So I ran the Miami Beach Halloween Half Marathon last year (2013), and I started off my race review asserting how I wasn’t a “running in costume” sorta guy. I think THAT particular call still stands, but Halloween doesn’t count. It never counts. It exists in its own continuum, in a state of quantum isolation outside the aether of normal time/space. Or some other such garbage. Halloween has its own rules, its own differences… so there.
And speaking of differences: talk about change over the course of a year! I liked 2013’s race well enough, but not without some significant criticisms. I felt this year’s race improved significantly — three major problems from last year were entirely eliminated, which made for a much stronger race experience. Yet there were still some concerns that I noticed this year, and we’ll get to them in a bit.
But before we do, let’s get the Big Revelation out of the way. Last year I wrote the following:
I was convinced that, since running in costume is part of the fun, I’d probably end up as some sort of superhero. And my favorite has always been Robin; when I was a kid and a madcap superhero/comic book geek, the red-and-yellow acrobatic partner to the Dark Knight was always my favorite. Plus I had an older brother and he always got to be Batman. So I got used to Robin real quick.
So without any further elaboration, here I am Saturday morning:
Dream realized — nifty! While the FIT crew went with the bumblebee theme again, running buddy Kristi and I were planning Batgirl and Robin for a few months now. Certainly not the most original of costumes — there were close to several zillion superheroes out on the course that day — but that’s exactly the way we wanted it. The costume itself was pretty much homemade. I already had the red sleeveless running shirt, upon which I pinned a 3-inch Robin button for the insignia. Boots bought some yellow fabric and fashioned a small cape out of it, which we pinned to the shoulders and back of the shirt. I wore a green compression shirt underneath to match the “classic” Robin look of red tunic and green sleeves. As far as the mask, that was only for pictures. I didn’t want to run with it on because (a) it would severely cut off my peripheral vision, which is so vitally necessary during a race (especially one that got as narrow as this one), and (b) my head would have been hotter than New York pavement in July. To mimic the mask look, I wore black running sunglasses and had a black Halo headband. The shorts were my usual CW-X compression shorts, and my green shoes were a new pair of Hoka One-One Stinson Tarmacs.
OK enough about my attire. On raceday morning, we woke at 4:00 AM. The plan was to leave our house in Sunrise at 4:45 — it would be about a 35-40 minute drive to get to Parrot Jungle Island, the Start Area of the race. We left on time and made our way down; Boots was going to drop me off there and then go park by the Finish Line near Alton Road. We got to the Start Line area around 5:20 AM and TRAFFIC. WAS. A. NIGHTMARE. The line of cars waiting to pull onto the perimeter road that takes you to Parrot Jungle Island was backed up all the way back onto I-395. 5:20AM turned into 5:30 and then into 5:40, and we were still on I-395. Boots smartly called an audible and pulled out of waiting traffic, heading further east down I-395 and making the first U-Turn. We headed back west and turned into the bus drop-off area by Parrot Jungle. There I was able to get out of the car, grab my stuff, pause for a quick pic and then walk to the Start Line as Boots left to go park by the Finish. It went perfectly. I made it to the Start Area with time to spare.
By chance I happened to meet my Facebook buddy Sarah outside and we chatted for a few minutes before I made my way towards the men’s room for some necessary necessities. As always, the men’s room line paled in comparisons to that of the women’s. Double standards; god bless ’em. Once done, I met up with the FIT gang, where we posed for a bunch of photographs and killed time until the race proper was to begin.
Finally around 6:30 AM, the race began rather promptly. There was no singing of the National Anthem, no big light show or fireworks or anything, really. Just a basic “On your marks, get set…” announcement. As Kristi and I passed the Start Line, we agreed to ourselves that this wasn’t a race for time. We were just doing a 13-mile training run and that was it. Slow and easy was the order of the day. We’d stick to our 5:1 intervals and just enjoy a slow, pleasant run through Miami Beach. Certainly any thoughts of PRs were out the window, right? RIGHT? Sure…
Anyway, let’s take a look at the Race Course:
It behooves me to say that the weather that morning was absolutely pitch-perfect for October in Miami. It was very clear and cool, breezy in the upper 60s at the Start, with very low humidity. Throughout the entirety of the run, there wasn’t a single moment that felt oppressive, muggy, hot, or nasty. These were, simply put, great running conditions for South Florida.
The first three miles took us on the curve out of Parrot Jungle Island and then east down I-395 until just before Alton Road. The first mile was pretty crowded and congested. I noticed a lot of runners zig-zagging around slower runners and walkers, and sadly witnessed a few runners cutting other runners off and even elbowing and shoving them out of the way without so much as a by-your-leave! Since this was a small race — 1200 runners or so — there were no corrals or any kind of placement, really. Still, it bothered us little, as we were heading out slow and easy. The first three miles took us 10:45, 11:19, and 11:25; VERY slow miles for a race, but more than reasonable for a slower training run.
Miles 4 through 6 took us south on a path adjacent to Alton Road, curving east towards the beach, and then north up the wide path adjacent to Ocean Drive. There was one hugely noticeable difference about this leg of the race, when compared to last year: while there were a few pedestrians who kept to the side of the course, there were no South Beach d-bags standing in the middle of the pathways, stumbling around drunk, walking slowly in front of runners, or being general South Beach d-bags trying to “assert” themselves. This was such a welcome change. Perhaps the race directors got the word out to the locals in a more efficacious manner this year.
The Finish Area was near the Mile 4 marker, where those who were running the Freaky 4-Miler would be turning to finish their race. Meanwhile, our pace got a wee bit faster but still at training-run pace: 10:59, 11:16, 11:05. Boots was parked on the path adjacent to Alton and grabbed these pics of Kristi and I as we passed by:
Another hugely welcome change this year: THERE WAS NO RUNNING ON BEACH SAND. Period. This made for a lot more happy runners. I remember all those miserable faces last year after running a 1/2 mile on sand. Twice. Tightly-packed, my ass!
Miles 7 through 10 took us northbound, with a stunning early morning view of the sun, surf, and sand on our right hand side and Ocean Drive (and a long string of beach hotels) on our left. More than half of this segment — roughly 2.5 miles — was spent on The Boardwalk, a narrow wooden corridor that was well shaded, scenic, and serene. It was also ridiculously crowded and a bit slippery, making it very difficult to pass slower runners, especially when many of them thought it was a great idea to run as a “block”. Oy. Bear in mind that since this was an out-and-back course, passing slowing runners also meant avoiding incoming runners who had passed the turn-around and were making their way back south. We witnessed one unfortunately girl totally face-plant during this segment. She was fine, but it underscored how difficult this section was to race and navigate.
Here’s a pic I “borrowed” from Wild Side of Kristi and I making our way up the Boardwalk:
Still, despite my reservations about running The Boardwalk, we made it to the turnaround and worked our way southbound to return to the Finish Line. Our paces for miles 7 through 10 were 10:55, 10:49, 11:21, and 10:44. Despite the congestion of the Boardwalk area, we actually not only managed to maintain pace, we were managing to increase our overall pace for a spell.
But now here’s where the real fun begins!
By mile 11 were now heading back south, on the “back” portion of the “out and back” course. While the sun was now rising, it was still quite breezy, shaded, and cool. I never felt any deleterious heat or uncomfortable weather; it was still damn nice out there. Mile 11 took us 10:28, a major improvement from before! When we reached the 2-hour mark on the nose, Kristi and I stopped for our scheduled one-minute walk interval. As we were walking, she turned to me and casually said, “Wow. Two hours… we’re not doing bad. Close to my PR.”
“Hmm… what’s your PR again?” I responded.
“2:22… from the 13.1 Miami Beach race.”
I looked at my watch and started doing the numbers in my head. By the time our run interval was scheduled to begin at 2:01, we would be about 21 minutes away from her PR. And we had about two miles to go. I crunched the integers until they were smooshed into teensy tiny pieces and put them back together with quick calculations, and finally said, “You know… you could totally PR this. TOTALLY. And we wouldn’t have to kill ourselves to do it.”
“You think so?” Kristi asked, looking rather incredulously at me.
“Yup, easily,” I said. And I meant it too. We did the first 11 miles slow and easy. The weather was cooperating and we were in a lesser-congested area now. I had no doubt we could hit the afterburners and cross the Finish Line by 2:20. There was plenty of gas in the tank, and we wouldn’t even need to go at an all-out sprint or end our 5:1 intervals. We just needed to run a little bit faster during our run intervals.
“I’m in if you are,” I said. Kristi responded that she was definitely in. When our run interval began at 2:01 we hit the ground running, upping our pace and utilizing all of the energy we had saved up by going slower than usual in the previous miles. And MAN did we move. We ran Mile 12 at an average pace at an unbelievable (for us) 9:35. I even managed to pass my friend and business school buddy Andrew as we were heading south on the pathway adjacent to Ocean Drive. He shouted my name as he passed me running northbound, and we exchanged REALLY brief greetings. If we weren’t gunning it towards the Finish, I would have stopped to chat for a little. Alas, we were on a mission.
By the time we got to the Last Mile, the sun was out in full force. The elevated course above and around the South Pointe park was probably the “hardest” part of the course, but we managed to not only maintain pace, but increase it — all the while still sticking to our 5:1 intervals. We exited the park and headed east up the pathway towards the Finish. Boots was stationed there and took these action snapshots:
And now comes time for our Mystery Hokeyblog Reader Shout Out! Boots later told me that, while snapping photos next to Smith and Wollesnky, she was recognized by a Hokeyblog reader dressed up as a Mummy. So big shout-out to you, Sir Mums! Thanks for reading and keep racing like a boss!
Within moments the Finish Line was in sight, and with that the final MASSIVE improvement over last year: NO FINISH LINE FAKE OUT. Last year had us passing by the Finish Line around Mile 12, but we still had to keep going down and back for another mile. It was a morale draining moment of the highest order. But not this year. Reaching the Finish meant REACHING THE FINISH. As we turned to take the final 0.1 miles in to finish our race, Kristi looked to me and the excitement on her face was ridiculously palpable. “Oh my God, we’re REALLY doing this!” she exclaimed with a huge smile on her face. We might have lost a few seconds as a mother lost control of her two toddlers as they suddenly sprinted out onto the course to cross the Finish Line with (presumably) their father, but no matter. We finished that last mile at a 9:35 pace and crossed the Finish Line with a Net Time of 2:18:46.
We had done something completely by accident. What was to have been a slow, fun, no-pressure and easy training run turned into a 4-minute PR for Kristi. I even managed to finish over six minutes faster than my time from last year. Not to sound too full of ourselves, but until those last two miles we weren’t even really trying all that hard. And yet there we were. VERY pleased with ourselves. We were knighted with our well-earned race medals, which this year featured none other than the Headless Horseman himself:
The immediate Finish Area was a little sparse. There wasn’t much in terms of food and drink; mostly just some fruit and recovery drinks, while I saw a few people with bagels and peanut butter. The REAL Finish Area was a few blocks over at Nikki Beach, which had a free buffet spread going on with pesto tortellini, chicken, rice, potato salad, water, coconut water, protein bars, and more. Sadly, there was no beer. While we had a great time meeting up with our buddies and celebrating at Nikki Beach, it was still several blocks away from the Finish Line — maybe a 5-10 minute walk, depending on how sore you were feeling. I don’t think that it was very well communicated to runners that there were a lot more food, drinks, and promotional items available to them. Many were complaining that there was “Nothing at the Finish Line!” But it couldn’t be helped; there simply wasn’t enough room there to put on an acceptable Finish Area reception.
Overall, I had a really fun time and a very cool race experience with the 2014 Miami Beach Halloween Half Marathon, and while there is still room for some improvement — Boardwalk running is still a pain, a disjointed Finish Area with no beer — the major problems from last year were gone. Sand running? GONE! Finish Line fakeout? ELIMINATED! Even the dreadful turn down a crowded, early-morning Lincoln Road mall was discontinued as well. While last year I was indifferent to repeating the race again in 2014, I’m already planning my costume for 2015. I’m thinking Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly. Maybe Clifton Webb? Ahh I forget. Anyway, thanks for reading, gang. Here’s the (rather predictable while enjoyable) video: