I’m not exactly Usain Bolt, but when I had the chance to run a 10K in Jamaica, I leapt at it. So many visitors to Jamaica sequester themselves in resorts around the island. I was excited to race – or, well, slowly jog – through the streets of Kingston for the sixth annual Kingston City Run.

Kingston City Run Race Events

The race events stretch out over a weekend. Friday night revelers get together for a late-night pre-party. Saturday, fitness entrepreneurs set up booths at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel for a fitness expo followed by the Carb Up dinner of pasta and fruit juice. Sunday is race day, with a post-party at Emancipation Park.

Race day started early. Half marathoners kicked off at 5:45, 10K at 6 and 5K at 6:15. As we walked up to the start of the course, it was still dark. A fitness instructor led an aerobic warmup on a stage at the start line. I joined in, doing butt kickers, high knees, hip rotations and a little stretching. Then, before I realized what was happening, I heard, “Go!” And we were off.

Kingston City Run sunrise. FWT Magazine.

Sunrise over Kingston City Run (c) Teresa Bergen.

We 10K participants moved like a slow tide through the start. The fast people found their way to the front. Walkers brought up the rear. As we jogged through the streets of Kingston, we watched the sun come up over walls tumbling with orange, pink and white bougainvillea.

The course highlighted Kingston landmarks. We started off running through the grounds of Devon House, the beautifully landscaped acreage of George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. Early morning birds serenaded us as we passed Bob Marley’s house, now a museum. Half marathoners got all the way to the city’s botanic garden.

Kingston City Run Devon House

Running through the grounds of Devon House (c) Teresa Bergen.

Motivation Needed!

Since I’d never run further than a 5K, I didn’t think I’d run the whole way. But the crowd energized me. I especially appreciated the little groups of people standing on corners encouraging us. Even if they were out to support specific friends who were running, I took their encouragement to heart.

By the sixth kilometer, right when I was thinking maybe I should walk, a woman passed me with a shirt that said, “Don’t tell me you can’t” written on the back. I thanked her for the motivational message. She turned back for a second and said to me, “Yes, you can do it,” in her soft Jamaican accent. I kept repeating it in my head like a mantra.

I kept going. But I’ll admit I was pretty darn happy to see the sign for the 9th kilometer, and elated when I saw the finish line. As I made it to the finished side, somebody draped a 10K medal around my neck (you just had to pass the finish line, not be fast). But I was already looking over their head as I dramatically gasped, “Water!” I spent a couple of minutes chugging water, trying to breathe and not collapse. And then I was pretty much back to normal.

Kingston City Run Celebration

After the race, there’s a big party in Emancipation Park, which is just past the finish line. The park thumped with a deejay playing local and international hits, everybody was drinking water and orange juice and taking group photos with their running clubs. It was hard to believe it was only 7:30 am.

Kingston City Run Jamaica. FWT Magazine.

A running team posing after finishing the Kingston City Run (c) Teresa Bergen.

Not only did people feel good about getting up and exercising so early in the day, but the race also raises money for important local charities. These include the Alpha Boys School (which has produced international musical talents, including the Skatalites and Yellowman), Food for the Poor and a couple of homeless shelters. I stayed to watch the awards given out to the winners. Gorgeous, athletic people received their awards while the crowd cheered and the deejay played a snippet of a different upbeat song for each winner. A person could feel proud to be beat by these athletes. I was thrilled to be there, seeing the healthy, uplifting and victorious side of Kingston, Jamaica.

Fitness Travel in Jamaica

Runners and walkers visiting Jamaica might enjoy planning a trip around the Kingston City Run or one of Jamaica’s other major races. The best known is the Reggae Marathon (also a half marathon and 10K) in Negril, which happens this year on December 2. I stayed at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, which is perfectly situated at the finish line and only a 10-minute walk to the start. A visit to the Bob Marley Museum, a dip in the water at Fort Clarence Beach and a day trip to hike in the nearby Blue Mountains would round out a trip to do the Kingston City Run.