Runners find amusement in crowded race


Special to The Miami Herald

A couple of seconds after the start of Thursday night’s run, Oscar Gonzalez of HSBC Bank was already at the finish. That’s because the throng of 25,000 people stretched from the starting line in front of Bayfront Park a half mile north to the finish line in front of Bayside. It took Gonzalez almost 20 minutes to get to the starting line.

“Last year, I ran with the pack and I got bumped around,” Gonzalez said. “But this year I decided to start at the back. I don’t mind giving 25,000 people a head start.”

Three hours before race time, Ernie Ramos, 45, of the City of North Miami, warmed up by sipping some beers with a few of his 56 teammates in a tent inside Bayfront Park.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Ramos said. “I’m going to have a few now and about three afterwards.”

Also getting ready early for the 3.1-miler was Jesus Valdez, 24, of Braman Motors. An hour before race time, Valdez, who is 6-0 and 250 pounds, ate a double cheeseburger with French fries and a large Coke.

“I eat like this before every race, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” Valdez said.

Unlike the front-runners, many among the moving masses were running just to have fun. Luke Pitcher, 39, of the Orange Bowl Committee, took his dog, Ozzie, along for the run.

“He got tired after two miles and I had to carry him,” Pitcher said. “But then he saw the lights at the finish line and he was ready to go again.”

Alex Mesa, 44, of JS Benz, was a crowd favorite. Mesa ran the entire race backward.

“A few years ago I was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and I’m HIV positive, so I started running,” Mesa said. “I run all of my races backwards, and it doesn’t hurt me at all, except today was tough going up the bridge. I just like doing it.”

Also having fun was Angelo Manganaro, 34, of Mercantile Commerce Bank. After crossing the finish in just under an hour, Manganaro kept running for about a block.

“It’s the way I warm down,” Manganaro said.

Matthew Amster, 40, of Bercow Radell & Fernandez, P.A., ran with his 8-year-old son, Jake, who is in third grade.

“I loved going over the bridge because I could see the water,” Jake said, who has run in six 5Ks.

Positive outlooks

For two runners, it was a night of personal triumph.

Nine years ago, Carla Valle-Schwenk, 45, a member of UM Team, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was told I could never run again, but now my cancer is in remission thanks to the treatment I’ve received at UM,” Valle-Schwenk said.

Marilyn Cabrera, 34, of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few years ago, and she lost 38 pounds. But now she is cancer-free, too.

“I felt really strong today. I feel great,” Cabrera said, who finished in just over an hour.

Big warmup

Race organizers billed the event as Florida’s biggest office party.

But 15 minutes before the race, it proved to be the state’s biggest warmup. Thousands of runners crowded into the Promenade inside Bayfront Park where they did an aerobics workout while listening to music blaring from two huge boom boxes that hung from a giant stage inside the park. While exercising, the crowd tossed dozens of beach balls around.

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