Miami has become one of the most grid-locked cities in America. So it’s no surprise that the annual Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run has become one giant traffic jam of humanity.
On your marks, get set, stop!
The 32nd running of the 3.1-mile downtown office party went off smoothly and festively on a breezy Thursday evening. Defending champ Bret Fransen, an information technology analyst, won the men’s race in 15:37, and accountant Guadalupe Merlos won the women’s race in 19:10.
But for most of the 26,000-plus participants, finishing times didn’t matter. And if you wanted to run a decent time, this is not the race to do it. That’s because if you’re not at the very front at the starting line, it’s not a race at all. It’s a celebration of camaraderie, community and fitness at a leisurely pace. It’s the anti-rush hour.
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If you try to run fast, you’ll be as stressed out as you are at work.
When the event began in 1985, as the Manny Hanny (Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust) corporate challenge, under the leadership of Footworks owners Hans and Laurie Huseby, there were 1,300 entrants. A nice little 5K.
Today, with Laurie and family taking the reins from the late Hans, the event engulfs the downtown core and Bayfront Park. The largest team this year – 1,904 people representing the University of Miami – was larger than the original field. Companies compete to have the best feast, the best beer, the best T-shirts, the most creative use of their logo and the fastest CEOs. An amazing fireworks show – Hans’ idea – lights up the bay.
Bigger is definitely better, especially when you consider how the Corporate Run unifies a fractured, often hostile place.
But running the race is like negotiating an obstacle course. You are shoulder to sweaty shoulder with thousands of people walking at a snail’s pace or sprinting to get around the people walking at a snail’s pace. There simply isn’t enough room on the streets for so many bodies. You get kicked, tripped, pushed, elbowed in the gut.
It’s a mobile mosh pit. If you don’t have agoraphobia, the Corporate Run may induce it.
The problem is some participants treat the event the same way bad and rude drivers treat South Florida’s roadways: They don’t follow rules or simple etiquette because they are either oblivious to or disdainful of other people.
The jam starts at the start on Biscayne Boulevard, when people who will be running or walking slow times line up near the front, contrary to all reason and helpful instructions. Despite the best efforts of organizers and volunteers, walkers ignore the signs pointing them to the back of the herd.
So if you actually want to run, you’ve got to figure out a way to get up front (no easy task in this crowd) or make sure your company gives you a special bracelet to enter that area. Otherwise you will find yourself impeded from start to finish by people walking five abreast in the middle of the street, or talking on the phone, or putting on the brakes and coming to a dead stop right in front of you.
On Thursday, running in probably my 20 or 25th Corporate Run and marveling at how it keeps growing, I and a couple others stopped to help a woman who was flattened by a guy who tried to shove by her. There were more crumpled on the curb or in the gutter along the way. You hear curses and shouts of “Ouch!” and “Watch out!” People pull muscles or twist ankles trying to get through the crush.
The best way to approach it is with a spirit of fun: Pretend you’re Mercury Morris or Allen Iverson cutting and juking. For a tight stretch I followed a guy weaving through the horde and we high-fived when we got past it – only to run into another blockade.
In the future, to prevent injuries and frustration, team captains ought to be more vigilant about telling employees who may be doing a 5K for the first time the basic rules of the road. Line up in descending order of your expected speed. Slower runners and walkers stay on the right (just like the right lane on the highway). If you have to stop, pull over to the right. It’s not meant to be a competitive event but organizers could consider starting in waves, like the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon.
All of us working stiffs are in this together. Let’s keep it an enjoyable escape from the office.