The howling, four-letter scourge for more than 20,000 in the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday was invisible and fickle and in-your-face frustrating.
“Wind,’’ said marathon winner Hillary Too, 38, a Kenyan dairy farmer who led the field in 2 hours 23 minutes 2 seconds. “The problem today is wind – so much wind, everywhere. We had to struggle a lot.’’
But for Too, the 20-mile-an-hour winds – with gusts to 25 – weren’t enough of a problem to prevent him from collecting a $4,500 prize for a finish that was more than three minutes slower than his second-place result at last year’s Miami Marathon.
The father of three took the lead at Mile 22 of the 26.2-mile race and cruised from there. “I’m very excited for winning,’’ said Too, from Eldoret.
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The men’s runner-up: Tecklu Deneke (2:23:39, $2,000), a 38-year-old Ethiopian who trains in Flagstaff, Arizona, where it snowed last week.
“The course was very good, but the wind was very bad and it was hot,’’ Deneke said of the overcast, 73-degree 6 a.m. start that rose to 75 by 11 a.m.
The good news: No rain, unlike last year’s deluge.
Deneke explained that he chose to run the Miami Marathon because people tell him “all the time’’ that the four famous cities in the United States are Miami, New York, Vegas and Honolulu.’’
The event began in the 6 a.m. predawn darkness and traversed over the MacArthur Causeway into Miami Beach, up Ocean Drive, back into the mainland by way of the Venetian Causeway, through downtown and Coconut Grove, and back to the downtown finish at Bayfront Park.
Deneke noted that he enjoyed the crowd support, and particularly liked the lit-up cruise ships that runners passed as they ascended the MacArthur. “They looked very good.’’
Women’s winner Lyubov Denisova, a 46-year-old Russian who has lived in Gainesville almost 10 years, was also thrilled – and exhausted from constant wind in her face. She obliterated the women’s field, finishing in a personal best of 2:40:53, more than a mile ahead of runner up Lindsey Scherf (2:48:34) of High Falls, New York.
In doing so, the 5-foot, 99-pound Denisova won the master’s (40-over) title, adding $500 to her $4,500 first-place take. She said she’ll use the money toward her daughter’s tuition at Flagler College in St. Augustine.
“Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy!’’ was Denisova’s reply when asked how she felt about her result. “I prepared for two months, training and concentrating for this one.’’
What did she think of the wind?
“Terrible,’’ she said.
The half-marathon field, with upwards of 14,000 registered, was led by Julius Koskei, 36, of Kenya, in 1:05:47 ($1,500).
“The headwind was pushing me back at the start and finish,’’ Koskei said. “Not too many hills…but it was hard running alone. Nobody to push off of.’’
Senbeto Geneti, 24, an Ethiopian who trains in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the half-marathon runner-up in 1:07:43 ($800).
The closest race of the day was the women’s half marathon, in which Firegenet Mandefiro, 24, of Ethiopia, finished in 1:16:34 – 11 seconds ahead of Santa Ines Melchor, 31, of Huancayo, Peru (1:16:45).
“Melchor, who won the 2016 Miami Half Marathon, had the best back story of the day.
Riding in a car with her manager’s sister, the two came upon an awful traffic jam as they exited I-95 and headed toward I-395.
“We decided to get out of the car and start running to the AmericanAirlines Arena,’’ said Cecilia Zereceda, the manager’s sister who helped translate for Melchor. “It was about a mile run. We were on time for the race.”
Added Melchor: “It was awesome. When we started running, a lot of people started getting out of their cars and running with us.’’
Melchor, like the others, said the wind was brutal.
Perhaps fifth-place half-marathon finisher Ethan Clary (1:10:29), 28, of Doral until Monday, when he moves to Durham, North Carolina, described the wind situation best.
“I’m a little disappointed,’’ he said. “But no excuse, the wind was brutal for everybody. You’re going to hear a common theme. Everyone is going to tell you, ‘The wind was in your face the whole way.’ It was never at your back – except for maybe when you made a quick, little 40-meter turn.
“It is what it is. It’s always unpredictable at Miami. You have to do the best that you can with what you’ve got.’’
Winning the marathon wheelchair divisions were, for handcycles, Alfredo de los Santos of Hopewell Junction, New York, in 1:12:46, and Kristen Abele of Germany, in 1:49:59; and for push rim, Christian Torres, of Colombia, in 2:13:39, and Mercedes Gomez of Venezuela in 3:01:39.