue leading the charge in Jamaica’s tourism resurgence. Solidifying its role as a vanguard for the nation’s tourism success. With a diverse and inclusive participant base, this iconic event reflects the unity and harmony that make the Reggae Marathon a unique celebration of culture, athleticism, and community.

 


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