It was an unusual morning in the Lewis household.
Just as the birds were stirring, we were blundering around the house, eyes blurry, trying to sip tea and put on socks. The dogs seemed to be raising their eyebrows at us, in a doggie kind of way, as we threw ourselves into the car. “What on earth are our humans up to now?” they seemed to be saying. Pets like routines and this was definitely not our regular wake-up time. It was a few hours too early.
Well, we were going to the 5K. For the uninitiated, that is a competition, or race, over 5 kilometers (just over three miles). Now, 5Ks are very popular nowadays – among uptown Kingstonians, primarily – but this was a “first” for my husband and me.
5Ks are mostly oriented towards employees of companies, and various other organisations. I would imagine that the Ministry of Health is regularly involved. I did see a friend, who works there. She looked as if she had springs in her legs. She did her 5K in a great time, whereas I… well, let’s say it took me twice as long to cross the finish line, wincing at my bad knee. But, finish we both did.
This 5K was in aid of Food for the Poor Jamaica, which is a faith-based charity that does tremendous work in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. What they do for Jamaica (where they first started their work, in 1982) is impressive. Food for the Poor has built over 39,000 homes for the neediest Jamaicans. It also builds and refurbishes schools (over 250 so far on our island), donates hundreds of computers annually and supports 20 marching bands. It has a prison ministry, built a health clinic last year and provides medical and food assistance to thousands annually. Not to mention the agricultural and fishing projects that it supports! It’s extraordinary.
What was also extraordinary was the Lewises’ appearance at the 5K, which began in Emancipation Park. As we approached, an eager, thumping disco music filled the early morning air, no doubt frightening away the birds which may have been still resting in the lovely poinciana trees. The music was intended to get us all “pumped up” for the race.
“The most important thing is to finish, it doesn’t matter about the time,” said an acquaintance we bumped into. She looked super-fit and was unnaturally cheery for pre-six a.m. Yes, it was before six, on a Saturday morning! OK then, I decided grimly to myself. Finish it is.
I have a few theories about why these races are so popular, nowadays. Here goes:
Obviously, it’s about money and fundraising, and the organisers (a company called Running Events Ltd., headed by a former marathon runner) are highly efficient and have the latest technology. They know how to help raise money, and things go very smoothly, I hear.
It’s also about infusing that “corporate spirit” by having every company’s employees decked out in a branded T-shirt. Yup, we are good corporate citizens. We are supporting a good cause. So companies large and small are going to fall for it. It’s a chance to get the message out for related organisations too.
There is also the social aspect, which cannot be ignored. Jamaicans love to dress up and socialize; the 5K phenomenon taps into that enduring part of Kingston life also. At 5Ks, it’s all about the latest sporting gear (with particular emphasis on the name-brand trainers). The sun visor is also quite popular (although the sun was barely up when we got started). Uptown Kingston people are sure to meet up with acquaintances they haven’t seen for years (or at least since the last 5K) so there is a chance to catch up on a bit of gossip.
Having said that, not all runners/walkers are just there to show off their awesomely toned bodies in the latest gear. Although I saw a few…and quickly looked away, out of sheer jealousy I suppose. There are some very serious (as in, non-smiling) runners in these races; they tend to isolate themselves, no time for chit-chat. They are interested only in improving their running times. And there are others (of all ages, I might add, not just the “bright young things”) who seemed to just want to stretch their legs, for a good cause.
Oh, we Jamaicans love technology too. There is a chip in one’s “bib” – you know, the thing with your number on, carefully attached with safety pins. The chip records your progress. Little boxes at the roadside make a satisfying clicking sound as you pass. Then there are some little gadgets that people have for measuring how many steps they have done, or simply little velcro strap-on thingys for carrying your cell phone and keys. Fun!
I also realised that, for many participants, 5Ks are one big photo-op. The walkers that I kept company with were not averse to a selfie or two. I overheard a discussion about whether one should do a selfie while walking, or whether one should stop and do one. If you do selfies too long into the walk/run, however, you are likely to look disheveled and sweaty. Then, at the end of the race, a long line of people was waiting to go into a photo booth, to make funny faces at the camera. More Instagram fodder.
Last, but not least by any means, is the “feel good” factor. People are actually happy to be doing something purposeful and meaningful on a Saturday morning, rather than watching football on TV, nursing a hangover from Friday night, lazing in bed or mooching around the supermarket. The Lewises felt this on their return home. Ah! That was rather satisfying – if exhausting.
I discovered a few things, as I walked:
Old Hope Road has a disgusting amount of garbage thrown on the sidewalk.
There were not enough garbage bins along the route, generally. Those who happened to pass a bin did use it, but we did create a lot of trash with all those little packets of…blue stuff.
I don’t think I like unidentifiable aqua blue drinks in plastic packets (these were handed out en route, along with regular water).
Some people were running in the walking section. That’s not fair! Were they actually skipping to the front, or did they just do it to annoy?
Also, Old Hope Road has a slope in it. Why did I only discover this when plodding uphill in the sun, which rose with dazzling brightness and intensity?
I liked the little family groups. One group of adults with three or four children in the walking section laughingly urged the poor little dears, “Run! Run!” Hoping to wear them out, I suppose. A small baby in a stroller actually overtook me (rather humiliating).
On the last leg in New Kingston, we walkers tried to ignore the patronising chuckles of the runners, who of course had already finished their runs and were heading home, still looking fresh. “Ah, here come the walkers! Keep going!” they smirked.
When we reached the park, the music had changed from Motivating Disco to Relaxing Reggae. We headed home too, stopping at our local cookshop for a substantial Jamaican breakfast. It had never tasted so good.
I took a sneak peek at Running Events’ calendar. Hey! There’s an out-of-town run on June 3, and a Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics on June 9, just a few days later.
Well… We are tempted. Our dogs might be surprised again, soon.
P.S. 1,749 people crossed the finishing line today. The top times were 16 minutes (male) and 20 minutes (female). No! That’s impossible!
Food for the Poor is hoping to raise enough money to build 100 more houses from the proceeds of the 5K Run by the end of this year. If you couldn’t make it to the run or would like to contribute, you can do so here.