Competitors in the 17th annual Fitbit Miami Marathon might have that “something seems different yet familiar’’ feeling a week from Sunday when more than 20,000 of them take off at 6 a.m. in front of AmericanAirlines Arena.
While the 14,000 or so half marathoners will notice some minor changes, the traditionalists who have previously run the full, 26.2-mile marathon — both races take off and finish on Biscayne Boulevard near Bayfront Park — will experience the same course footprint with a substantial twist.
Runners who continue after the half marathon, produced by Life Time, will traverse the same roads as 2018, just basically in the reverse direction.
In an effort to make it a bit easier to tolerate one of the least shady portions of the course in a city that celebrates sunshine, marathon organizers switched the portion that previously took runners into the Rickenbacker Causeway stretch that heads below the William Powell Bridge between, roughly, miles 22 and 24, and put it earlier in the race from miles 15 to 17.
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Thus, said Miami Marathon co-founder and Life Time chief running officer Frankie Ruiz, “the average person who is running a 10- to 12-minute mile will hit that point roughly 1 1/2 hours earlier. Before, Brickell Avenue was your last stretch, now it’s earlier. The second half of the race is flipped. This is a significant change, but it’s still the same route because you’re doing it in a different direction.”
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau director of sports, film and entertainment tourism Jose Sotolongo has run in all 16 previous Miami Marathon events and will do the half marathon next Sunday.
“Basically what they’ve done is taken the back half of the course and turned it inside out,’’ Sotolongo said. “By turning the last half of the course backwards, you’re able to take advantage of the canopy in the Grove with the shade on the way to the finish. It makes it a lot easier.’’
Ruiz, 40, helped create the marathon in 2003 and has directed the course ever since. “I’m hoping this will motivate some folks to consider the full marathon if they’re near training for it,’’ he said. “When I’ve got 70 percent doing the half marathon and 30 percent doing the full, I want more doing the full so those people feel like there’s a crowd with them.”
The course, one of the nation’s most beautiful destination marathons, begins at the arena, heads toward Miami Beach over the MacArthur Causeway, through South Beach down Ocean Drive, by the Miami Beach Convention Center, over the majestic Venetian Causeway and back into Miami where the half marathon finishes and the full marathon continues into the Brickell, Coconut Grove area before returning to the finish.
One difference that marathoners and half marathoners will enjoy comes at about Mile 7 off Prairie and Meridian avenues, where the course reverts to what it once included — a one-mile stretch that allows some nice views of the Miami Beach Golf Club and residential section of Miami Beach.
And the one-block sprint to the finish that before last year was a four-block straightaway has been retained.
“The feedback we got was that runners liked it,’’ Ruiz said.
The race will still draw a significant international field. As of Friday there were nearly 900 runners registered from Colombia and more than 500 from Mexico.
The prize money will remain the same: $4,500 for the male and female winners, going down to $2,000 for the runners-up and $1,000 for the third-place finishers in the marathon; and $1,500, $800 and $450 to the top three, male and female, in the half marathon.
Other cash prizes go to the wheelchair racers and masters participants. About 150 racers with disabilities will compete.
“We have a reputation that I love in that we are one of the most, if not the most, friendly and accommodating for half and full marathon athletes with disabilities,’’ Ruiz said. “We’re very inclusive. I’m proud of that.’’
Registration for the marathon will continue through the expo at Mana Wynwood in Miami’s arts district. The expo, to be held from noon to 7 p.m Jan. 25 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 26, will have shuttles to take people there every 20 minutes from Bayside and every 35 minutes from the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Registration prices through Sunday, Jan. 20, are $150 for the marathon and $135 for the half, and rise on Monday, Jan. 21, to $170 and $155. Registration for the Fitbit Tropical 5K, at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 26 at Miami Children’s Museum, 980 MacArthur Causeway, is $50 through Sunday, Jan. 20, and $55 afterward.
And that long-range weather forecast, since we know you’re wondering if you haven’t already checked: a perfect 55 degrees and clear at the start and rising to about 60 degrees by 10 a.m and 66 by the time organizers start tearing down the course at 2 p.m.