Each year, the Reggae Marathon – an annual 10k, half marathon and marathon held in Negril, Jamaica – partners with American travel agency The Black Onyx Group Travel (TBOG Travel) to provide a unique travel experience that includes race participation, as well as a relaxing and culturally immersive vacation, in arguably the most alluring beach town on the island.
The global running community has dubbed this type of running-centric travel experience a “runcation.” TBOG Travel and Reggae Marathon have partnered up to organize runcations in Jamaica since 2012.
According to one of 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 a year. These participants are primarily Jamaicans living abroad and Black Americans.
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“We love having this group,” Ellis shares, while expressing immense gratitude to the TBOG Travel team. “They love to have fun and bring a lot of atmosphere to the event. They know how to have a good time, and many are regulars. Most 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 pioneer travel agency, with over 25 years of experience. With offices in New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, the agency offers custom travel packages tailored to Black travelers. Its annual run is offered as part of its Reggae Runnerz package, created especially for Reggae Marathon. Travelers enjoy the run, then venture out to explore Jamaica’s rich culture, beauty, and good vibes.
We caught up with TBOG Travel owner Lisa Laws while she was in Tanzania to organize a travel experience that included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, exploring the great migration in the Serengeti on safari and relaxing in Zanzibar (#TravelGoals).
Laws, who is a Jamaican-American herself, shared the runcation experience that has drawn thousands of black travelers over the years.
What made you love traveling and running events like the Reggae Marathon?
Laws: My family is in Montego Bay and Kingston, so I’m in the country a lot. In 2012, I was in Negril on vacation, and a good friend of mine, owner of the Negril Treehouse Resort, Gail Jackson, told me about a running event called Reggae Marathon. As a fitness fanatic, I was immediately interested. During this time, some of my friends were also coming to Jamaica for vacation, and they also joined me to participate. After some had completed the full marathon, others the half marathon or the 10k, we all agreed that we would take part in the Reggae Marathon the following year. The following year, I booked a few rooms, and suddenly the group of 12 turned into 200 people. This gave me the idea to create a package that included a weekend of pre- and post-marathon events, while working with local tour service providers, such as JUTA, JTL and Chukka Adventures.
Why is the Reggae Marathon such a popular tourist event among black travelers and members of the diaspora?
Laws: Jamaica is pretty much the most affordable and accessible travel destination in the Caribbean, so black travelers love it. But also, the running community loves to race in different running events around the world. So organizing an experience in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, in a place like Negril which has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and running the Reggae Marathon – which is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon with a transparent logistics – do I know drives them to race in Jamaica.
What can a first-time black traveler expect from the Reggae Runnerz experience?
Laws: The race is a five-day activity-packed experience. We start Thursday with our meet and greet, where everyone mixes and mingle with each other. Friday includes tours and trips to attractions such as a Rastafarian cultural tour, catamaran trip, and ATV. Friday night is our annual Lip Sync Battle where The Runnerz sign up as competitors and perform for the title of Lip Sync Champions. Saturday night is the biggest pasta party in the world, organized by Reggae Marathon. And, on Sunday night after the race, we host a themed night 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 people know. The history, the culture and above all, the people!
The returns have been amazing every year! This will be my 11th year, so I always appreciate feedback. The Runnerz are always coming 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 race. For example, registration registration and the lip-sync battle are handled by the Runnerz themselves. It became the Runnerz event. That’s why it’s so special.
This year we will be giving out a lot of ten year medals to those who have been coming for ten years. It has become a family reunion and an annual travel experience for so many!
In one sentence, tell us why anyone should join the Reggae Runnerz experience.
Laws: The Reggae Runnerz experience offers you a one-stop-shop to discover 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!