In Jamaica, Running in Usain Bolt’s Footsteps


First, though, we had to stop at the small town of Duncans, where two young sons of a local fisherman removed three of our tires and, using a hammer and block of wood, pounded the Yaris’s bent rims back into something like round shapes for the equivalent of $8.

Then we took off for Negril, a two-hour drive to the west side of the island. We were tired and hungry when we arrived at the center of the tourist district, a strip of restaurants and hotels along the beach, including Jimmy Buffett’s venerable Margaritaville. Rather than walk through a hotel lobby for a tourist buffet, we ordered the vegetarian patty and scrambled-egg sandwich at Miss Sonia’s, a roadside cafe under a canopy, full of white plastic tables.

Because we weren’t staying in one of the many Negril hotels, we had to find another way of accessing the beach, so we strolled through a small art market, indulging a couple of aggressive salespeople who showed us portraits of Bob Marley and green, yellow and black shotglasses and beaded bracelets. Behind the market was a scrum of barbecuers and tailgaters blasting Rihanna and reggae, whom we had to slip past on the way to the beach.

Finally, we made it to the sand. It was hard to run here, especially in my bulky Adidas, which quickly became heavy and waterlogged. But the blue-green Caribbean was such a shimmering backdrop that we didn’t mind, and we ran for a mile and a half, until the sunburned tourists and sand castles became too difficult to dodge.

The next day, we headed to Kingston via the recently completed toll road — no goats or potholes, but Rose was disappointed with the lack of roadside shacks selling fresh mango and chinaberry. We picked the Spanish Court Hotel as our Kingston base: It is centrally located downtown, three blocks away from another of Mr. Bolt’s running picks, the urban Emancipation Park.

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Meliá Braco Village.

Credit
Moris Moreno for The New York Times

It was also a couple of miles by car from Mona Reservoir, a popular running spot where Mr. Francis worked out for years before switching to the Constant Spring Golf Club in the northern part of town. (“The name is very literal,” he said. “There is a spring that’s always running.”)

Attempting an earlier start, we filled up on fried plantains and papaya at the hotel buffet and headed to the eastern side of Kingston, getting lost several times on the city’s unmarked roads en route to the reservoir. At one point, we landed at the University of the West Indies, driving around the campus where Mr. Bolt trains at a track named for him. Mona Reservoir is along a dirt road across the street.

By 9 a.m., when we arrived, a security guard said the reservoir was closed until the evening because of low daily demand — nobody runs during the sunniest hours. We begged, and she reluctantly opened the large gates to let us in for 20 minutes.

We parked in a dirt lot, climbed a hill and reached an unexpected new world, removed from Kingston’s heavy traffic and smog. The reservoir is stunning, a dark-green oval stretching beyond our view, with the eastern hills as a backdrop.

Butterflies floated by as we took off down the flat 2,600-meter (1.6-mile) path. This seemed like the ideal spot to boost our distance beyond 1.5 miles, but we had only 20 minutes, so we ran as far and fast as we could before returning to the Yaris.

I was feeling discouraged when we got to Emancipation Park in downtown Kingston, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence separating it from drab, brownish office buildings. Clouds rolled in, and for the first time since we’d arrived in Jamaica four days earlier, rain began to fall, a light drizzle, not enough for umbrellas and jackets. Passing into the park beyond Laura Facey’s bronze “Redemption Song” sculpture, of a naked man and woman staring into the sky, we found a half-kilometer running loop.

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Rafting on the Martha Brae River, Falmouth.

Credit
Moris Moreno for The New York Times

I was determined to make this run count, pushing myself to get past the inexplicable 1.5-mile barrier. The first two or three laps were a breeze, given the refreshing drizzle, the soothing blue and red flowers spread throughout the park and the two little boys and a girl who briefly followed, laughing and shrieking.

For the next kilometer or two, I felt a familiar twinge — I fixated on the heavy weight of my breaths, counting the steps to the 500-meter marker near a young couple cuddling in the grass. My Adidas suddenly felt like Army boots.

I began to think: Why am I even doing this? Who would journey to Jamaica just to figure out how to run? Why couldn’t I, like any other runner, simply step onto the sidewalk outside my house and take off? What was so hard about it?

Then I started to remember my parents. Dad died in 2008. Mom has Alzheimer’s and can no longer jog. I recalled that they had invited me to run with them numerous times, on the dirt road near their mountain home in Boulder, Colo., but I always refused.

As I huffed and puffed around the Emancipation Park track, I found myself wishing I had taken them up on it. Then I wondered how Dad would have reacted when I told him about this weird Jamaica running adventure. “I’m proud of you for trying it,” he would have said.

Then I thought: “It’s the runner’s high. I’m doing it!”

Another two laps had passed and I barely noticed. The feeling lasted until I realized how tired my legs were. I pushed myself to the finish line, passing the five-kilometer mark before collapsing on the grass. It was hardly a marathon, but, like Mr. Francis said, “bragging rights” — even for just a personal milestone.

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Sign at the post office in Usain Bolt’s hometown, Sherwood Content.

Credit
Moris Moreno for The New York Times

Catching my breath in the park, with the drizzle and the flowers and the statues, I contemplated my running future. Would I keep it up back home? All I knew, for now, was that I needed new shoes.

IF YOU GO

Most major airlines fly to Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay and Norman Manley in Kingston. Flights from New York usually involve stopovers in Charlotte, N.C.; Atlanta; Miami, or Orlando, Fla. Car-rental prices are reasonable, but expect to put down a large sum against damages if you decline insurance (we were required to put down a deposit of $3,000, which was returned to us minus $135 for the tire repairs).

WHERE TO STAY

Meliá Braco Village, Rio Bueno, Trelawny; 876-618-0582; melia.com; double rooms from $250; all-inclusive.

Spanish Court Hotel, 1 St. Lucia Avenue, Kingston; 876-926-0000;spanishcourthotel.com; double rooms from $185.

Iberostar Rose Hall Suites, Montego Bay; 876-680-0000; iberostar.com; double rooms from $375; all-inclusive.

WHERE TO EAT

Gallery Cafe, in the Spanish Court Hotel, 1 St. Lucia Avenue, Kingston; 876-926-0000; spanishcourthotel.com; lunch for two, $50.

Di Grill Shack, 9-11 Phoenix Avenue, Kingston; 876-968-0125;facebook.com/digrillshack; dinner for two with beer, $40.

Miss Sonia’s Tea Shop Restaurant and Grill, Norman Manley Boulevard, Negril; 876-410-1756; lunch for two, $15.

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