As Miami evolves, so does its marathon — if even for a mile here or a few blocks there.
When the 16th running of the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon gets underway at 6 a.m. Jan. 28 in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena, runners in both events will tackle a different final mile that leads to the same traditional finish on Biscayne Boulevard at Bayfront Park.
The most obvious difference: The four-block straightaway that aided marathoners in accelerating (if they had the strength) to the finish line is now a one-block sprint.
The half marathoners, who previously had a little more than two blocks worth of a straightaway sprint to the same finish line, will also finish along the one-block stretch.
As always, blame it on construction, because a thriving city has lots of it.
“There’s a [Florida Department of Transportation] project on Biscayne Boulevard,’’ explained marathon chief running officer Frankie Ruiz, 39, who helped create the marathon in 2003 and now directs it. “There’s always a little tweak. This one caused a little bit more pain because it’s the last portion of the race.
“We had to give access to all those residential buildings in that section of downtown. But the course has been recertified and the integrity of the race remains. We still go over the MacArthur. We still go over the Venetian. We’re still starting at AmericanAirlines Arena and finishing at Bayfront.
“You’re going to see more of downtown,’’ he added, referring to a loop in the final mile around the perimeter of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. “It gives you a sense of Miami’s history. It’s almost 100 years old.”
The full marathoners for the first time will also run up Pan American Drive, past City Hall on Dinner Key, in Coconut Grove at about Mile 19.
Two years ago, because of an extensive construction project, the Miami Marathon had to scrap using the majestic Venetian Causeway and replace it with two up-and-down journeys over the MacArthur Causeway as part of its 26.2-mile course.
Last year, to the delight of runners, the Venetian returned, as is anticipated (or at least hoped for) next year with the original straightaway.
This year’s marathon course, at about Mile 25½, will proceed over the Miami Avenue Bridge instead of the Brickell Avenue Bridge because of construction. Runners will race “through the heart of Brickell City Centre,’’ Ruiz said. “There might be a few more spectators on the route because we’re passing through the heart of Brickell — more of the residential side.”
Ruiz said that the event should have “well over 20,000 registered by Monday.”
Jose Sotolongo, director of sports tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, is one of them. Sotolongo has run in all 15 previous Miami Marathons — 10 of them in the 13.1-mile race. He’ll run in his 11th Miami Half Marathon next week.
“It is what it is,” Sotolongo, 56, said of the course change. “It’s still the same distance. As a runner the thing I’m looking at more is the temperature and wind direction. You’re always looking for a tailwind on the way back in. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The bottom line is it will be the same temperature and wind direction for everybody.”
The event is still a long way off, but the forecast calls for temperatures in the low to mid-70s with 12- to 15-mile-an-hour winds from the southeast for much of the race, with thunderstorms brewing in the early afternoon after many, but not all participants, have finished — something most runners dread after last year’s cold downpour.
“That’ll change a million times between now and then,’’ Sotolongo said.
Another change: The marathon and half marathon expo has relocated from Marlins Park back to Mana Wynwood in Miami’s arts district. The expo, to be held from noon to 7 p.m. Jan. 26 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 27, will have a more interactive format than usual.
“I like to call it sweat space,’’ Ruiz said, “where we’ll have free classes — everything from abs to butt workouts. We’re trying to make it so that people aren’t just coming to spend money and buy shoes. It has more of a fitness festival touch to it.’’
Shuttles to the expo will run from Bayside every 20 minutes and from the Miami Beach Convention Center (where the expo formerly was housed but is waiting for construction to be completed) every 35 minutes.
Bayside service begins at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 26 and 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 27. Miami Beach Convention Center service begins at 11:15 a.m. Friday and 9:15 a.m. Saturday.
Registration prices through Sunday are $150 for the marathon and $135 for the half.
For more information, visit themiamimarathon.com.