Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Race Report: Miami Marathon

With Fox5 NY anchor Alison Morris
I flew into Fort Lauderdale after work on Friday night, arriving at about 10:30pm.  Seth picked me up at the airport and we headed back to his apartment in Wilton Manors. The following morning, we slept in a bit before heading out to the expo at Marlins Park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami.  Upon arriving at Marlins Park, I notice a couple standing on the corner, one of them looking oddly familiar.  The woman was Alison Morris, reporter for Fox News 5 in New York City, who I met in October last year, when she was mistress of ceremonies for my work’s annual gala event at the Ritz Carlton in Manhattan!  When I was introduced to her at our event, I found out she and her husband were both avid marathoners like me!  She and her husband on a whim decided to fly down to Miami just earlier that week to run the half marathon!

Miami Marathon sign, to be posed with for photos!

Huge version of the medal I'm about to get!
I found my name!
We then decided to proceed into the expo itself to get our bibs… quickly realizing that there was a MASSIVE line to just get into the Marlins Park, wrapped around the outside of the stadium! The lengthy line weaved through the outside booths, and was held up because all expo attendees needed to proceed through metal detectors... WOEFULLY inefficient.  We then had to head up ramps to the concourse level of the stadium, where we were led through a quasi-labyrinth of booths to pick up our bibs, and then up a level by escalator to retrieve t-shirts.  The lines and the crowdedness made this expo feel quite cramped, and my feelings were similar to many others attending.  It turns out this is the third location in recent memory to hold the health and fitness expo for the Miami Marathon in recent years - after several years at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and then at the Miami Design Center in the Wynwood neighborhood of the city. Chalk it up to wanting to show off the brand new stadium, which had just opened in 2016, perhaps?  Someone mentioned that the location last year was not available - and we also found out there was major construction happening at the convention center, so this was a possible last resort.  What the reason was, I never found out - but it was definitely a bit of a disaster of an expo.  Other than being able to retrieve a replacement watch band for my Garmin, I sped out of that place as quick as I could after I got my bib and t-shirt.

Mmmmm... Cuban food!
The famous Versailles restaurant.
After leaving the expo, Seth and I headed into Little Havana and I got a chance to eat my first bite of Cuban food of the trip at the famous Versailles Restaurant, known to be "ground zero" for the Cuban-American exile community in South Florida. The restaurant has been a gathering point for anti-Castro protesters and the press wanting to cover their opinions, and was notably where revelers celebrated for hours when Fidel Castro's death was announced by newsmedia.  It's been said that the best Cuban food in the world is found in... Miami.  Not even Cuba!  Supposedly it has to do with the fresher and more flavorful ingredients being available here, and not in Cuba because of the embargo.  After a filling lunch, we drove around Little Havana, getting some photos along the way, and then headed to Miami Beach where I would drop off the bib/t-shirt of a new friend, Chris, who wouldn’t be arriving until later that night, at the bellhop of his hotel, and meet with a Front Runners San Francisco member Alex introduced to me online by mutual Front Runners and avid world marathoner Richard.  We then took a nice walk along the beach, discovering South Beach in the offseason and dipping my feet into the chilly-ish waters of the Atlantic. After parting ways with Alex, Seth and I headed back northward to Hollywood to drop off bibs/t-shirts to his friends Amy and Michelle.  We went for an early dinner at another Cuban restaurant - Las Vegas - in Pembroke Pines. Over good company and more great Cuban food, I was carded by the waitress for ordering a mojito and then was denied the entree I wanted to order... apparently, I appeared too small to order such a "big Cuban sandwich."  Thank you, I guess? :)

Little Havana, jump for joy!

I heart... cock.
My race kit laid out the night before....

Front Runners from NYC and FLL!
VERY early the next morning, we woke up at 3:30am, and with Seth's friend, Fort Lauderdale Front Runner Paul, we took off just after 4am to head down to Miami for the race which had a 6:00am start time.  We were able to get down to the Miami area very quickly, but once we exited off the highway, it got to be a little more traffficky as we approached parking near the start area.  It was funny to see people leaving the clubs as we were heading to parking - just as we were getting our day started!  We promptly were able to find parking a couple of blocks away from the front of the American Airlines Center, and went about our business to do what we needed to do before the race.

Social Justice along the route.  Lots of people in this heavily immigrant place appreciated the support!
The startline, before the rain.
As we were getting ready to go into the corrals, I spotted fellow FRNY members Michelle and Devon, who I hadn't seen in awhile and didn't realize were also running the race. I headed up to the front of the American Airlines Center and then found another FRNY member, Marcus.  We had talked about running the race together, so we headed back down to the corrals; while I couldn’t join Marcus in his corral a few letters forward, he decided to start with me back in corral H.

Nilima, beaming with pride.
Assembled together, Marcus, Seth, and I watched as several corrals took off. Finally, it was our turn.  We were prepared for a potentially wet morning, but the rain hadn't started - yet we could feel the saturation of humidity in the atmosphere.  Quite literally, as soon as we crossed the startline, it began to rain.  And it wasn't just a little rain... it was torrential.  We made our way up Biscayne Boulevard and onto the MacArthur Causeway, running past the cruise ships docked in the Port of Miami as the rain came down. Along the way, I spotted an Indian woman wearing a full sari and running barefoot.  I spoke with her quickly in the opening miles - her name was Nilima, and running her first marathon, and just beaming with pride.  The stretch was lengthy - over three miles running along this causeway in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Eventually, we got off the causeway and ran into Miami Beach.

Running past the cruise ships along the MacArthur Causeway
Running down Ocean Drive
All the while, the three of us continued a consistent 9 minute run, 1 minute walk.  We would end up doing this for the first 14-15 miles.  We continued through Miami Beach, able to stretch out a little bit as the road widened, and the rain turned into more of a drizzle.  Still, people were out there, umbrellas in hand and ponchos adorned, cheering us on in this less-than-stellar weather.  Mile 4 passed, as we ran down Alton Road, curving around South Pointe Drive to Ocean Drive, the main drag along Miami's famous South Beach.  The vibrancy from yesterday's walk along the ocean was a bit more somber under the clouds greying out the sky, and it was a bit more quiet.  Perhaps because it wasn't even 7am yet?

Running along the Venetian Causeway
After running about 1.25 miles along Ocean Drive, we turned left onto 14th Street, and found ourselves on the out-and-back stretch in Miami Beach along Washington Avenue. Seth managed to find a couple fellow Marathon Maniacs he knew and even our mutual friend Loan, but I didn't see her sadly, as I seemed a bit too focused on ensuring I was keeping up my run/walk pace alongside my two friends.  We progressed up treelined Washington Avenue, before turning left onto 17th Street/Hank Meyer Boulevard making our way back to downtown Miami by way of the Venetian Causeway.  We ran over the manmade Venetian Islands, seemingly offered a suburban feel despite being completely surrounded by the waters of Biscayne Bay.  We gingerly made our way over a couple of super slippery drawbridges (obviously down for the runners), but still maintaining a couple even 10 minute miles, as the skyline of the Media and Entertainment District came closer.  Directly in our line of sight was the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Florida's largest performing arts center, and the pedestrian bridge that connected it to its People Mover station across the street.

The Media & Entertainment District
from the Venetian Causeway
We continued westward, before turning north onto NE 1st Avenue, looping around NE 17th Street before heading south onto Miami Avenue, the east-west division of the Miami-Dade County grid plan, making our way through the thick of Park West (a neighborhood of highrises with some future development potential) and downtown Miami.  We turned left onto Flagler Street, the north-south divider and the primary commercial strip of the commercial business district.  We turned right onto SE 3rd Avenue, and from there, the half marathoners broke away from us to continue onto the finish... we still had another half marathon to go, progressing further south.

Eventually from here on to mile 21, we began to do a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk.  After that, it was more of a free for all, making walk stops whenever I needed it all the way to the end.  As we broke away from the half marathoners, we turned right again onto SE 2nd Street, and immediately, it was a lot more quiet and the roads were much more roomy with less people to encroach the street.  We were running under overpasses and there was a lot of graffiti everywhere.  We turned left onto SW 2nd Avenue crossing the Miami River, and then began our progress down into Brickell, an area we would pass through twice on the marathon route.

The peacocks of Coconut Grove
Eventually, we found our way onto Miami Avenue again, on a stretch that would take us out into the neighborhood of Coconut Grove.  It was far more residential in this area, and there were a few more "unofficial" aid stations along the route, including a MUCH needed pineapple stop at mile 16.  Along the way, we passed the entrance to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a much-photographed early 20th century estate built in the Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival style.  We would eventually turn onto Samana Drive (a street I remember because I've vacationed to the "original" Samana in the Dominican Republic!), and run through the quiet residential Bay Heights area of Coconut Grove. Interestingly, several homes had wild peacocks randomly wandering about on yards and rooftops.  Peacocks have apparently roamed Coconut Grove for as long as anyone can remember.  No one really knows how they got here -- they may have been introduced as a marketing gimmick by hotel developers in the early 1900s, or a local couple bought a pair as pets, and nature just took its course.  They're actually a source of controversy in the neighborhood with many for and against their existence in the neighborhood.

The inimitable Coatman.
Because the Miami Marathon is such a huge event, the Miami Police Department enlists the help of neighboring community's police forces for course enforcement.  As we rapidly approached the 18 mile mark on Tigertail Avenue, we noticed police cars with "Hialeah" emblazoned on the doors randomly patrolling here, specifically for the race - notably, we were nowhere near Hialeah. While the neighborhood was quiet during the race (likely due to the rainy weather), we still had revelers out cheering us on, like Marathon Maniac Heather, who was handing out ice pops and covertly handing out beer to runners at this critical juncture of the race.  Despite slowing down, we were still making good time, and the three of us began to play leapfrog with the 4:45 pacer from mile 16-20.  Eventually, he made his way past us, but we were not too far behind.  We also ran alongside the South Florida mainstay runner "Coatman" wearing his winter coat, colored streamers, big red tie, fedora, knee high neon socks, and black wingtip dress shoes, while carrying a tray topped with a bottle and glass, waiter-style.  He's one of America's most recognizable "stunt" runners, and has run every Miami Marathon since 1981, all while wearing this absurd outfit, as well as many other marathons around the world.

 A little after the 18 mile mark, we turned and ran along the north shoulder of Bayshore Drive, as we saw other runners coming back in our direction.  Finally, this long out section into Coconut Grove would be returning back toward downtown - but we couldn't tell how much further.  We took a slight right along Grand Avenue and passed through the neighborhood's main strip and the CocoWalk lifestyle center.  It was nearly 10am, and the restaurants all along Grand Avenue were beginning to serve brunch... after having run nearly 3 1/2 hours, it was so mean, everyone was eating and drinking, and I was STARVING.

Beautiful views of Downtown
from Hobie Island
We made a sharp left onto Commodore Plaza, and zigzagged our way down to Bayshore Drive, and began our return to downtown - but of course, the weather decided to rear its ugly head and rain began to come down again like crazy again, starting around mile 19.5.  Of course, the 4 minute run, 1 minute walk plan started to disintegrate and Bayshore Drive passed by Bayside Park, Coconut Grove Marina, and David Kennedy Park.  Boredom set in as Bayshore Drive turned into S. Miami Avenue and we passed by Mercy Hospital and the Vizcaya Museum again.  My right calf was starting to bother me, so I walked as I needed to.  The long continuous stretch began to get monotonous, and thankfully a MUCH needed pineapple stop appeared at mile 22.  Eventually we made our way to one last short out-and-back section that took us onto Hobie Island Beach Park along the Rickenbacker Causeway.  As we made our way at the turnaround, we were offered with beautiful views of the downtown skyline.  There were even the Muscovy ducks casually hanging out in the park - the same ducks that I saw in Baton Rouge, Louisiana only two weeks before.

Sashaying through a tollpass booth on the Rickenbacker Causeway
My cousin Brenda cheers us on
We headed back into Miami, reaching the 24 mile mark, and passing the causeway's tollpass booth, and then turned right onto Brickell Avenue.  These last two miles were painful, though we knew we were almost to the end. As the skyline got closer and we slowly made our way past highrise after highrise in the neighborhood of Brickell, I heard a voice call out my name.  To the right, taking cover from the rain, was my second cousin Brenda, and her husband Jeff!  We had found out via social media that we would both be in Miami at the same time, and I gave her an idea of when we would be in the area where she was staying and lo and behold, they stuck around to cheer for me despite the less-than-stellar weather... and right where I needed it, just after mile 25, too!

One last bridge to cross...
With only a little over a thousand meters left to go, we encountered the only real "hill" in the race - the SE 2nd Avenue Bridge that took us over the Miami River and even closer to the finish line.  The hill... was only something like 7 feet of elevation change.  In the shadow of more highrises that dot the downtown area, we made the final right turn onto Biscayne Blvd Way, all the way to the finish line in front of Bayfront Park.  I crossed with my two friends, who stuck beside me the entire way, in 4:51:47 - then, my fifth fastest marathon time out of 27 marathons under my belt.

Incredibly thankful to these two guys for sticking by my side the entire race!
(Official race photo by the Miami Marathon)
Got my medal!
(Official race photo by the Miami Marathon)
We headed into the Bayfront Park to locate the rest of our crew who had met up at the startline, with the ground muddied from the intermittent rain and all the runners traipsing around.  We found Paul and headed back to the car, stopping to take my traditional Victory Headstand photo along Biscayne Blvd with the Freedom Tower in the background.  Miami's "Freedom Tower", was  constructed in 1924 to house the newly united Miami Daily News and Metropolis newspapers, but it earned its name in 1962 when it became a processing center for Cuban refugees fleeing the Castro government. Seth drove us all back to Fort Lauderdale, and we had the rest of the day to relax before my evening flight home. Of course, it continued to rain all day.

Victory headstand, oh yeah!
But, my trip wasn't over.  Shortly after Seth dropped me off for my evening flight, I realized my flight had a delay on it.  I thought, heh... no sweat, I'll just be late getting home.  Well... that delay just got worse and worse.  On the evening of January 29, Delta Air Liens experienced a systemwide power outage which grounded planes NATIONALLY.  Only Delta flights already in the air were able to get to their destination, but who knew if they could even get to their gates.  My 7:55 flight became delayed more and more. Luckily, I have a cousin who works for JetBlue, and after getting in touch with her, she was able to get me a seat on a flight back to the NYC area.  I was extremely lucky - it seems that none of the passengers on my flight could get on this flight because JetBlue closes their ability to book online two hours before travel. I was able to get on the flight as a standby passenger thanks to her! It was already an hour delayed to depart due to weather in NYC, but I got a seat (middle, oh well) and headed home... but to Newark Airport, and it would arrive at the ungodly time of 1:30am.  This meant, upon arrival there would be no AirTrain and no shuttles - essentially no ground transportation whatsoever except for cabs.  I ended up sucking it up, and forked over $95 (crossing the tunnel into Manhattan is NOT cheap!!!!) for a cab ride to Times Square, then take the subway home.  I finally got home at 2:30am.

Delta grounds all flights nationally due to computer issues.
Groggily, I woke up the following morning and somehow made it to work. I got ahold of Delta (after a hellish three hour wait) but I was able to get my return flight fully refunded AND got a $100 travel voucher for my cabfare.  A few days later, Delta announced that they were giving out 10,000 SkyMiles and a $200 travel voucher for all those affected by the delays and cancellations on Sunday night.  Despite my tiredness at the office and the stressful trip home, it was a winwin!

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