Whitecaps told the story Sunday during the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. So did palm trees bending like licorice sticks. And attacking paper cups.
“Watch out! The cups are coming after us,” yelled one runner at a water station as a gust swept hundreds of cups scattered on the street into our legs with a clip-clopping whoosh.
Winds blasting out of the east at 20 mph increased the suffering of 20,000-plus participants in the 16th annual endurance test. There was a headwind on the MacArthur Causeway, a crosswind on Ocean Drive, another punch in the face on the Rickenbacker and blustery tunnels on downtown streets. There must have been a tailwind along the Venetian Causeway and in parts of Coconut Grove but we were too tired to feel any push.
“Brutal,” said Adan Rivas, a U.S. Army captain based at Fort McCoy near La Crosse, Wis. Rivas knows brutal. To prepare for the Miami Marathon he trained in minus-30 degree temperatures that froze his eyelashes.
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“When it’s cold you can dress in layers but there’s not much you can do about this kind of wind,” he said. “I tried to draft whenever I could.”
The breeze combined with a humid starting time temperature of 73 meant any hopes of personal bests were blowing in the wind.
But unpredictable weather is part of the adventure of Miami’s premier running event. Last year runners were drenched by a steady, bone-chilling rain. In many years past, perfectly-timed cold snaps delivered perfect marathoning conditions of 45-50 degrees. Then there were agonizing years when it felt like summer never left.
On Sunday, at least a gray cloak of clouds lent some protection to the masses. It was, as always, the healthiest tour of Miami and Miami Beach by foot that one could ask for. All along the route, runners stopped to pose for photos – with cruise ships in the background, on the steps of the Versace mansion, in front of the Freedom Tower or Art Deco hotels or Seaquarium’s spinning shark, and along the waterfront that laps at the loveliest sections of a course that rolls out like a highlight reel, with panting as the soundtrack.
How nice to traverse this territory at dawn, with no traffic, no hostesses shoving menus at you on South Beach and not a peep emanating from the obnoxious Clevelander Hotel.
What we heard was cheering. Supporters woke up early to bang on pots and pans, ring cowbells and shout encouragement to complete strangers.
Vanessa Herrera felt the love. She was wearing an El Salvador singlet and appreciated positive acknowledgment of her “shithole” country.
“I heard a lot of ‘Vamos, El Salvador!’” said Herrera, who lives in San Salvador and finished her first marathon in 3:19. She said President Donald Trump’s insult of her home as well as Haiti and African nations only deepened her pride. “Trump has a big mouth but at least he’s not my president – not that ours [Salvador Sanchez Ceren] is any better.”
The cheering helps. So does the music from bagpipers and bands. So do the signs, such as “Hurry up so I can go back to bed.” The best one: “Run like Harvey Weinstein is chasing you.”
A change in the finishing stretch this year due to construction on Biscayne Boulevard was actually an improvement as it created a long row of screaming, applauding spectators on Southeast First Street. No, Miami can’t compare to Wellesley or Central Park but it’s getting better.
The finish line stories never fail to captivate. The 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile journeys began long before dawn on race day and most will continue long after the clock stops.
A team supporting Yitzi Hurwitz, a beloved rabbi who has the degenerative disease ALS, chose Miami as a fundraiser to help cover his medical expenses.
“It’s a horrible disease that has left him paralyzed but he has used his struggle as a catalyst to inspire people,” said Yossi Ginsburg, a Yeshiva teacher from Los Angeles. “A couple times I felt like I was hitting the wall. I closed my eyes and visualized that twinkle in his eye.”
Jodi Brodsky, 63, completed her 67th marathon while thinking about her husband, Richard, a brain cancer survivor who was supposed to run with her but was prevented by injury.
“He believes running saved his life,” she said.
Others ran in honor of deceased loved ones. Firefighters jogged in full gear. A couple from New York got engaged in the finishing chute when he proposed to her with a hibiscus flower.
It’s very easy to party in Miami and sort of lose yourself. Then everything catches up with you, including the beer belly.
Phil Pepin, after completing his first marathon in 4:08 and breaking down in tears
Phil Pepin completed his first marathon in 4:08 and broke down in tears. He made a pledge a year ago to reorder his life and get back in shape. He set the Miami Marathon, which finishes a block from his downtown condo, as his goal.
“It’s very easy to party in Miami and sort of lose yourself,” he said. “Then everything catches up with you, including the beer belly.”
Pepin ached and will feel stiff as a statue come Monday, but walked gingerly onward to collect the prized Miami Marathon medal with its twirling palm tree and ribbon adorned with flamingos, coconuts, espresso makers and the city skyline. But it’s only a token. He will cherish the pain that is his true reward.