JetSetSarah Runs Di City!
It’s my first time racing in my hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. The early-morning sky is ablaze with saffron streaks, and a breeze is tempering what’s sure to be a balmy day. As the M.C. bellows, “Gooooo!” my friend Kevin, who’s making his racing debut today at Kingston City Run, flashes a smile and gives me the thumbs up. The crowd of 1,700 runners surges forward, and I’m feeling pumped and hopeful for a 5K PR.
But as my Newtons hit the start line timing mat and we charge along Trafalgar Road, I’m also feeling – how shall I put it? – strangely “free” in the bosom area. I look down to see that my normally trustworthy zip-front sports bra has somehow come completely undone, its cups dangerously close to escaping through the armholes of my tank. I can’t help but laugh, clutch my cleavage in my hands and peel off to the side of the course, where Kevin gamely joins me and offers assistance with my mammary malfunction. So much for a PR.
Two frantic minutes later, the girls are once again contained in their spandex prison and we’re off in earnest, turning onto Hope Road and into the landscaped grounds of Devon House. Home of George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire, the 19th-century Georgian-style mansion is surrounded by restored red brick outbuildings that were once stables, kitchens and slave quarters, now turned into boutiques and the popular ice cream parlor, Devon House I Scream. As a child, this was where my parents brought me on a Sunday afternoon for a soursop or guava cone. But today I can only wish for a frozen novelty as we gallop past, the sun now high in the sky and making its presence felt.
In its sixth year and benefiting local charities for the homeless, Kingston City Run enjoys strong local support, and it seems as if almost all of the 2,900 total participants is part of a corporate team, running and walking in matching logoed T-shirts. There are plenty of first-timers in the mix (the only explanation I can muster for the denim cutoffs and open-toe sandals several of my fellow 5kers are wearing) and I surmise that the serious, Garmin and Dri-Fit-wearing runners are miles ahead in the half marathon and 10K races, which started earlier.
As we get to the back gate of Kings House, the official residence of Jamaica’s royal representative, the governor-general, a bunch of nine-year-olds laugh and dash by me, stop to wait for their friends on the leaf-strewn lawn, and then run ahead again, exhibiting the sort of energy that, now mid-race, I wryly wish I had.
By the time we cross over Hope Road and onto Lady Musgrave Road (named for the wife of the then governor general, who, so horrified that her carriage had to pass the home of George Stiebel – a black man! – had an alternative route constructed in her name), it’s sunny and in the high ‘70s. The water stop (with small plastic bags of water you have to tear open with your teeth) is a welcome sight, and I spy Kevin approaching, his space strong and steady.
We run the last mile together, past “No Stopping” traffic signs (suddenly so appropriate) and into the business district of New Kingston. Its main thoroughfare, Knutsford Boulevard, is flanked by high-rise office buildings. And it feels like a walk – or rather, run – down memory lane as we pass nightclubs where I spent many a summertime Saturday night; Tastee (home of my favorite and Jamaica’s best beef patty) and my beloved KFC (make mine an original thigh).
It’s the final stretch and I tell Kevin to kick and bring it home as I slow a little to let him pass. He flies toward the finish line and I follow in his wake, entering the chute to the shouts of the crowd, soca music blaring from speakerboxes, and the encouragement of a group of women I assume are cheerleaders, dressed in skimpy bejeweled Carnival costumes.
Sweaty but smiling, I cross the line and stagger into the arms of a volunteer offering water (thankfully in a bottle, this time). I take a swig and head toward another, whose arms are laden with medals. I reach for mine and receive the only disappointment of the day: there’s NO BLING for 5K finishers, only for 10K and half marathon runners! Whaaat?! I’m so accustomed to Oprah-style American races – You get a medal! You get a medal! You get a medal! – that it comes as a quite a shock to leave without a ribbon around my neck.
But the sting is soothed later in the day, with a post-race outing to the beach at nearby Fort Clarence for a hearty fried fish, festival and bammy lunch, and on the way back, a stop at Devon House for a well-earned scoop.
Besides, this was such a fun experience that I know I’ll be back. And next time I’ll enter the 10K.
And I’ll definitely wear a different sports bra.