Friday, February 1, 2008

Race Report: Miami Half Marathon

Hello, dearest readers, and for the first time in a number of weeks, we begin with NO APOLOGIES!! After a week and a half of hellaciousness involving my computer and my overreaction to it, I am for the most part back up and running, in every sense of the word.

So much to discuss running- and life-wise. Today we’ll focus more on the running, because I just finished the ING Miami Half Marathon, and I had a great time. Great time in every sense of the word (I’m just full of word play today!) This is a long one, so strap in.

Two days before the Half I went into Miami to get my race packet and info at the Expo. I was happy to see the guys, I think they’re called Fit For Sports, who were at last year’s NYC expo with all the paper suits, throwaway clothes and cheap accessories; they had at least four booths there. I asked them where they were at this year’s NYC expo, and they told me that they weren’t even invited to participate. It wasn’t even a question of cost, they were flat-out shut out. Can you believe it? It’s a shame. I definitely had the feeling that the NYC Expo was more “corporate” than last year’s expo, with higher-profile and higher-priced goods and services; that confirmed my feelings. The Miami expo was a little friendlier on the wallet, at least, although there was plenty of high-priced stuff available for those who wanted it. Lots of plastic surgery consultation booths, which was strange.

Word of warning: if you go to a health and fitness expo, if the all-natural food booths give you a popcorn sample, make sure you find out what’s on it. This booth wasn’t pushing the popcorn, they were pushing fish oil, which they had sprayed on the popcorn. Mm-mm good! Not.

In the race packet we got a shirt and a hat from 2007. Hmm. More on that in a moment. Big in the giveaways at the Expo was those plasticy backpacks, I got two from Publix (local grocery chain) and one from Geico. Plus lots of coupons, random samples, a bag holder, some Larabars, and a bunch of keychains.

Race day morning. A whopping two hours of sleep the night before (I had a show, so I didn’t get home until 10:30pm, then I was too hopped up and nervous to get any real rest.) Up at 2:45am, out the door by 3:30am. The race started at 6:15am, but it was suggested for those of us driving to get there before 5am. It was a one hour drive to the start/finish line, at the American Airlines Arena. I’m glad I was early – I found a garage four blocks from the start/finish line, and I had no problem parking. There were a bunch of people just hanging out by their cars, so I did the same. There was no need to check my bag; I was so close to the start/finish line anyway, I could just go back to the car for anything I needed. I wore my Fred’s Team singlet, and Team race shorts over compression shorts. I knew a lot of Teamers were running the NY Half on the same day, so this was my way of racing with them. Go Team! The temp was in the high 50s at this point, expected to climb into the 70s. The biggest problem was what to do between 4:30am and 6:15am, besides go to the bathroom. Which I did. A lot. And let me point out, each time – NO WAITING. I love you, Miami!!

I think there were about 12,000 participants in the Miami race, with 8,000 for the half, and the rest for the full (this is the 6th year of the event.) The start line is at the American Airlines Arena, with the finish line about four blocks away at Bayfront Park. It was still very dark outside when we started heading into the corrals. They do lettered corrals, with each corral corresponding to a predicted finish time. Both marathoners and half-ers start together, the split doesn't come until mile 12.8. I was in corral E. I stretched and chatted with some of the other runners. I didn’t get that sense of camaraderie that NY had -- I remember how much fun it was to run in Central Park in the week leading up to the marathon, that every runner I saw was a friend and shared my excitement. Here, not so much, but then again, here, not so much at stake, so maybe that was part of it. One of the people I was lined up with was barefoot. I know that barefoot running is supposed to be good for your feet, but I’d be concerned about glass and drawbridge gratings. He said that after a while, you get used to it. Wow. There are so many other things I'd prefer to get used to.

6:15am, a short fireworks burst, and we’re off. The NYC Marathon kicks off with “New York, New York.” Well, there is indeed a Miami Song, it was a rap song with a chorus that was something like “Welcome to Miami, welcome to Miami.” Not quite the same. I wonder, do all of these event marathons have local or state songs to kick them off? And what are they?

I’ve certainly run in the dark before, and raced early in the AM, but not like this, the sun hadn’t even begun to rise. The first four miles are through Watson Island and over the MacArthur Causeway, which is over Biscayne Bay. To the right you could see all the large cruise ships lined up, all their lights on. It was pretty magnificent. To the left, Miami and the bay. This road is very recognizable from every action movie ever set in South Florida. I didn’t have any music with me (I didn’t think it would be good to wear an iPod for this race, although they didn’t issue any statements discouraging them) and I was kind of wishing I had. It would have been a nice background companion, since most of the race was spectator-free, and the promised entertainment was little more than a car hooked up to a speaker blaring, yes, Miami Sound Machine as we headed onto the Causeway (NOT the conga song, though!) I guess all the bands were later in the race, more for the marathoners’ benefit. I talked with a couple of racers, one of whom had “New Yawker” on his race bib (our names were on our bibs.) He told me he hadn’t run any distance runs since the Marine Corps Marathon, but came down for the weekend just to see if he still had it in him. We chatted until the first water stop, when he took off.

We got off the Causeway and headed into South Beach proper, running through the historic district. It was really cool, I love the SoBe (look at how I fling around that lingo like a native!) Art Deco architecture. There’s tons of gorgeous old houses and hotels, not like the McMansions further north. And of course, famous Ocean Avenue, with the water on one side and the hotels on the other. Plus Versace’s mansion, you can’t really see much past the gates but it’s still interesting. The sun had risen by this point, and it was starting to get a little warm. We ran through the center of the shopping district, Miami’s “Fifth Avenue,” as the promotional brochure says. We ran through a residential neighborhood, past the Holocaust Memorial, and then started the jaunt across the Venetian Causeway that leads through a whole series of what I believe they call the Venetian Islands off the Miami coast – San Marco, San Marino, Biscayne, some others. All beautiful, mega-rich residential neighborhoods. Stunning houses. Beautiful views of the water. Boy, it would be nice to be rich and live here.

Over a drawbridge and back onto the Mainland. We’re at mile 10 by this point, and here was a cool thing that they did for the race: the ING cheering section. They have this in NYC, too, but it’s more of a crowd zone there. In Miami, this section was a half-mile gauntlet where we ran practically single-file through rows of cheering spectators. It was really, really cool. It gave me the boost I definitely needed at that point. The bands began appearing at this point, too. I guess that since most of the first half is run on local roads in residential neighborhoods, there’s not much that can be done in terms of a band set-up. This was the business district now, with lots of open spaces for bands, and – hilariously – people playing “Rockstar” on a big screen.

After mile 12, they start to split the marathons and half-ers up. The lanes were clearly marked both on the ground and with two giant arches labeled HALF and FULL. I’ve heard stories of people who made the wrong turn in half-and-full combo races, so I was happy to see how easy they made it here.

At this point the temps were in the mid-70s. I had a gel at mile 7, but I still was feeling a little depleted. I think I was hotter than I realized. After passing the arch the roads seemed to stretch endlessly on. It’s a conspiracy that all races find a way to stretch that last half-mile into another mile. And then, surprisingly, there was the finish line! I had somehow thought we were closer to mile 12 than 13 when we split from the marathon, and I had plenty of kick for the finish. I crossed under the clock at 2:02:15.

I was expecting a finish around 2:02, 2:03, but I was secretly hoping for under 2:00, which I haven’t done since my first half-mary, Brooklyn in 2005, which I finished in 1:58:27. But I didn’t want to pressure myself, so when I took my splits I refused to look at the total time on my watch, and had no idea how far into the race I crossed the start line. I didn’t even wear a pace band (I don’t like them anyway.) As soon as I crossed the mat, I checked my watch.


Check out these splits:
4-8:56 (downhill off the Causeway)
13.1-8:41 (for the mile plus .1)

This was exactly the way I wanted to run this race. Love those negative splits! I couldn’t be more pleased!

The medal is really cool, it’s a spinning palm tree inside of two spinning circles. It weighs about a kazillion pounds, but it’s pretty snazzy. They also give you hand towels instead of heatshields at the end, very handy. There was a post-race fair at Bayfront Park (it looked so different in the sunlight!) where I picked up yet another Publix bag, a Saturn bag, and a cowbell (huh?) They were also giving out recovery kits with foot powder, deodorant, and face wipes. The food booths were selling fried sausage and mozzarepas, which smelled both delicious and nauseating, as it was only 8:30am.

I highly recommend this race, at least the half portion. Having not run the full mary, I can’t give it a nod either way, but as far as races go in general, this one was really nice. It was big without being crowded, well-supported with water and aid stations, fairly flat (at least the first half) and very scenic. Check them out, at

My one quibble, the water stations were sometimes set up at somewhat inconvenient spots, like on a bend in the road, or a narrower part of the roadway, and they were a little smaller than I was used to; even the smaller NYC races have longer tables. There was a lot of jockeying for water, and somewhere around mile 8 where someone poured a whole cup of water into my shoe thanks to a bad cup hand-off.

Oh, the hat story. I overheard two people talking about them during the race. Last year there was a big scandal because the hats were supposed to be part of the giveaway, and they ran out, so a lot of people didn’t get them .This year, the hats we got – they weren’t last year’s hats, they were mislabeled 2007 instead of 2008. Okay, it’s a stupid story. But wow, that’s a pretty major mistake.

More anon!

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