Race Review: 2014 Michelob Ultra 13.1 Miami Beach (3/2/2014), or: “We’ll pick you up and take you away…”

blgmblogoSo I recently came to two rather obvious conclusions, and they are: (1) Smoking is really, really bad for you, and (2) I complain too much about Miami.

The former is your general “NUH DOY!”, but the latter… that runs a bit deeper. I know Miami all too well. We moved there in 1972 (I was born the year before in Manhattan, but my earliest memories begin with life in South Florida), and up until I moved to Broward in 2007 (excluding four years of college in Boston and a disastrous six month stint living in Palm Springs) Miami-Dade county was my home. The vast majority of my formative moments and memories occured in that little sliver of land nestled between two National Parks. I remember when Miami was Miam-UH, a sleepy southern port town, and lived through the transformative events of the Mariel boatlifts in 1980 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, both of which permanently altered the physical, cultural, a socio-political landscape of the area.

I know Miami very, very well. And I despise it… OK that’s a bit harsh, and not completely honest. Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Pinecrest, South Miami, Coral Gables, and Palmetto Bay? You’ll always be home to me. ALWAYS. Everywhere else can go climb a tree. Including South Beach. ESPECIALLY South Beach. When it comes to scum and villainy, Mos Eisley has nothing on SoBe…

Why bring any of this up? Because I’ve rarely had a positive race experience in Miami-Dade county. I did enjoy the Miami Beach Halloween Half, but that was despite the severe amount of d-bags clogging the area. More specifically I’m referring to my experiences with the ING/Lifetime Miami Marathon. I’ve done that race twice, and both times were awful. I often joke that I’ve developed a severe allergy to most areas south of Dade/Broward county line, but there you have it. So when I decided to run 2014 Michelob Ultra 13.1 Miami Beach as the fourth leg of the Florida Storm Series, I sort of did it under protest. I was doing that five-race challenge for the bling and prestige, but it meant returning to Miami Beach for the third time this race season. Ye gods.

And you know what ended up happening? It became one of my favorite races of the season! I mean, my race pace and time were nothing to write home about, and an unfortunate event that kicked off the morning filled me with enough rage to choke a bullmoose, but holy moley I could definitely see myself running this one again.

The race took place on the morning of Sunday, March 2nd, 2014. Boots and I left the house promptly at 4:30 AM. The race was beginning at 6:15; we figured we could get to the beach by 5:15, parked, and at the Start Line area by 5:45 AM for group pictures and other assorted happy funtimes. NOTHING DOING. Traffic from Sunrise to Miami Beach was free and clear (albeit with a detour at Golden Glades that didn’t take us too long to get through). We made it across the MacArthur Causeway into South Beach proper with plenty of time to spare…

If only...

If only…


No but seriously, not only was every public garage full, but the sheer amount of construction going on on Collins meant we were scouring every backstreet imaginable looking for any remotely safe/legal parking spot. After heading all the way down to 17th and back again, we finally found a private garage offering parking at 15th and Ocean. It was now around 5:40AM, we had spent a half hour looking for somewhere, ANYWHERE to park, and this place was reasonably close to the Start Line. A sign indicated that parking was going to cost $20; I never walk around with cash. But no matter, I thought. We were right off the strip. There had to be a zillion ATMs around. Perhaps, like at the AAA Center at the Lifetime Miami Marathon, there might even be an ATM inside the parking garage…

NO DICE. After I parked, I was informed that there was no ATM in the building. OK. Boots had $16 on her, my friend Shelia (who ended up parking next to us) gave us her last $2, and I managed to scrounge up $0.50 in loose change from the car. We offered the parking attended the $18.50 we had and he told us he “couldn’t help us”, “couldn’t accept it”, and “we had to leave”. Friendly as ever, Miami. I asked him if it were OK that my wife waited with the car while I went to find an ATM and he shrugged and walked off.

The Return!

The Return!

It was 5:45 AM now. I ran outside the car and down Ocean, looking for a bank, hotel lobby, anything. I could see the Start Line in the distance, crowded and bursting with excitement. I ran south down Ocean to the first hotel lobby. Locked. The second lobby had a prominently visible ATM inside, but it was also locked. A third, similarly displaying an ATM, was also locked. Finally I got to the fourth, which was open. I ran inside asking if they had an ATM, which I was instructed was on the second floor. No stairs to be found, I got up to the second floor, slid my card in, punched in my PIN… and after five minutes of waiting for the transaction to finish, the machine instructed me that the process couldn’t be completed. By this time we are less than 20 minutes from launch, and in between all this frustration I was ignoring my pressing biological needs to find a restroom. I headed back downstairs (elevator ride again, way too long) and used the men’s room. Exiting, I asked the guy manning the lobby if he knew of another ATM around. He shook his head but wished me good luck on the race.

I don’t know what hit me, but I entered the elevator again and decided to give the ATM another try. Another five minute wait, but IT WORKED! I grabbed my cash, thanked the guy in the lobby, and sprinted back to the garage. I tossed the $20 at the attendant, grabbed my stuff, and we headed to the Start Line. I arrived about 5 minutes before race start, grumpy, aggravated, and snarling. I did manage to meet my buddies there, and hung for a few moments with Kristi, Ines, Cassandra, Rosa, Jose, Sandra, Katarina, and others. Being around friends helped me come down a bit, and eventually my aggravation level dissipated. I was determined not to let that experience color the rest of the run. Besides I was planning on running at a relaxed pace. Not a “running for fun” pace, but I wasn’t out to PR. Kristi and I were doing 3:1 intervals together and I was more than fine with that. I just wanted to have a fun, relaxed, stress-free 13.1-mile morning run. No PRs, no worries, just running.

And you know what? That’s EXACTLY what I got! 🙂

Here’s a quick fuzzy look at the limited time I had in the Start Line:

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Let’s take a look at the race course, courtesy of my Garmin and Google Maps:

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

The course overlaps with areas of both the Lifetime Miami Marathon and the Miami Beach Halloween Half, but the big difference is the run across the Julia Tuttle causeway and areas near Midtown. Temperature-wise, it was a warm but breezy and very comfortable morning. Humidity was low (Miami low, anyhow) and while it was a sunny day, the morning had plenty of cloud cover to ensure mostly comfortable running conditions. We took off northbound from Ocean and 13th St, making a left on 14th, right past where Boots was stationed. She managed to capture these amazing action snapshots:

There's me, Kristi behind my left shoulder, Cassandra on the right in yellow, with Ines and Sandra behind her right shoulder

There’s me, Kristi behind my left shoulder, Cassandra on the right in yellow, with Ines and Sandra behind her right shoulder


This one included just because of the Epic Cass Face! :)

This one included just because of the Epic Cass Face! 🙂

The best line I heard just after these photos were taken? A burly, stocky guy in front of me yelling to his buddies (in fractured Spanglish), “Holy F**K, I gotta poopy!!”

That really happened. Really. I swear it.

The course then wound north on Washington, during which period the late-night/early-morning South Beach partiers were cheering us on. There was one INSANELY loud woman right past 14th and Washington in a dress made up of approximately four molecules of clothing cheering us on like we Spartans off to battle. “With your shield or on it”, as it were. And she wasn’t the only one. Nonetheless we continued onward, turning west on 17th St (past the Fillmore Theater), then north on Convention Center Drive, west on Dade, and then taking Alton north all the way to the Julia Tuttle.

The 3:1 intervals felt great. We weren’t setting any land speed records, but I can honestly attest that the first five miles really felt like nothing at all. I felt comfortable, relaxed, and steady. Running with a buddy helped out a lot as well, and Kristi and I kept each other entertained throughout some of the long straightaway stretches… which we needed, because as much as we tried, we could not shake The Woman Who Was Showing Way Too Much Inappropriate Buttcheeks. It wasn’t a pretty sight. With our interval system, we would keep passing her (Thank God!) but during our walk break, she’d pass us in turn (Dear Lord, NO!) But by the time we left the Tuttle, I think we had left her behind. Zowie.

And speaking of the Julia Tuttle Causeway: that particular 3-mile stretch has become my favorite running zone in all of Miami. The views, the shade, the serenity (even with oncoming traffic on our right), everything about it just felt perfect. OK so maybe there are two bridge segments on it that will test your mettle, but if you’ve done any kind of hill/bridge repeats in your training — which you should be — big deal! Love it, live it, and let gravity take over on the way down.

What I also noticed and enjoyed about the race is that is fairly small and felt less crowded than other races. Not that it ever felt sparse or even lonely, mind you; there were PLENTY of people out there! But there were never significant issues of people running shoulder to shoulder, blocking lanes, walking five abreast in the center, etc. I got more of a sense of “runners’ etiquette” during this race.

After we reached the mainland, we turned south on NE 2nd Avenue for about two miles, heading towards the downtown area. This wasn’t exactly the most scenic of areas — passing an old dilapidated cemetary was particularly creepy! — but at least the course was shaded by buildings on our left (blocking the rising sun) so temperatures remained reasonably cool. It was right around this point where I was starting to feel a tightening in my lungs. I wasn’t a regular smoker, but I had been smoking in the weeks leading up to the race. And I was quite suddenly REALLY feeling it. My VO2Max level had flatlined. I found it harder to catch a breath. It wasn’t that bad at first, but around mile 9 it started to really take a toll.

Heading east down the MacArthur causeway, blocking a view of Kristi, because I'm a raging egomaniac.

Heading east down the MacArthur causeway, blocking a view of Kristi, because I’m a raging egomaniac.

At 14th Street we turned east past the Adrianne Arsht center, then south on Bayshore until it took us to 395, the MacArthur Causeway. This would take us east, back to the beach and onto the last leg of the race. There was a sprinkler house right before this area, one which I took total advantage of by running through for a cooldown. It did wonders. I made a Porto stop right before the 395 and ran to catch up with Kristi afterward. Going up the MacArthur Bridge did not feel particularly hard at this point in the race, but after we came down I could feel my lungs bursting. There was no mistake about it; I had to drop my pace a smidge. Kristi was going for a PR and I didn’t want to be the one to keep her from it, so I insisted that she run on without me. She resisted, of course, because she’s an incredibly sweet person but I know how important getting that PR is. Towards the end of the MacArthur (right by the Fisher Island ferry entrance) she ran ahead at the end of our walk interval, and I took an extra minute to walk, lower my heart-rate, and get my breathing regulated. The 11th mile took me a full 11:44, but even with reduced lung capacity I was able to maintain the 3:1… and even improve. Mile 12 was 11:07, Mile 13 was 10:55, I even finished at 10:45. Not my fastest of paces, but I wasn’t as incapacitated as I thought I was!

Turning a corner, with Fisher Island as the backdrop.

Turning a corner, with Fisher Island as the backdrop.

The remaining 2 miles took us on a similar course as that of the Miami Beach Halloween Half. We turned south on the walkway that ran parallel to Alton Road, shaded by tall high-rises, past the backside of Monty’s and alongside the marina and docking slips adjacent to the Meloy Channel. The course curved east, past Smith & Wollensky and South Pointe Park, through the eastern end of park, turning west on South Pointe Drive and north on Ocean as we headed to the Finish Line. It was right around here where I passed the “I Gotta Poopy” guy and his buddies, who were utterly winded and barely shuffling along. I never bothered to ask him if he found a restroom. I’ll leave that question to the vagaries of time immemorial…

My "I GOT THIS!" face. Or something.

My “I GOT THIS!” face. Or something.

Boots was stationed by the Finish Line, grabbing snapshots of all our buddies, and managed to capture yours truly:

Piece of cake! Mmm... cake...

Piece of cake! Mmm… cake…

I crossed the Finish Line at 2:25 with ease (alongside Dr. Dribble, which makes this now the umpteenth time we’ve run the same races together). I loved that the Finish Line took us right to the beach itself, finishing on asphalt and concrete first and then onto the sand with the ocean breeze blowing. The chute had the usual accouterments: bananas, muffins, cookies, fruit cups, bagels, beverages, etc. I’m never particularly hungry immediately after a race, but the fruit cup was particularly welcome. After getting knighted with my medal, I immediately headed over to grab my Category 4 bonus medal from the Florida Storm Series tent. And man oh man oh man was that line ginormous. Despite my natural urges to sit in the shade somewhere and relax, I took my place in line and waited.

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Soon after I was joined by Kristi (who finished 3 minutes ahead of me), who had indeed PR’ed and was over the moon. We chatted away and were soon joined by Jose, Cassandra, and Ines, who all cut the line by jumping in with me. Hrmph! Well, nobody behind us seemed to mind, really. I got my coveted Category 4 medal at last, and soon afterward we were all posing for pics:

Group Bling Shot! Ines, Kristi, Cassandra, Jose, and Your Intrepid Narrator.

Group Bling Shot! Ines, Kristi, Cassandra, Jose, and Your Intrepid Narrator.

The next stop was the Beer Tent, but THAT particular line was twice as long as the one at the Storm Series tent! Boots and I decided to skidaddle. We bid our buddies adieu and made the long walk back to the parking garage. And when we got there… we discovered that the parking attendant blocked us in by putting another car behind us.

Miami… you do this to me on purpose, I swear.

I moved the parking block that caged us in; thankfully only one side was rebarred into the concrete, so we were able to get out of there despite that the attendant’s best d-bag efforts. We needed to stop for gas, and I managed to score some chocolate milk and a ginormous brownie at a Cuban cafe inside. I was suddenly gobsmacked with hunger, so it hit the spot pretty darn well. Boots drove the rest of the way home where, after a hot shower and a 2 hour coma-nap, I was able to reflect on the day’s adventures.

You know what? The 13.1 Miami Beach is a great race, period. It was well run, well organized, not too crowded and featured my favorite Miami/Miami Beach course I’ve experienced so far. This race was my 16th Half Marathon, and I’d rank it up there with one of the most enjoyable. And in case anyone’s wondering, I’ve already given up cigs. Even intermittently or every once in awhile, they’re simply bad news. Yeah yeah, “NUH DOY”… I know. But moving on… if you’re looking for a Miami Beach race in the winter, consider the 13.1 instead of that “other” race. You’ll have a much more enjoyable time and a better post-race experience. I guarantee it. Here’s the video:

If you're reading this blog, YOU'RE AWESOME! Let me hear your thoughts.