On Sunday, Jan. 31, I ran the 2010 ING Miami Marathon. It was my seventh marathon or ultramarathon event that I finished, and my first since hitting the big 5-0. It meant a lot to me because it was back where I started my professional career and life in the Real World, and Mile 11 even passed right by my former Miami Herald office. It was also important because it was exactly two weeks before I marry Lisa, and I wanted to get to the altar in style, since my previous marathon ended with me proposing to her at the finish line.
Lisa, Rachel and I flew JetBlue down to Fort Lauderale for a long weekend to stay at Lisa's father's (spectacular) condo on the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and it was just fabulous. I enjoyed oysters and conch fritters at Aruba next to the same Pompano Pier where I used to spend all-nighters fishing for snook, and I fell asleep on the beach for a while on that Friday. I did aquacize in the condo's pool two straight mornings with a bunch of ladies. It was (mostly) a blast, a perfect long getaway weekend as a runner.
Saturday was an outstanding ING Miami Marathon Expo at the Miami Beach Convention Center. It was one of the best Expos I've seen. Lisa and I hung out at the ING Runners Nation area and watched Olympian Ryan Hall address runners with advice. We bought some gear, and I got my next day's race shirt, a red sleeveless Adidas. We loaded up on samples and supplies. I love Expos just to be amidst other runners who are all loaded up with anticipation.
While at the Expo, I also became aware of a Next Revolution product called Enlyten. I am going to be talking more about these strips, which are double-sided tongue melters like you routinely see with breathmint strips. If you are into athletic performance (or if you are an entrepreneur), you are going to want these. Lisa and I were given starter cassettes, and I took about 5 Electrolyte strips on Saturday and then a few Energy strips before the start of the marathon. Long story short, you will find these useful as a way to bypass your digestive system, especially good if you get tired of sucking down GUs on the course, and they do a lot more than GU. They also complement GU. Go to enlyten.com and you will see more information.
After the Expo we chilled on the beautiful Lincoln Road in the middle of Miami Beach, watching all the people go by, eating Paillasson Forestier and soaking it in.
There wasn't much time to sleep that Saturday night, because wakeup was 3:45. Lisa and I drove down I-95 to Miami in the dark and then, following the crowd, parked in a garage that would prove problematic later. We walked 2 blocks to Biscayne Blvd and followed the masses to American Airlines Arena, which is magnificently alit before sunrise. A quick portapotty stop and it was time for the coolest start I've experienced as a runner. Fireworks, smoke blasting out of the starting chute, and then about 18,000 of us sardines were released for 26.2 miles in paradise.
I had worried about rain, but that wasn't an issue. What was an issue, however, was the humidity. It was about 73%. Even though the temp was mild there in the 60s, I knew the humidity was going to eat me up. That started to happen within the first 3 miles. We had a stunning stretch over the MacArthur Causeway where we viewed the blue-lit cruise ships at Port of Miami in the dark, but after 2 miles my head felt like it was about 750 degrees and I thought I was going to become a human torch any second. I tried to replicate the conditions by training mostly in a warm gym the 1 1/2 months prior to the marathon, didn't help much.
At about 8 a.m. I ran past Joe's Stone Crab, where I used to drop so much change on the best stone crabs ever. I remember my Dad visiting us once when I lived there, and with his bib on he would tell the waiter to just "keep it coming." Then we saw the South Beach club revelers sauntering out onto the streets at sunrise watching us crazy runners go by, and at around Mile 5 or 6, in the Art Deco District, I carried on my marathon tradition by somehow petting an English Bulldog. That is my superstition. I was starting to feel OK at this point as we continued on Ocean Drive, looking at the Super Bowl band stages that were being built for the next weekend. Fluid stations were great -- the race organizers are so on top of their game in Miami.
On Miami Beach, around Mile 8, I saw one of the best sports sponsorship event promotions I've ever witnessed. It began with signs that would say "Publix Mile". Anyone who has been around South Florida knows that Publix is the main place for groceries. Anyway, you would keep seeing these signs. I'm thinking: What is the Publix Mile? Then at the end of that mile it hits you, as you run right alongside...Publix. The cashiers and other supermarket workers have spilled outside and are cheering you on as you run past them. Perfect marketing/branding.
Running over the Venetian Causeway and back into Miami, going past my old Herald building, suddenly it was teeming with large crowds, and that pulls you through any doldrums. I approached Mile 13, and that's always one of my favorite -- if daunting -- moments when the road splits in half and the masses of runners veer off to the left to finish their Half Marathon while you veer to the right, practically all alone, off to the hinterlands of pain and pursuit, boldly.
Meanwhile, the elite runners were finishing. Lisa got a bunch of pics like this:
I was into a long stretch on Miami Avenue and Tigertail Avenue that seemed like a longer straightaway than I-10 to the Pacific. It wound into a few neighborhoods, some areas where fun homeowners would have their sofas and recliners out and watching/cheering us, but mostly a long and difficult stretch to get into Coconut Grove, my old hangout. I was starting to suffer. Here is where The Blister began to get noticeable. Starting around the halfway mark, I noticed an issue with the ball of my right foot, the landing pad. I figured it was the shoe, and one of those things that would go away. After a while I gave in and bailed off to the curb and took off my shoe and sock for inspection. The socks were very expensive, made for this, but I probably had thrown them in the regular wash a few times, a no-no. You always want to watch running gear on delicate with sport detergent and never dry it, just hang it. The seam that runs across the bottom of the foot was slightly ridged, and when my foot was wet it was slipping back and I was rubbing it raw. It got worse.
Through Coconut Grove, I had major flashbacks as I passed Monty's -- the bayside bar where we played Quarters for hours on end in my wild days out of college. It was half a lifetime ago. Pop, back to reality, thinking about the pain under my right foot on each step, and now suddenly the routine bonkage of the quads. Running, rubbing them out, running, rubbing them out, getting through that, a little lightheaded one or two spots, sick of GU and Gatorade already, eager to throw water all over myself at fluid stations, trying to keep myself company. Vizcaya Museum, one of a kind, approaching Mile 22. The scenic beauty of this course is one of a kind, and I've run New York City and other places, even ran over the Golden Gate Bridge and ran the Great Wall of China. You have to run the Miami Marathon if you are a marathoner. Have to.
In the 23rd mile, you hit your third causeway -- the same Rickenbacker Causeway that takes you out to Key Biscayne, where I used to play tennis and wade out forever into the ocean. You are met by a wild and crazy bunch of Parrothead fans, who are Jimmy Buffet's true people, enjoying their drinks and wearing leis and having a good old time. I have to honestly say that when I saw their crowd up ahead I was psyched because I needed water or orange slices so badly...and when I got up even with them and saw that they were just being funny and raucous, I had more of a mad reaction. I was really suffering at that point and only wanted some kind of nutritional aid...nothing was funny or cutesie at that point, sorry guys. Back to Margaritaville for you next year, please -- it was not helpful to me. Fortunately there was a station at the turning point on that causeway, and even better, they had icy sponges; I took several, put one underneath my running cap for a half-mile.
I was worried about my finish time at this point, struggling to land on my right foot in massive pain, my quads still barking, too many walk stretches. My PR was 5:13. I had been hoping for 5:20 to 5:40 range. At this point I was calculating to see if I could make it within six hours. I would make myself do that no matter what. The beautiful Brickell skyline surely would do that.
Lisa is amazing. She was there to meet me with a shout of "Mark!" at Mile 25.5, and she busted out of the crowd and actually ran alongside me as far as they would let her, to try to help me. I was mostly saying unprintable things at that point, in huge pain. I thought I could break 6:00 but then the 26-mile sign took too long to show up, and once it did, I knew that was kaput. I crossed the finish line in 6:02. I had to get over that eventually, which I did.
I am happy to say that I maintained my tradition of dancing across the finish line, regardless of the giant blister and searing pain. In that moment, nothing else matters but finishing. I was given the coolest medal you could imagine, the signature double-spinner marathon medal, and then I collapsed over to the grass on the side, as Lisa helped me recover. I bought a Miami Marathon sweatshirt and we thought that was it, time to head up to Fort Lauderdale for an icebath.
Alas. We spent the next 3 hours walking and struggling around downtown looking for her Dad's car. It turns out there are two 2nd Streets near the start/finish area, and they both have a CVS on the same corner by Biscayne Blvd. That was the start of our confusion, and it led to this arduous and -- considering the condition -- incredibly painful endeavor. We have to credit an Angel from Haiti who literally saved us. This man in a taxi drove us all over the downtown area, helping us check every Park garage (there are so many). It had been dark, and we could not recognize it. We didn't have the ticket. Imagine. Finally, finally, just when we were ready to go to the Miami Police, we tried out another garage and I recognized the crappy old elevator, took it to the third floor and found the car. We took down his name/info and I am reporting the taxi driver's incredible heroism -- which no other driver I know would do -- to the Miami/Dade government office in hopes he will receive a commendation, also to his taxi company. I sort of felt like I had just done an ultra when you include the parking thing.
An icebath followed, so did much beer and burger action, and I am happy to say that the seventh marathon in my running career is in the books. Next stop wedding. This guy we met on the Pompano Pier is invited but probably will not make it up north.