Judging from the array of coats, ski masks and woolly hats runners wore for the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, one would have thought that the snowstorm slamming the East Coast had blown down to South Florida.
There were no snowflakes Sunday morning on Biscayne Boulevard, but for warm-blooded locals, it was cold. The 46-degree temperature at 6 a.m. made it the coldest start by six degrees in the 14-year-history of the event.
For most of us, the weather was brrrrilliant, hitting the sweet spot for a 26.2-mile or 13.1-mile endurance test. By the time we were chugging up the MacArthur Causeway hill in the first mile, our bodies were warming up as if they’d been placed in a microwave oven.
By Mile 3, those who had bundled themselves in layers began the least sexy strip show ever witnessed, discarding their wardrobe along the roadside.
Chilly? Not when you’re surrounded by a herd of some 24,000 panting runners with the sun rising on a gorgeous day to tour downtown, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove by foot. Makes you ponder what it would be like to discard your car.
As we headed out on our journey, cruise ships were sailing in. They looked like floating condo towers in Government Cut. No doubt passengers were enjoying a snooze or another buffet. This was our moment to feel either a. envious or b. superior.
We climbed the second hump of the MacArthur before trotting through SoFi (south of Fifth) and past Lummus Park. Hordes of tourists on Ocean Drive were replaced by hordes of runners, some pausing to take selfies. Dawn this year was subtle — daubs of butter-yellow sky above clouds the color of uncooked shrimp.
“Run fast, done fast!” read one sign whose holder rang a cowbell.
As we passed Barbara Capitman Way and the Versace Mansion, the aroma of bacon wafted from an Art Deco hotel. At Mile 6, I typically recite the runner’s version of Robert Frost: “Pancakes are lovely, plump and sweet. But I have time goals to meet. And miles to go before I eat. And miles to go before I eat.” Never underestimate the lure of pigging out to get a runner to the finish line.
On Collins Avenue, racers nearly collided with a young woman apparently walking homeward after a night of club-hopping. She was wearing platform shoes half her own height and a red micro-skirt made from less material than running shorts, mincing down the middle of the street while texting.
“Ay, yi, yi!” said one runner as he wove past her. “Must be in South Beach.”
On Fifth Street going back to the mainland, we passed our first entertainment hotspot — a group of orthodox Jewish men dancing wildly to Hebrew rock music.
Unfortunately, this display of chutzpah was not enough to distract us from what lay ahead: Another passage of the MacArthur, a course detour necessitated by a construction project that has temporarily closed the flatter Venetian Causeway (and robbed us of the chance to see leaping porpoises). Mile 9 was brutal, as we trudged up the second bridge into a gusty headwind. One runner wheezed into his cellphone, and received long-distance encouragement from someone coaching him through the pain.
It’s tempting to focus on your inventory of ailments — a blister on the ball of my left foot, tightness at the bottom of right hamstring. So I joined the group following pacer Kristen Tinker, one of 34 from marathonpacing.com helping runners hit personal bests or Boston Marathon qualifying times. She was holding a nine-minute-per-mile pace while performing standup comedy along North Miami Avenue. She likes to sing and chat to induce smiles “because it feeds the soul and gets endorphins flowing,” she said.
“The idea is to stay in the moment and not worry about the next mile or Mile 20,” pacer Scott Douglas said.
I was only running the half, so I was plenty worried about not having to limp through Miles 12 and 13. Thanks to Kristen’s pep talks, we finished under two hours, as she and her full marathoners bounded off toward their four-hour goal with a Def Leppard tune. When you take the left turn to the half finish line and wave goodbye to those stronger and braver, there’s a moment of guilt and longing — immediately succeeded by relief. Maybe 26.2 next year?
The finish area at Bayfront Park is a flood of drama, each runner carrying a story across the line.
Women’s marathon winner Allison Kieffer of East Greenwich Village decided to upgrade from the half to the full the night before despite not really preparing for either. Her most recent long training run? Fifteen miles in August.
“I was planning on running a lot slower but I’m very competitive, and I figured I could pick off the people ahead of me,” said Kieffer, who got blisters so bad they had to be lanced in the medical tent.
While we’re on the subject of piercing, Gregory Niitsuma ran the marathon with his race bib safety-pinned to his pierced nipples.
“If you want to run shirtless it’s the perfect way to hold your bib,” said Miami’s Niitsuma, 33, a bartender. “I had 22 piercings when I was young and rebellious. Now that I’m older they’re coming out slowly.”
The 400 members of Team Lifeline ran in memory of others and to raise money for a summer camp that serves kids with chronic and genetic illnesses. Rachel Rosenberg and Eli Sheva dedicated each mile to deceased relatives, campers or Israeli terror victims.
“Each person inspires us to get through the miles, one by one,” Rosenberg said.
Some runners kissed the ground upon finishing. Trent Morrow jumped up and down and punched the sky. Morrow, an Australian wearing a Superman suit, completed his 300th marathon. In 2014 he ran 160 marathons across seven continents in one year.
He sees the marathon as metaphor for any obstacle. Just put one blistered foot in front of the other. There’s always breakfast at the end of the tunnel.
“In life,” he said, “We’re all running marathons, aren’t we?”