January 30, 2014

Race director Javier Sanchez turns Miami Marathon into extravaganza

Javier Sanchez, the new Life Time Miami Marathon race director, knows all about performing on a big stage — even if it’s 26.2 miles long.

Javier Sanchez’s reputation for throwing parties on the run is the stuff of recent Miami lore.

His bashes start in the dark and end under the beating sun.

They include live salsa, hip-hop and reggae — with plenty black beans and rice and beer.

They meander above cruise ships on Biscayne Bay, through the hot spots of Coconut Grove and past the neon-lit clubs of South Beach.

And they reward the 25,000 or so party-goers with dangling bling.

“Everyone raves about it,” Sanchez, the new Life Time Miami Marathon race director, said of the “gyroscope medal” — and the accompanying 26.2-mile party that begins at 6:05 a.m. Sunday in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena. “You’re not just participating, you’re taking the streets.”

Sanchez, an accomplished musician and event/entertainment producer who has played in venues such as Carnegie Hall and been on recordings used as background for performers such as Madonna, has been the man behind the marathon hoopla for several years.

“He’s the guy who makes it happen,” said Miami Marathon co-race founder Frankie Ruiz of Sanchez, the marathon’s entertainment guru since the start.

Sanchez, 34, lives in Miami Lakes but grew up next door to Ruiz in unincorporated Miami-Dade — about eight blocks from FIU. The two close friends played pickup baseball and basketball and street football, but Ruiz became the gifted runner while Sanchez “always took the music route.”

Sanchez, married and the father of an 8-month-old daughter, was the state’s first-chair trombone in his senior year at Miami Coral Park High. He received his bachelor’s degree in studio music and jazz performance at the University of Miami, and then his master’s at UM in music business and entertainment industries. He is an adjunct professor in music business and entertainment industries at UM’s Frost School of Music.

By the time he was 19, Sanchez, the son of Cuban-born parents, was playing bass trombone for the Disney Collegiate All-Star Band. The elite, young musicians perform during the summer in Disney parades and throughout the Magic Kingdom.

“He’s really good at it,” Ruiz said of Sanchez’s musical talents. “I remember going to his house and asking him to play the Miami Heat theme song all the time.”

Sanchez’s foray into running began in college as a way to enhance his breathing and lung strength for his trombone playing. “I was what you’d call your everyday runner getting good exercise, releasing tension and building up my lungs,” he said.

He now runs a few miles three or four times a week at a journeyman’s pace and has completed two Disney World Half Marathons. His strength is in creating a good time, not running one.

Sanchez, also the race director for the Sarasota Half Marathon, took over Miami’s event when former director David Scott left after four years to become director of operations for Champion Coach. Sanchez has been working with Miami’s marathon from its inception in 2003. He has served as entertainment director and starting line captain. He has directed the production schedule and drafted scripts for the start. He has served as race announcer. One year he even sat in the passenger seat of the pace car “to make sure the lead runners were going the right way.”

Drumlines and colorguards, DJs and cheerleaders, live bands, even Billy the Marlin and Sebastian the Ibis; there are usually about 40 entertainment stations over the course. Sanchez embraces the fun and frills but says he treats every detail with serious precision.

“When 25,000 are at the start, you want everything to be as perfect as possible,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, we live in paradise. We want to give the perception that Miami is all things party.”

Marcela Todd is the wellness director for Motorola and head coach of Friends in Training, a marathon training group. She said Sanchez visits her group regularly, promoting the marathon and constantly asking for feedback.

“What I love most about Javi is he really cares about the running community,” Todd said. “He doesn’t just care about the fastest runners, he cares about the back-of-the-packers. Water stations are well supported and the finish-line people are always there waiting until the very last person finishes.

“Javi wants everyone to have a great experience.”

Two-time Latin Grammy Award nominee Ed Calle, a saxophonist who served as King of Carnaval Miami in 2013, has been chosen this year for the second time to play the national anthem before the start of the marathon.

“Being a musician we’re used to logistics,” Calle said, “but not until I experienced the race did I realize how extensive they are for a marathon. Watching people running around for 26 miles, I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be out of your mind.’

“But Javi, he loves it. He’s unflappable, and he takes care of business. He demands quality, and that’s what he gets.”

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