Outdoors

Miami Marathon returns to its roots to traverse majestic Venetian Causeway

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami Marathon and Half Marathon runners huffed and puffed up and down the two MacArthur Causeway bridges twice last year because construction had altered the usual course.

But this year’s participants will likely be delighted that the event, in its 15th running Jan. 29, again will encompass the majestic Venetian Causeway – site of dolphins leaping in and out of Biscayne Bay just past Mile 9 of the inaugural Miami Marathon in 2003.

“I’m thrilled to go back on the Venetian,’’ marathon director Frankie Ruiz told the Miami Herald late last Wednesday. “It shows a part of Miami that usually doesn’t get shown. It’s beautiful. The sun is to your back and you have a different view of the skyline, a different view of the Julia Tuttle [Causeway], and obviously, beautiful homes.’’

The event’s first 13 years included the jaunt over the Venetian, which comes between miles 7 ½ and 10 ½. But an extensive construction project forced organizers to make adjustments.

This year, participants will once again traverse the MacArthur only once. But as usual, there is plenty of construction in Miami-Dade, so there are a couple of minor changes.

Runners will “do a double-back on Washington Avenue,’’ Ruiz said, “because of the Miami Beach Convention Center construction and West Avenue construction.”

Also, to make it possible to get to the Venetian, Ruiz said, participants will traverse 17th Street instead of Dade Boulevard.

“We have a few less turns because of that,’’ Ruiz said.

The route will still go through the streets of Miami, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove.

Ruiz said organizers “are gearing up for 24,000 registrants,’’ which would slightly surpass last year’s combined numbers for the 26.2-mile marathon, the 13.1-mile half marathon and the Tropical 5K the previous day.

Other changes include raising the marathon cash prizes from $2,000 to $4,500 for the overall male and female winners; from $1,000 to $2,000 for the second-place finishers; and from $500 to $1,000 for the third-place finishers.

The half marathon winners also will earn more, with $1,500 going to the winners, $800 going to the second-place finishers and $450 earned by the third-place finishers.

Chair winners in push rim and hand crank divisions will each earn $500.

In doing so, the race, owned and produced by Life Time Fitness Inc., will not pay for elite runners to come from various countries.

“We are not bringing anybody in,’’ Ruiz said. “Nobody. We are going to rely on the appeal of the total prize purse to lure in what I think can be a slightly more competitive race instead of hand-picking and curating the elite field. If it doesn’t work and we see that it’s not as competitive an event and the times are too slow, I may go back to what we did last year.

“I want to improve the race experience. Last year it was a 17-minute win for [Benazzouz Slimani].”

Slimani finished in 2 hours 24 minutes 56 seconds during the coldest Miami Marathon in history -- temperatures that hovered in the mid 40s.

Though some U.S. runners from outside Florida have chosen to stay home because of fear of the Zika virus, the international field will still be quite impressive in terms of numbers, with more than 80 countries represented.

“We had a few groups cancel mid summer,’’ Ruiz said. “People from outside here don’t realize Miami in January doesn’t necessarily have mosquitoes the way you have them in August.

“But we haven’t felt a slowdown in the market. This should be a great 15th running.’’

If you go:

When/Where: 6 a.m. Jan. 29 at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.

Registration: Marathon -- $135 through Jan. 12; $150 Jan. 13-22; $170 race week; Half Marathon -- $115 through Jan. 12; $125 Jan. 13-22; $150 race week; Tropical 5K -- $40 through Jan. 12; $45 Jan. 13-22; $50 race week.

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