23,000 runners on the street as cold, wet Miami Marathon winners cross the finish

The cold, wet 15th running of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon took off just past 6 a.m. Sunday in predawn darkness, with about 23,000 runners lining the streets of downtown Miami outside AmericanAirlines Arena.

And despite his muscles breaking down and his soaked body shivering uncontrollably by the end of the 26.2-miler, former Dartmouth runner Christopher Zablocki, 28, of Essex, Connecticut, smiled as he closed his eyes and massage therapists kneaded his aching muscles.

Zablocki won $4,500 and the marathon title in 2 hours 18 minutes 15 seconds, breaking away at the 23-mile mark to defeat Kenyan men’s runner-up Hillary Too (2:19:42 for $2000) and former two-time Miami Marathon winner Luis Carlos Rivero Gonzalez (2:20:01 for $1,000) of Guatemala.

“It felt good,’’ Zablocki, a medical student, said of the pouring rain that began 30 minutes after the race started in 58-degree, overcast conditions, with temperatures dipping to 52 by the time the winners crossed the finish. “I’m a cold weather guy.’’

Zablocki, who attended American University of the Caribbean (Saint Maarten) Medical School, has 30 more weeks of rotations and will begin at New York’s Nassau University Medical Center in March. “At 23 miles I was just a step ahead,’’ he said, “and trying to keep up as fast as I could.”

With two miles to go, Zablocki said he “started praying’’ that his arms and legs, which were starting to stiffen, “wouldn’t fall apart too badly.’’

Not only didn’t his body fall apart, but Zablocki’s victory was his second in two weeks. He won the Carlsbad Marathon in California on Jan. 15 in 2:20:12.

Marta Ayela, 33, of Ethiopia, also won $4,500 for the women’s title in 2:40:51. But the women’s race was not nearly as close, with runner up Ashley Paulson of Orem, Utah ($2,000), finishing a little more than seven minutes later in 2:48:02.

“I’m very happy,’’ said Ayela in her limited English, adding through an interpreter that she loved running down Ocean Drive near the beach. She said Sunday’s victory was her 10th in the marathon distance.

Winning the half marathon, worth $1,500, was Panuel Mkungo, 23, of Kenya, in 1:04:11 — the second fastest half-marathon time in the event’s history. Mkungo, living with his coach in Elkton, Maryland, is the oldest of six children and uses whatever he earns in races to support his sister’s education in Kenya. His father died several years ago.

“Two weeks ago the family was asking for money and he was very stressed and broke down in tears,’’ Jason Rita, his coach, said. “He was looking forward to this race.

The runner-up in the half marathon was Ethan Clary, 27, of Doral. Clary, a former NCAA runner at the State University of New York at Albany, finished in 1:09:58 ($800).

Winning the half marathon in the women’s division was Krystalanne Curwood, 31, of Denver in 1:18:48 ($1,500).

The women’s half-marathon runner-up was Mariela Ortiz, 41, of Argentina, in 1:19:06 ($800), as she unknowingly was passed by Curwood with a little more than half a mile to go.

“I hate the rain and I hate the cold,’’ Ortiz said. “But I love Miami.’’

As is often the case, the back stories of some of the top runners were more intriguing than the competition itself. Clary, for example, was told on Friday night that his mother, back in their family home in Albany, had suffered a stroke. He was in the airport by 4 a.m. Saturday for the first flight out, then returned on a 5:50 p.m. flight after seeing his mother and learning she had not sustained serious complications and was going to be OK.

Clary said she demanded he return to South Florida for the race.

His plane was delayed and he didn’t get back to Miami until midnight — six hours before the start.

“I was in a panic the whole time,’’ Clary said. “But it was a mild stroke.’’

In the chair divisions, Narce Ludovic, 48, of France, led the men’s handcycle marathon field ($500) and Jacqui Kapinowski, 54, of Jupiter, led the women’s field ($500).

Cristian Torres, 36, of Colombia, led the men’s marathon push-rim field ($500).

The half-marathon chair winners were Marcel Lignon, 21, of St. Barthelemy (handcycle) and Francisco San Clemente, 28, of Colombia (push-rim). The female winners were Alba Rivera de Jesus, 49, of San Juan, Puerto Rico (handcycle).

Official times are pending.

Thousands of spectators, some holding signs for their favorite entrants, lined the streets at the start, many standing from packed bleachers in front of the arena, their cellphone cameras hoisted high. The event, owned and produced by Life Time Fitness, traverses some of the most scenic views of Miami and Miami Beach — including lit-up cruise ships below the MacArthur Causeway and neon-lit clubs along Ocean Drive in South Beach.

“Miami was Miami today,’’ said race director Frankie Ruiz. “It’s good to know Miami doesn’t stop, even when it rains.’’

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