Linda Robertson

Rain can’t dampen the spirit behind thousands of Miami Marathon stories

On Sunday, January 29, 2017 elite runners leave the starting line as thousands of runners participated in the Miami Marathon under cold and wet conditions.
On Sunday, January 29, 2017 elite runners leave the starting line as thousands of runners participated in the Miami Marathon under cold and wet conditions. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Miami has a mind of its own and was not in the mood to be picture-postcard perfect on Sunday.

There’s relentless pressure on our city to present that famous sunny face day after day, so Miami ended a pleasant January streak with a gray, rainy, chilly message not to take it for granted as the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon got underway.

Runners moaned and groaned, as they are apt to do anyway, but were silently thanking Miami for not putting forth her haughty 85-degree, winter-withholding self.

Soggy feet in squishy shoes made it more of a slog than usual but for the nearly 25,000 participants in the 15th running of the event, suffering en masse is part of the fun.

“My toes are numb, but I did the whole thing, not like the cheaters I saw taking Uber!” said Michelle Fried. “I want a nice hot bath. With lots of bubbles. And a pizza.”

The first challenge was the MacArthur Causeway ascent, and at the peak two wet, windblown bagpipers greeted us with music that fit right in with the Scottish Highlands weather.

2017 wheelchair field takes off on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017 in front of American Airlines Arena

Onward past cruise ships on steroids. Have a swell breakfast buffet while our blisters are plumping!

No sunrise this year, and few spectators braving temperatures that dropped to the mid-50s. But there was a young man on Ocean Drive cheering with the type of gusto that spews after an all-nighter -- offering swigs of either Tito’s vodka or Starbuck’s coffee.

Pretty quiet through the rest of Miami Beach. Whitecap-inducing winds whipped across the Venetian Causeway as we returned to downtown after Mile 10. Lots of people wearing garbage-bag ponchos never shed them.

I knew I was closing in on my worst half-marathon time ever. Sick, undertrained, overworked, I was a walking (too much walking!) excuse. Felt like California Chrome in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup: Running on empty. But that was fine because I had more time to meet runners. Nobody does 13.1 or 26.2 miles on a lark. Most need a purpose.

Juan Carson, who works for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, completed his 15th straight full Miami Marathon, this one in 4:40:00. His daughter Saffron greeted him at the finish with his previous 14 medals, which he draped on his arms, Michael Phelps-style.

“It’s my hometown race and I want to keep the streak going,” Carson said.

Abdi Sans, a South Dade High English teacher and cancer survivor, walked in tribute to her principal, Javier Rodriguez, who had both legs amputated after a driver swerved onto the baseball field where Rodriguez was coaching and ran him over. Sans wore a JaviStrong T-shirt.

“I like walking because I get to swap stories with people,” she said.

As Marisa Aleksander Markowitz completed her first marathon in 4:45, she was embraced by three training friends and they broke into tears. Two years ago, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy. She vowed to become a marathoner.

Afterward, she couldn’t contain her emotions.

“For me, it was about pain,” said Markowitz, a native of Argentina. “We can overcome anything painful in life.

“When I finished I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was cured.”

Peri Finkelstein, 17, finished her sixth Miami Half Marathon in audacious, inspirational style. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as an infant, doctors said she would never walk.

But last year, Finkelstein got out of her wheelchair and walked the last quarter mile, or 1,467 steps, under her own power, using her gait trainer.

For 2017, she set a goal of walking the final mile and trained by doing laps around her Long Island basement. Mom Lori pushed Finkelstein as usual, but there were bumps on the road.

“Peri felt nauseous and threw up a couple times,” Lori said. “We had to stop to suction her ventilator. We went into a Payless to buy dry socks. When it was time for her to walk, we whispered in her ear that it was ok if she didn’t feel up to it.”

Finkelstein never says never. Accompanied by nurses, a therapist, her sister, brother, father, former Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa and Team Lifeline supporters, she’s raised $200,000 for Lifeline’s summer camp for disabled and ill kids.

“She’s the most determined little girl I’ve ever met,” Figueroa said.

As Finkelstein walked slowly but firmly down the home stretch, a roar rose from the spectators. Not a dry eye in the stands.

Pick a finish line story. Any story. You will be moved. Rain or shine, Miami’s marathon isn’t merely a picturesque tour of our city. It’s a journey of the heart.

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