EACH year the Reggae Marathon — an annual 10K, half-marathon and marathon held in Negril — partners with US-based, black-owned travel company The Black Onyx Group Travel (TBOG Travel) to offer a unique travel experience that includes participation in the race, plus a relaxing and culturally immersive vacation in the alluring seaside village.
The global running community has coined this kind of running-centred travel experience as a 'runcation'. TBOG Travel and Reggae Marathon have been partnering to host runcations in Jamaica since 2012.
According to one of the Reggae Marathon's directors Diane Ellis, in recent years TBOG Travel has continually brought the largest group to the event, hosting up to 500 people per year. These participants are mainly Jamaicans living abroad and black Americans.
"We love to have this group," Ellis shares, while expressing enormous gratitude to the TBOG Travel team. "They are fun-loving and bring a lot of vibes to the event. They know how to have a good time, and many are repeat participants. More importantly, this group gives back. They support charities in Negril and surrounding communities, and provide much needed funds to the local Green Island High School."
TBOG Travel is a trailblazing travel company, with over 25 years of experience. With offices in New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, the agency provides customised travel packages tailored for black travellers. Its annual runcation is offered under its Reggae Runnerz package, which is created specially for the Reggae Marathon. Travellers enjoy the race and then venture out to explore the rich culture, beauty, and good vibes of Jamaica.
We caught up with TBOG Travel's owner, Lisa Laws, while she was in Tanzania hosting a travel experience that includes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, exploring the Great Migration in the Serengeti on Safari, and luxuriating in Zanzibar (#TravelGoals).
Laws, who is herself a Jamaican-American, shared about the runcation experience that has attracted thousands of black travellers over the years.
What made you fall in love with travelling and racing events like the Reggae Marathon?
Laws: My family is in Montego Bay and Kingston, so I'm frequently in the country. Back in 2012 I was in Negril on vacation, and a good friend of mine, the owner of Negril Treehouse Resort, Gail Jackson, told me about a racing event called Reggae Marathon. As a fitness fanatic, I was immediately interested. During that time, some of my friends were also coming to Jamaica for vacation and they joined me to participate as well. After some completed the full marathon, others completed the half-marathon or 10K, we all agreed that we would be attending the Reggae Marathon the following year. The next year I booked a couple rooms, and suddenly the group of twelve turned into 200 people. This gave me the idea to create a package that included a weekend of events leading up to, and after the marathon, while working with local tourism service providers like JUTA, JTL, and Chukka Adventures.
Why is the Reggae Marathon such a popular travel event among black travellers and members of the diaspora?
Laws: Jamaica is pretty much the most affordable and accessible travel destination in the Caribbean, so black travellers love that. But also the running community loves to run at different racing events around the globe. So putting together an experience in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, in a place like Negril that has one of the best beaches in the world, and running the Reggae Marathon — which is a Boston Marathon qualifier with seamless logistics — is what I know draws them to running in Jamaica.
What can a first-time black traveller expect from the Reggae Runnerz experience?
Laws: The runcation is a five-day experience full of activities. We start on Thursday with our meet and greet, where everyone gets to mix and mingle with each other. Friday includes tours and excursions to attractions such as a Rastafarian cultural tour, a catamaran boat tour, and ATV. Friday evening is our annual lip sync battle where Runnerz sign up as contestants and perform for the title of lip sync champions. Saturday night is the World's Largest Pasta Party, hosted by Reggae Marathon. And on Sunday night after the race, we have a themed party with live performances from local and international acts such as Beenie Man, Sanchez, Doug E Fresh and Third World.
I try to provide a cultural experience. It is important to showcase Jamaica beyond the stereotypical tourist side; there is more to Jamaica than what people know. The history, the culture and most importantly, the people!
The feedback has been amazing yearly! This will be my 11th year, so I always welcome feedback. The Runnerz always come up with new ideas on how to improve certain parts of the experience — and many have created volunteer opportunities to help and manage certain aspects of the runcation. For example, the registration check-in and lip sync battle is run by the Runnerz themselves. This has become the Runnerz event. That is why it is so special.
This year we will be handing out a lot of 10-year medals for those who have been coming for 10 years. This has become a family reunion and a yearly travel experience for so many!
In one sentence, tell us why someone should join the Reggae Runnerz experience.
Laws: The Reggae Runnerz experience affords you a one-stop shop to experience the most beautiful island in the Caribbean — to run, have fun and give back to the local community.
I always say, come run where the sun meets the sea at the Reggae Marathon in Negril Jamaica!