OK, so sometimes I shouldn’t be so quick to judgment. Or rather, dig deep enough and you’ll find gold in them there hills. Or maybe even, sometimes the stars align and something’s rising or something else is in retrograde and blablabla is in the seventh house and OK I’ll get to my point now:
I ran the 2015 Lifetime Miami Marathon on the morning of my 44th birthday and had the absolute time of my life.
Now this is a shocker of shockers. Let’s be blunt: I’ve made no bones about how I had a perfectly rotten time at the 2014 Miami Half last year, and that assessment mostly stands. It was a terribly hot, miserable, crowded, disorganized experience, but I can only hold the race accountable for everything but the first descriptor.
But last Sunday’s run was absolutely joyous. I mean, it was my birthday, which made me semi-royalty for the day (and not for nothing, but MAN doesn’t all the Facebook love make you feel like a rock sensation on your birthday or what?). Plus, I was going to spend the entirety of the race with a good group of friends, which meant we’d have all the support, good spirits, humor, and celebration throughout every mile. Finally, and perhaps most impressively, the weather was absolutely STUNNING for a South Florida marathon: clear, sunny, breezy, and cold!
Well, Miami-cold, anyhow. It was 54 degrees at race start and while it was in the mid-upper 60s by the end, there wasn’t a single drop of humidity to be found. This, my friends, was the ONLY way I could have ever run Miami again — with optimal weather conditions, because after last year’s heat-stroke-inducing monstrosity of an environment, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to return.
You can blame Helen for this.
Here’s the quick ‘Helen’ explanation: when I joined Friends In Training in September of 2012, my buddy Sarah was the very first person to come up and introduce herself to me. I knew nobody at the time; despite my cheerfully extroverted exterior, I am nothing more than a severe introvert with a bizarre nervous disorder that compels him to talk with everyone! Anyway, because I’m about as nimble with names as a quadriplegic bull-moose juggling flaming tangelos, I ended up calling her ‘Helen’ for a good 6 weeks or so before I got wise.
Eesh. Anyway, over a month ago during a Tuesday night training run at our local park, I let it slip that I wasn’t running Miami this year. Sarah turned to me and promised that if I DID run it, she’d wear a shirt that said ‘Helen’ on it for the entire race. And you know what? That was all the peer pressure I needed. Plus everyone I knew from the group was running as well (both the half and full), and I knew I’d kinda sorta maybe feel a little left out if I didn’t.
Plus it was my birthday… what was I gonna do instead? Another night of drinks, dinner, karaoke, and ridiculous fun at the pub? FEH! I’m doing that next week anyhow…
So long story short: I ran the race. And the weather was perfect. And I loved it — every second of it. There. At this point you can bail or stay with me as I go into even more long-winded detail about all things awesome about the 2015 Lifetime Miami Marathon!
Still with me? Good 🙂
Pre-Race / Expo
I was up at 4:30 AM the day before the race, waking early so I could easily go to bed early that night. A few hours of mindless videogaming and other early morning indulgences later, Boots and I made our way out. First stop was an always-buttkicking breakfast at the Long Island Cafe, just around the corner from our home. One Polish Omelet later (kielbasa, Swiss cheese, spinach, and garlic? YES PLEASE!) we were off and on our way to the Miami Beach Convention Center, site of the marathon expo. We arrived around a quarter after ten, roughly 15 minutes after opening, so the crowd level was very manageable. Within minutes I had bib in hand, followed shortly thereafter by my race shirt, pins, and swag bag.
I browsed the vendors but there really wasn’t much that caught my eye, and the stuff that did catch my eye wasn’t available in my size. No big whoop. I had much more fun catching up with my buddies who were there, including Debbie and Terry, Ines, Kristi, and Richard, Mare, and Patricia. We chatted, snapped the requisite photos, and soon after we were gone. I think we might have been there an hour, tops, and most of that was spent noshing on some awesome Venezuelan pastry concoction. All in the name of carbing up! Man that was good stuff…
The rest of the day was spent killing the hours before our early bedtime. After dinner I laid out my clothes for the next day, pinned the bib on, packed all my race gear and fresh clothes, and by 9 PM I was out like a lamp. My alarm was set up for 2:30 AM and a long day was ahead of us.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ME!
After a quick breakfast of oats and peanut butter, we grabbed our gear (my running stuff, Boots’s photography equipment and cheer poster, and Finish Line beer in a rolling cooler), loaded up the Family Truckster (2009 Nissan Altima), and drove down to Miami. The group photo was scheduled for 5 AM, but we wanted to get there with time to spare (given traffic and road closures). We were parked at American Airlines Arena by 4:30 AM and walked up the main entrance to wait for everyone. FIT members began to arrive in small torrents, and soon we were able to collect everyone for our group photos:
It was cold out (again, MIAMI cold) but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I was wearing a yellow tech shirt and green compression pants, but I wasn’t feeling altogether that uncomfortable. Others had their Hefty Bags out in full force. Regardless, we spent a lot of time hanging out before the race in front of the arena. I ended up getting a LOT of happy birthday greetings from everyone, which naturally made me feel quite egotistically keen. Jose was in full “runfie” force while Boots was snapping pictures of anyone and everyone, both of which I’ll share with you here:
After a “quick” trek inside the AAA to use the facilities, it was off to the corral. Getting to the corral was NOT easy. The walkways — if you can call them that — were extremely congested, and directions (and corral markers) weren’t exactly easy to find or follow. But we ended up getting there eventually. All of us decided to start together in H, which was the second-to-last corral in the race, but it wasn’t like we were in some huge hurry anyhow. After we got there it was more pics, and a lot more celebrating too. Everyone there from our group decided to serenade me with the first (of MANY) renditions of “Happy Birthday”. I was blushing. I even managed to discover another runner named “Herbalizer” who was also celebrating her birthday and we grabbed a photo together too. It was almost an hour until we crossed the Start Line, but that was no big deal. We were having a great time. I almost wanted to skip the race and go straight to the Finish Line beer and cake, but that would have been a wee bit counterproductive.
Anyway, as mentioned before our race started at 7 AM as we crossed the Start Line. Per tradition, here’s an overview of the course, courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps:
The course takes us from Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami, over the MacArthur Causeway, and into Miami Beach. We curve a bit southbound on Alton Drive until we’ve looped around onto northbound Ocean Drive, running through the heart of South Beach and then up Washington until we head westbound on Dade Boulevard. A trip over the Venetian Causeway takes us back to downtown Miami, where after 2 miles the half-marathoners run to the Finish Line while the marathoners continue onward. Moving south, we make our way to the scenic neighborhoods lining South Miami Avenue until we find ourselves in beautiful Coconut Grove. The southbound course on Bayshore detours through local neighborhoods and takes us south on Tigertail Avenue until we wind up in the heart of Coconut Grove. We loop around the Grove, down Commodore Plaza, and we’re northbound on Bayshore again. A quick detour down and back on the Rickebacker Causeway in Key Biscayne brings us to Brickell Avenue, and two milers later we wind up at the Finish Line right next to Bayfront Park.
You want a scenic run? You GOT a scenic run!
Although a lot of us started together, a core group of us ran the majority of the race as a unit: besides myself, there was Sarah/Helen, Kristi, Rich, Mark, Stephany, Catty (who was running the half but stayed with us for the entirety of her race), Katarina, and Mike. The gang decided to serenade me with the ‘Happy Birthday’ song at every Mile Marker, which I didn’t discourage (much). I was also wearing this sign on my back:
I kept a record of how many birthday wishes I got from random runners. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
As mentioned before, the weather was just perfection. The temps were low, the breeze was cold, the humidity was non-existent, and the skies were blue, sunny, and cloudless. We ran at a comfortable pace with 4:1 intervals. I had no illusions of making any kind of PR — I just wanted to have a fun run with great company, which is what I got in abundance — and we managed to stay a good 18 miles or so together. I honestly don’t think there was a single bad time for me on that run. I never felt so free, so happy, or so joyous throughout the entirety of a race, ever, like I did that morning.
So let’s go over some of the highlights, shall we?
Here’s one thing you forget before waiting over an hour for your race to start: all that hydration comes home to roost. In other words, it wasn’t a good 30 seconds past the Start Line before EVERYBODY had to pee. Now we were all experienced runners; we’d all, literally and figuratively, been around the block many times. We know never stop at the first group of Porto Potties. Ever. Unless you want to wait for a half hour and change. Our buddy Jose took this to heart and earned the name “Mr. Peabody” by leaping the barricade on the side of the MacArthur Bridge, slowly crouching down with a big smile on his face, and taking care of business. Now THIS was a great moment to celebrate the start of the race. He wound up way ahead of us and PR’ing, so he showed us anyhow!
By the time we got to Ocean Drive, however, we had already skipped 3 Porto lines and our collective bladders were about to burst like water balloons dropped 10 stories onto a prickly field of wild thornbushes, so we stopped at a public restroom right before the turn onto Washington. It took 10 minutes off our times, due to long lines, limited facilities, and a bemusingly vocal homeless guy who was lecturing everyone — in BOTH the men’s and women’s restrooms — about the biological similarities of the genders vis-a-vis human physiological waste removal apparatuses. I love a good lecture. Someone alert The Great Courses about this guy.
As we looped around Miami Beach — with a new Happy Birthday serenade at each mile, of course — the weather maintained its glorious facade. I got a lot of Happy Birthday greetings, and thanked everyone while calling out the current tally. Around Dade Boulevard, a group of Orthodox Jewish students were cheering runners on while chanting a somewhat hip-hop version of Am Yisrael Chai (“The people of Israel live!”). Later on, a surf guitar band was playing a wicked rendition of Avenu Shalom Alechem! I’ll tell you, Hebrew School was 30+ years ago for this old schlub and it was never THIS level of fun… most of the time it consisted of Rabbi Baumgard yelling at you for something or another. *shivers*
As we continued west on the Venetian Causeway, heading back to the mainland, I punched up a collaborative Spotify playlist I created specifically for the run and it started playing on my portable Bluetooth speaker. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I truly believe that Europe’s The Final Countdown is The Very Worst Song Ever Recorded in the History of Western Civilization. So naturally, that song had to come up first. Surprisingly, we found it very motivational. So did many around us. Other runners were grooving right along with it.
Along with the Groove came the Filth. Mark had been serenading us with his dirty Hasher songs along the course, some of which were cringe-inducing, others hilarious, but all of them great fun. But then… IT happened. We were crossing the Venetian when Rich, for some reason I don’t quite get, chanted out the classic Army cadence “I don’t know, but I’ve been told…”
Now is where my brain and mouth didn’t quite connect. There’s a filthy response to this line involving Eskimo women gynecology and body temperature. I wanted to respond with that line, but by muting the filthy connotation to “girl parts”. Sadly, I accidentally — I SWEAR, IT WAS ACCIDENTAL — blurted that wordout loud and instead muted the line about it being “mighty cold”. My brain cross wires entirely. FILTH!
You could have heard a pin drop. In my horror I immediately covered my mouth, turned pale as a ghost, and started profusely apologizing to everyone around me… who were too busy laughing in shocked disbelief at my major, MAJOR faux pas. Next time I’m bringing ear muffs and my inside voice. Sorry to anyone who had to experience that moment of sheer behavioral idiocy. I won’t do it again.
I also bumped into my Mickey Miler teammate and new buddy Jackie, who recognized me from behind thanks to the sign. We hugged and chatted briefly, took this awesome pic, and then were on our way:
Right around Mile 10 we had crossed the Causeway and were back in the downtown Miami area, with throngs of cheering spectators lining both sides of the course. The nine of us were still together and running steadily and happily! By this time I was noticing that the miles didn’t even feel like all that much. They were just melting away like nothing. I’ve never felt that in a race before — especially a marathon! When the first 10 miles don’t feel like any work at all, you know you’re in for a good race. And even better: right around then we encountered Boots at her buttkickin’ photo station and she grabbed these pics right here:
So maybe #Hokey44 was a thing for a little while 🙂
Furthermore, as we turned down North Miami avenue, we even managed to get this most entire awesome group pic as well:
After losing Catty when she made her turn towards the Half Finish, our band of eight continued down the Marathon route. After a brief curve around downtown, skirting the border of Brickell Village — what I would have given for some Perricone’s pasta right then and there — we made the route down scenic and historic South Miami avenue. My Bluetooth speaker was jamming Alien Ant Farm’s cover of Smooth Criminal, and the lot of us were singing the chorus in a high, Michael Jackson-esque falsetto. One amused spectator yelled out, “Hey, whatever it takes to get you through…!”
Schmuck. But I laughed.
I noticed I was experiencing some of the usual soreness in my hams and glutes. I had KT-taped my ankles and calves in preparation, and both were feeling amazing, but the upper leg pain was starting to get a bit more pronounced. To combat this, I was taking Endurolytes roughly every 90 minutes. They did a good job in alleviating the worst of the cramping pain. As a matter of fact, even though I still had some pain, my energy levels never flagged throughout the entirety of the marathon! I never felt burnt out, worn out, or even hit a wall of any kind. My only limiting factor was the physical soreness, not mental weariness or low levels of fuel in the tank. I’ve never experienced that in a Marathon before. Righteous.
The group stayed together until around Mile 18. Rich was having some ankle issues, so when we met up with his wife Mare and children at their beer/jello shot/snack station on Tigertail Avenue, we kicked back for about 3 minutes. After that we were in smaller, separate groups. I spent most of the remaining 8 miles with Kristi, although we overlapped often with Rich, Katarina, and Stephany.
The race itself, meanwhile, was just stunning in its scenic views and shaded streets. The weather was still cooperating; oh it was getting hotter, but it was very breezy and reasonably cool. I’ll go on record and saying the second half of the full is MUCH more interesting than the first half. I’m much more at home in Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne than Miami Beach, so that might have something to do with it.
Then we get to the Rickenbacker: a brief foray up to (but not including) the Powell Bridge, roughly two miles of running with absolutely no shade whatsoever. The sun was bearing down PLENTY strong on us, and my hamstring was so sore at one point I had to take an extended five minute walk interval. BUT I LOVED IT. I’ve lived in South Florida for almost all of my life, and the Rickenbacker is simply the most beautiful view in the area. You have the skyscrapers of Miami, the Port, and the Intracoastal to the north, and the absolutely breathtaking view of Biscayne Bay to the south. Magnificent.
We even got some firefighters to snap this pic of us with the Miami skyline and the Port in the background. This one’s a keeper, folks:
Look at this weather. Look at this day. Perfection. Still about 65 degrees, no humidity, and magnificent out.
After turning around, we ran back up the Rickenbacker and turned north on Brickell, which comprised the final two miles of the race. I was in such high spirits by then, even achy muscles couldn’t keep me down. The view down Brickell on a day like this was fantastic: shaded, scenic, and filled with cheering spectators. I felt so alive and elevated (and still being wished ‘Happy Birthday’ by runners) that it didn’t seem to take any time at all. By the time we made it to the bridge over the Miami River, I punched up Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ on the phone, and Kristi and I moved to finish that last half mile in style.
We crossed the bridge, turned east, looped past the Intercontinental Hotel, and passing mile 26 we saw it at long last: the Finish Line! Cheering members from FIT were clapping us on, and there was Boots snapping pictures of us. I was sore, tired, in a bit of pain, and in desperate need of a beer… and I’ve never been so happy, so elated, or so fulfilled at the end of the race. We posed dramatically and crossed that Finish Line in wondrous triumph!
We weren’t running for time at all; it was just a “fun” run… and it utterly was. That said, our net time was 5:28:48 which, as it turns out, makes this my second fastest marathon (beating the third by a whopping nine seconds!) No matter, though, because I was entirely over the moon. I ran a marathon race with friends who celebrated my birthday with me every mile. Mike and Sarah even recorded video of them singing happy birthday to me at the mile markers when we were separated! I mean that’s just the bee’s knees, right?
I also received a grand total of 28 happy birthday greetings from fellow runners, which meant $280 donations to both Team For Kids and Give Kids The World, two very worthwhile charities that I am happy to support. I had to look at this run from a karmic perspective: I was shown so much love, kinship, support, and happiness from friends, family, and fellow runners that there was simply no way I wasn’t paying this forward somehow.
But for now, it was celebration time! First we were knighted with our hard-won marathon medals:
… and then we headed to the Friends In Training tent, where we celebrated the run with Blue Moons, cake, bagels, cookies, sandwiches, and did I mention Blue Moons? Man did they taste good! There we sat and stretched for a long time, chatting and singing and celebrating together. It wasn’t just about me anymore — it never really was — but rather it was about all of us who did this run together and celebrated our victories accordingly. For some, it was their very first marathon. For others, it was triumphant PR. Even still for others, it was just that joy of reaching the Finish Line without giving up and giving it their very all.
And for me — I had turned 44 years old and spent my birthday morning with some great friends, pushing my body for 26.2 miles, breathing the morning air, basking in the phenomenal weather surrounding us, and enjoying the festive communal spirit that I hope elevated everyone around me as much as it did to me personally.
In other words? Best. Birthday. EVER.
So for the peer pressure alone that got me to do this race? #ThanksHelen 🙂
… and equal thanks, mad respect, and heartfelt appreciation to Kristi, Rich, Mark, Catty, Stephany, Katarina, and Mike for making this experience something I’ll remember for a lifetime.
And guess what, Miami Marathon? This is my third go-round with you after two stinkers, but this time you knocked it out of the park. Well done. This was one for the books! If we had books… I think it’s all digital now? Ahh I forget. Here’s the REALLY appropriate video: