Miami Stories

Breathless in Miami: Our dream vacation spot is now our dream home

Miami runner Cynthia Valdivieso poses with a medal after a competition.
Miami runner Cynthia Valdivieso poses with a medal after a competition. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Saturday at 4:30 a.m. If you don’t have trouble getting up, you’re probably a runner. Weekdays are fun runs, under four miles. Saturdays are exciting. Saturdays are long runs! Toe socks, water belt, jelly beans, light clip — it is with a respectful sense of ceremony that I put on my running shoes. I step outside and feel the palm trees smiling at me in the dark. I am ready to conquer the city. My city. Miami.

About five-and-a-half million people call Miami home. And it’s easy to feel at home, whether you are into salsa, jazz, tennis, vintage biking, sushi or pho. Many of us grew up somewhere else — for me it was Guayaquil, Ecuador — and we dreamed of a Miami vacation. Fate was good to us; vacation is only a half-hour from our beds.

#MyMiami is quiet and peaceful. #MyMiami whispers to me on Saturday mornings: “Be the first one to see the new day Cynthia, and nail those miles. You can do this girl!”

The stretching begins at 5:15. Then the different pace groups set off, the fastest first. We head east on Sunset Drive. The trees send us a dark embrace. The sidewalk is uneven, studded with roots. Still, we fight our urge to ignore our pace, for we know very well we need to save energy for the last mile.

We turn left onto beautiful, moon-bathed Maynada Street, which gifts us with a wide, smooth concrete sidewalk. Runner’s paradise. Past the little bridge over the canal, we turn right at the traffic circle onto Hardee Road.

We stop at the water station at Coco Plum Circle. The two-mile warming is done. After the Circle, the run will get real. We all take pictures and encourage one another while the group is still together (we will split around mile 7). It’s still dark. The palm trees, tall and beautiful, smile approvingly at us, next to yachts and houses with guest quarters.

“OK, guys, let’s do this!” says Betty, our pace leader. “Enjoy!” says one of the bikers. “We will!” we respond. The biker means it. We mean it too. Complete exhaustion is such joy.

We go onto Edgewater Drive and hit the Mile 3 mark before turning onto Douglas Road.

We turn onto Douglas Road, past Vanguard School onto Main Highway. There is no sidewalk; the road is narrow and the traffic is heavier. Main Highway is long and dark and curvy. We know every curve, especially the last one, for after that, CocoWalk.

CocoWalk is best when empty. I know, we usually go to, well, walk, and see people. But there’s a certain intimacy between the empty cafes and the runners. We will see dawn in CocoWalk — but first, the towel angels!

We are almost at Mile 5 when this heavenly vision appears at St. Stephens Church: Angels with ice-cold wet towels!

People and their dogs are beginning to show up at the park in front of the marina. They greet us with, “Great job!” We continue down CocoWalk back to Main Highway. As we enter into Main Highway, we chat and giggle, and check on the ones behind. The groups will split at Mile 7.

A little bit before Douglas Road, our perspectives begin to change. We need to focus more, we need to lift up our knees more, we need to want it more. Somewhere down Douglas Road, the groups are regrouped because our paces need to be adjusted.

Motivation comes from all sources. More people, more dogs, more bikes, more cars. Each step is a thought process now, the running technique needs to be applied according to your strife. They may say it becomes natural, but I still have to think about it past Mile 7. On the way to Coco Walk, I see every house, every balcony, every garden; but on the way back I need to concentrate on my steps. “Knees up, land flat on your feet, knees up, land flat on your feet.”

My grandma used to say: “If life overwhelms you, try wearing a pair of shoes one size too small for a day.” Same concept with running. Mile 9 is the point where you let go of your heartbreaks and conflicts, for at this point nothing hurts more than every muscle of your body. You find strength in your pain. Lift up your knees.

Maynada Street. One more mile. The last mile is the toughest mile. Everything is possible if you believe.

Sunset Drive. It is a mental fight now. Your legs will do what your mind commands. Your heart will obey your will. Sunset Place is two blocks away. No stopping until we reach the traffic light across from Barnes & Noble. There is life in the cafes of SoMi. We clap and high-five each other. Our self-esteem is up in the clouds, and Miami, as always, is at our feet.

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