Kristen Arendt had the biggest birthday party of her life Thursday night with more than 25,600 of the closest friends — as in packed-like-sardines close — she had never met.
It was the best one, too.
Arendt, who turned 25, had never been in Miami until this week. So, she gave herself a 3.1-mile tour of the city and in the process led all women — and almost all men — in the Mercedes-Benz Miami Corporate Run.
“What a fun thing to do on your birthday!” said Arendt, who finished in 17 minutes flat, so fast that she defeated all but five of the more than 11,900 men in the massive field. “I’ve run races on my birthday before, but never one like this. What a great city.
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“The buildings were gorgeous.”
A customer service representative for Newton Running in Boulder Colo., Arendt traveled to the race with co-worker and friend Tyler McCandless, 27, who won the overall title in 14:57.
McCandless, a former Penn State All-American in the 10,000 meters, represents Newton — a running shoe company — as a brand ambassador.
“I’ve run big races before, but for a 5K this was amazing,” said McCandless, who was in the snow last weekend. “It was hot. It was stifling. I just tried to hang on.”
Finishing second overall in 16:09 was two-time Fort Lauderdale Corporate Run winner and last year’s Miami runner-up Evan DeHart, 28, who works for Moss & Associates, a construction management firm in West Palm Beach.
“This is unlike any race that I’ve ever competed in,” said DeHart, who wore a pair of running shoes he bought when he was a junior in high school. “I like smaller, more intimate races, but in this one your adrenaline pumps so much before the race it’s almost hard to conserve it for the race.”
Miamian Bryan Sharkey, 26, a former Gulliver Prep and Princeton runner who is a senior financial analyst in the planning department of Carnival Cruise Lines, finished third in 16:36.
“I tried to run with with him,” Sharkey said, pointing to DeHart, “and he tried to run with the winner.
“Tyler made everyone faster. What’s not to like with 25,000 people running behind you? This is as much competition in Miami as you’re going to get.”
Bayfront Park on Biscayne Boulevard looked like a giant tent city flowing with men and women wearing rainbow-colored company T-shirts and partying before and after the 5K. They feasted, they drank, they danced to blasting music.
“There are 484 tents in that park, and I think I know every person under them,” said TeamFootWorks race director Laurie Huseby, who first brought the Corporate Run to Miami when it was born in 1985 as the 1,300-strong Manufacturers Hanover Corporate Challenge. “Then it was just beginning to engage the community. Now it’s a fabric of the community.
“There are four cruise lines of 400 and 500 people. UM has more than 1,000. Baptist, 1,800. It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. You can’t stop it.”
Women’s runner-up Beth Young didn’t want to stop it.
The 34-year-old lives in Washington but said she works in Miami during the week “fighting health care fraud” on a task force for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Young finished in 18:26, joking that she could see women’s winner Arendt “from very far away.” She explained with a smile that it was somewhat difficult fighting the heat and the massive crowd snaking up and down the city streets “but a good place to fight Medicare and Medicaid fraud.”
Placing third among women in 19:06 was 2013 winner Guadalupe Merlos, 32, of Miami, a senior accountant for Best Meridian Insurance Company.
“There are so many people here that you really can’t get a personal best,” she said. “But it’s nice to get together with your company.”
Arendt, the 2012 national 5,000-meter champion for NCAA Division II Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., said the energy expended trying to get to the starting line was a bit intense but worth it in the end.
She said she needed to continue celebrating her birthday with her three teammates from Newton Sports.
“I have a cupcake waiting for me,” she said.