Florida (2012 ING Miami Half Marathon)

Represent!

I signed up for the 2012 ING Miami Half Marathon two days after running the 2011 race.  They got me with their registration blitz, where prices are ludicrously low for the first 500 registrants.  Plus, my cousin Paula and I had decided to make it into a little annual family tradition.  So it’s been on my calendar for an entire year, and the threepeat had finally come.  Would it be uncommonly cool?  Perhaps we’d get a repeat of 2010’s oppressive humidity?  Maybe it would finally rain?  With these uncertainties in my mind, I flew down to meet up with my mom, my aunt, cousin, and running compatriot Otter, whose medal addiction had drawn him to sunny Miami for the race’s famous spinning palm.

We were in the starting chute just minutes before race start.  We had gotten emails telling us that security would be “tight” in the corrals, but that turned out to be mostly hot air.  It seems no race can truly solve the problem of runners not sorting themselves correctly during the start.  There are never just one or two people who settle themselves into the first corrals and walk the race.  But this race, for some reason, elevates this discrepancy to an art form.  No matter where you are sorted, you’ll end up weaving sideways for the first two miles, dodging fast runners and skipping past walkers.

Third time's the charm

The first mile, as usual, is mostly uphill as runners tackle the MacArthur Bridge.  As I climbed upward, I felt a bit concerned.  The humidity wasn’t as punishing as it was two years ago, but it certainly wasn’t as deliciously crisp as it was in 2011.  Since I was expecting a slow first mile, I wasn’t surprised when I clocked an 8:27.  I was somewhat relieved when I felt a heavenly breeze cutting across the top of the crest.  It would accompany us for the rest of the eastward run toward Miami Beach, with palm trees to our left, enormous city-ships anchored on the right.  The morning sun had yet to make its appearance, but dim shades of blue were emerging from a distant cluster of baleful rainclouds.

The Miami Skyline from the Rickenbacker Causeway, picture courtesy of Otter

As I ran down the causeway, I was a bit nervous.  I was definitely sweating more than usual and I could feel the heaviness of the air as I slipped through it.  It didn’t help that my second mile was an 8:08.  I thought I had perfected the art of running a particular pace without the aid of a watch, but Miami’s conditions had thrown off my talent.  I thought I was running a 7:40, not an 8:08.  It’s rarely comforting when your perceived exertion is much higher than your actual output.  It instantly puts doubts in your mind and the psychosomatic effects can compound.

In spite of that moment of frustration, I still felt motivated to pick up the pace.  Once I reached the first water station around mile 3, I logged a validating 7:32 split.  But I was almost completely drenched in sweat, which is not a good sign so early in the race.  At that point, I knew I had to make a choice.  Do I scale it back and run more slowly to avoid an ugly finish, or be an idiot and keep running like this until I blow up?  I knew what could happen when the humidity climbs and hubris takes over.  But the soaking wet shirt aside, I felt great.  Should I abandon all conservatism and just go hard to test my limits, or play it safe and just enjoy the race?  The next two splits would answer these questions.

Mile 4: 7:47
Mile 5: 6:56

(Left to right): Mama, Me, Otter, Paula, Tía

Despite water stations being too crowded and chaotic, I blazed through South Beach.  It definitely helped that I started singing Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” along Ocean Drive.  I remembered, with little fondness, the first time I ran down this particular section of the race.  As iconic and beautiful as it is, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was already heaving and struggling to move forward.  But even my daring confidence wasn’t enough to keep my pace consistent after I saw that 6:56 split.  I made a conscious decision then to slow down a bit because no amount of determination would keep that suicidal pace for another seven miles.

And so the game was on.  In most races, there is always a tacit fear of bonking, but you don’t entertain it until it’s inevitable.  This time, I was almost embracing the bonk, expecting it to show its dreadful face.  I therefore had to put in enough punishment early on to give myself a cushion at the end.  Ask any long distance runner and they will tell you that is a terrible idea.  Negative splits are the building blocks of a successful race strategy, not going hard at the beginning.  But there was a stranger running in my stead today, and he didn’t care.  The new mantra was, Can I run another mile at this pace?  Just one more mile?

Mile 6: 7:35
Mile 7: 7:29

Ready to "Run Famous" (whatever that means)

Alright, I thought.  I can still do this for awhile.  I was having to brush sweat off my eyebrows more often than I would like, but I somehow kept up the pace.  Water stations were no longer as messy as the first three were, mostly because the pack had thinned considerably.  Now that the race had ballooned to over 20,000 runners, it was imperative that the organization improve their early water stations.  Since the course is a circuit, runners are usually making left turns, so they’re mostly on the left side of the street.  However, the first two water stations were on the right side.  It’s therefore expected that everyone will dash right, get water, and then dash back left.  This could be solved by adding an extra water station on the left side, which is common in most races of this size.

Runners dashing for the finish line

But once on the Venetian Causeway, this was no longer an issue.  With the ocean on both sides of us, there was little obstructing the wind’s path.  That perfect breeze that cooled us down at the top of MacArthur was back, keeping me moving at a consistent pace without overheating.  I kept asking myself: is this the mile where it all falls apart?  Is this the beginning of that slow, painful crawl?  Is this where everyone else starts patting me on the back and saying “You can do this, buddy” or “Hang in there”?

Mile 8: 7:30
Mile 9: 7:36
Mile 10: 7:49

Though mile 10 was showing signs of decline, I still kept my head up.  I kept wondering, Am I really doing this?  Am I winning this game of chicken between me and the elements?  Since the last three miles are always the toughest, I couldn’t yet declare a victory.  But still, the thought that I could somehow finish under 1:40 in Miami was tantalizing.  I always discard fast times in warm temperatures because I believe I sweat more than the average person.  Over distance, the heat drains me of energy, which is why I high five Mother Nature when the mercury dips below 50 on race day.  But today it was almost 70, with the dew point around 68 degrees.

Mile 11: 7:26
Mile 12: 7:36

I was back in the game.  This was actually happening.  And once the course enters the mainland and passes the ING Cheer Zone, we’re almost at the finish line.  The last two miles cut through downtown Miami before turning back north into the finishing chutes.  Even last year, where the race was blessed with cool conditions, I started losing energy here.  But today I was unstoppable.  Even though I felt like I was leaving puddles with every footstep, I kept pounding the pavement to the tune of a 7:14 mile.  A sub 1:40 time was possible and I would have thrown my arms in the air triumphantly at this point were it not for one technical detail.

Javier Becerra rocking his debut half marathon

To explain it, I want to talk about a slight pet peeve I have.  I read a lot of race recaps because I enjoy hearing about different people’s experiences over the distance and what goes on in their heads as they tackle their running goals.  But it seems like a lot of them, mostly those who run with Garmins or other GPS-tracking watches, end up saying some variation of this sentence:

“My Garmin said I ran 13.23 miles, so I actually ran MORE than a half marathon!”

Most of the time, this statement isn’t true.  Unless you’re running in a small community race that doesn’t attract a sizable crowd and has lax standards for event production, you’re most likely running a standard distance course.  Races are measured very meticulously to meet USATF rules.  They wouldn’t just ballpark 13.1 miles and expect everyone to round down, especially not one with over 20,000 runners, a decent international elite field and considerable prize money.  Additionally, Garmins aren’t exactingly precise.  Although I love my Forerunner and am a slave to it, if I run near a building over four stories, it will interfere with satellites and alter my stats ever so slightly.  It’s meant to give you a pretty accurate picture of your pace and distance, but the numbers on it shouldn’t be read as gospel.  So while it may say “13.18” or “26.42,” unless you consistently ran on the outside of the course or zigzagged the entire way, you didn’t run that much extra.

Paula, focus!

But I will temporarily forget this pet peeve and hypocritically declare that the last 1/10 of a mile of this race was unequivocally NOT 1/10 of a mile.  I’ve run this race three times now and every single time, the distance between that thirteenth mile marker and the finish is considerably more than the required 0.1 miles left to finish a half marathon.  I typically run that last stretch in between 30 and 50 seconds, depending on how much snarl I have left in my game face.  So is it merely coincidental that I’ve run this race’s last dash in over 80 seconds all three times?

And that, my friends, is why I did not conquer the 2012 ING Miami Half Marathon in less than 1:40, but instead, settled for 1:40:26.  But truthfully, I don’t care in the least.  Though I did feel a tiny bit of disappointment as I saw the clock creep past 1:40, it was fleeting and instantly forgotten (that is, until this recap).  I had managed to throw down what was for me a fast performance in the face of questionable conditions and proudly earned the commemorative 10th anniversary spinning palm medal.  My cousin Paula, whose training was left by the wayside to make room for business school applications, finished her third Miami Half Marathon in 2:15 (and also got into an MBA program, so she was doubly successful).  Finally, Otter’s story for this race is one so steeped in disaster that I will not ruin it by telling it myself.  Though I doubt even he will sit down to relate it, as it seems that he’s almost abandoned his own racing blog.

With this race done, I am ramping up my distance in preparation for the Little Rock Marathon on March 4 and the blister I developed on my right foot during Miami will certainly do its best to stop me.

State 17: New York (2011 ING New York City Marathon)

Clothes, disposable and otherwise, ready to go

I woke up in the middle of the night with an urge to use the bathroom.  I was in my friend Jessie’s apartment on Central Park West, waiting for my alarm clock to tell me to get ready for the ING New York City Marathon, wondering if I should just get up and heed nature’s call or wait until it was time to get up.  Erring on the side of caution, I decided to check the time, just to be sure.  I had set it for 4:37 AM the night before and surely it was almost time to get up.

It was 4:38 and the alarm was off.

My reaction was a mix of panic and admiration.  Was my internal clock that good, that I managed to wake up at the exact time I was supposed to, despite my phone ignoring my preset alarm?  Had Daylight Savings Time glitched my phone, wiping out its time settings?  Perhaps it was divine Providence, whose omniscient grace had stirred me awake because finishing New York was part of my destiny.

Doubtful.  The more reasonable explanation is that I must have somnolently turned it off as it rang and woken up shortly afterward.  And that, my friends, is why your alarm clock should always be more than an arm’s length away from you.

Waking up before 5 for a race is nothing new.  Most races start between 7 and 8, so if you want to eat a decent meal, shake off the sleep and psych yourself up, you need some time.  However, I wasn’t scheduled to start hitting the pavement until 9:40 AM.  This should give you an idea of how massive a production this race is.  It goes beyond the confines of a sporting event and becomes an industrial complex, a meticulously engineered festival that, over the years, has fine tuned every last detail to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.  The reason for needing so much time is that the race starts in Staten Island, on the complete opposite side of the city, and getting there takes time (it took two hours from the moment I left the apartment in Manhattan until the time I arrived at Fort Wadsworth).  That said, my cynical side has an alternate theory.  For that, we must look at the field of athletes.

The multiple banners reflect the international field

Most large, prestigious races have a diverse, international field.  Chicago’s crowds are filled with many runners from Europe, Canada, and Latin America, with a few pockets of athletes from just about everywhere else.  Miami hosts a huge Latin American contingent, along with smaller groups from other countries around the world.  New York’s race is different.  While there could be a 50/50 split between Americans and non-Americans in Chicago, it was easily 1:2 here.  Walking through the Expo with my college friend and former roommate Bryan, he mentioned that it felt like being in Diagon Alley, the fictional wizarding marketplace in the Harry Potter universe.  Everyone was speaking a foreign language, wearing odd clothes, buying foreign artifacts and engaging in a quirky subculture that you seldom get to see in such force.  So with all these international runners, there are bound to be some cultural idiosyncrasies to overcome, and the biggest one of all?  Punctuality.  That’s my theory.  New York Road Runners ask that everyone get to the start hellishly early in hopes of nipping that strange cultural universal in the bud.

As a very punctual person, it’s therefore a little frustrating when you make the journey (after taking two trains, a ferry and a shuttle) only to realize you still have two hours of sitting in 40-degree weather before getting going.  Fortunately, I made some friends and killed time in my $10 throwaway clothes.  By 9:00 AM, I was in my start corral at the base of the Verrazano Bridge, waiting to go.  There were buses surrounding the start, acting as walls keeping the runners from spilling out of the start area and into the highway (speaking of spilling, there was a line of guys waiting to pee between them).  The elite women started at 9:10, and thirty minutes later, everyone else was released to the sound of a cannon, encouraged by the sounds of “New York, New York,” ready to conquer the world’s largest marathon.

As if to give runners a taste of what’s to come, the first two miles of this race are run on a bridge, the first of which is all uphill.  At the bridge’s apex, a helicopter hovered to my left, getting footage of runners as they cross from the race’s first borough into Brooklyn.  I logged my first mile at 9:19 – slow, given the crowds and uphill climb.  The next mile would undo all the vertical gain and drains into the mainland.  I passed the marker and snapped my time at …

… 7:35.  Yikes.  That’s my fastest marathon split ever, so let’s reel this in.

Manhattan is so … so far away.

The next six miles or so would involve a straight shot down Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue, where local businesses and spectators were out in full force, cheering for the field.  It was the first of several long, straight stretches of course, allowing you to see literally for miles at the bobbing sea of athletes.  The course wouldn’t change much until around mile 8, where it turns right onto Lafayette Avenue, a beautiful stretch of road with a brilliant autumn tree canopy obscuring the sky.  From there, it turns back left, heading into what I believe is Williamsburg, home to a large Hasidic community.

New York Marathon Google Earth Rendering

New York Marathon Google Earth Rendering

Eventually we lose the trees and get back into the urban grays of the nation’s largest city.  Just before mile 13, the course bottlenecks on a two-lane street with an aid station on each side.  Immediately after, runners scale the Pulaski bridge and pass the halfway mark on their way to the race’s third borough, Queens.  I crossed in just over 1:51, hoping to be able to keep it up.  Two miles later, we reach what I consider to be the worst part of the race: the dreaded Queensboro Bridge.  Not only is it another mile-long bridge, but the first half seems interminable.  Every time I would look up, it looked like the top was just ahead, only to see it somehow recede later.  Eventually, I heaved in relief as it became a downhill run into Manhattan, the fourth borough, where large, roaring crowds greet on runners on First Avenue.

Many runners will tell you that’s the best part of the race.  I’m withholding judgment for now, but I will admit that it was very invigorating … but mostly because the last ten minutes were all on a desolate bridge with an icy wind cutting across your face.  Anything after that would have been a welcome change.  It only sweetens the deal that it’s an enormous road, free of cars, and full of rabid fans on both sides.  It’s also another section of race where you can see for the next three miles.  At this point, I was holding steady at an 8:30 pace, but I could tell my legs were starting to fade.

After the Chicago Marathon four weeks ago, I developed a dull pain in my left knee that I couldn’t seem to shake.  Since dropping out of this race was not an option, I had to cut my training down by as much as 70% to avoid serious injury.  I stuck to biking and stair climbing to keep my fitness, running only to “test” the knee, noting at what distance it would start to hurt.  During this race, I strengthened my belief in the magical power of adrenaline and sheer will.  Something happened because my knee wasn’t complaining in the least – not even an echo of pain.  Just three days prior, I had felt it during a three-mile run, and here I was, at mile 20, without any limps or grimaces.  That was very heartening and got me through the race’s last 10k, where my undertraining inevitably caught up with me.

Fifth Avenue – It may not look steep, but it was murder on my legs

It started as I entered the Bronx, the final borough.  My legs weren’t turning over as fast as they had been, the bottoms of my feet were getting sore and I started dipping into 9-minute miles.  Once out and back into Manhattan, that pattern continued as I struggled to keep my momentum without stopping.  We were now on Fifth Avenue, about four miles from the finish, and the worst was yet to come.  Despite hating the Queensboro Bridge, it wasn’t the most challenging part of the race.  That honor belonged to mile 23, an almost completely uphill climb, my legs on the verge of cramping.  I somehow kept it together long enough to enter Central Park at 88th street, past mile 24 and into the final stretch.

Many more turns like this until the finish

This was perhaps my favorite part of the race.  Despite running on empty and having trouble keeping my head up, I somehow managed to speed up for the last two miles through the ups and downs of the park’s serpentine roads.  Call it the thrill of running through the park’s fiery orange trees, thick enough to make you forget you’re in the middle of a city.  After rounding Columbus Circle, a volunteer with a megaphone yelled to runners that the 26th mile banner was just ahead.  But then, as if the course weren’t already challenging enough for someone from Chicago, a city flattened out by a cosmic rolling pin, we discovered that the last 0.2 miles are an uphill slap to the face.  Though the first and only cramp of the race shot through my right hamstring right at that moment, I kept moving forward, finishing in 3:54:00, my second fastest marathon time.  After crossing the finish, I was spotted by Jessie Frey, with whom I’ve shared many races (and one epic relay) and whose generosity allowed me to run New York City in the first place.  Extra bonus points to my high-school friend Adri Chaves for showing up at mile 26 to witness and cheer for my unglamorous teeth-baring final kick.

So ended my second World Marathon Major, sixth marathon and seventeenth state.  It was a great race, full of many challenging hills, vibrant neighborhoods and two million fans strong.  It’s no secret as to why it’s such a popular race, which makes getting into the event a feat unto itself.  Being able to run it was not only fun, it was an honor.  However, call it a bias, but given the choice between this race and Chicago, I’m sticking to the hometown experience.  With the exception of New York’s amazing runner tracking system, Chicago’s race is just so much easier to handle and still provides the same epic, world class event full of standout athletes, an impressive international field, and the best tour of a city you can get.

Me, Baxter, Jessie

But enough about the race, this weekend wouldn’t have been possible without the wondrous hospitality of my friend Jessie and my gentleman Baxter.  As two people who are generally known for spending lots of time in scary, far away places like Zambia, Bangladesh, and Baltimore, it was great to finally have them both in the Big Apple for some good old fashioned fun times and Pad Thai.  There was a time when we all lived in Chicago and saw each other every day.  Now, those opportunities happen every two years if we’re lucky, so it was great to be able to spend some quality time with them.

Me, Laura, Eric, Adri

And now it’s time for a break, a real one, from running.  I’m sure the knee injury was a product of being too enthusiastic about the marathon distance too soon.  I went from running one marathon a year to finishing four, three of which in just nine weeks.  It’s inevitable that something will go wrong with that kind of escalation.  So with that in mind, I’m going to rest for a bit, cross train more, and then gradually build myself back up for the 2012 winter race season.  It’s back to the speedy half marathon distance with a few full marathons sprinkled in for good measure.  I’m aiming to be halfway done with this 50-state challenge before my wedding day on September 22, so we’ll see how that goes.  With any luck, I’ll be able to tackle the challenge on healthy legs.  Onwards!

Florida (2011 ING Miami Half Marathon)

Last year’s ING Miami Half Marathon was my first out-of-state half marathon and it was quite the disaster.  The fun weekend with family aside, I spent most of the weekend with an upset stomach and awoke on Sunday to a 70-degree day with 97% humidity.  By mile 5 I was reaching exhaustion and couldn’t keep up the 8:20 pace I had set out to do.  Needless to say, I did not like my experience.  I finished the race with a 1:57, my slowest half to date, and begrudgingly took my medal home.

So when my cousin Paula told me she wanted to run the race again in 2011, I was a bit apprehensive.  Did I really want to risk a repeat of last year’s swampy mess?  Or would Providence shine brightly in my favor?  Since this entry is about the race, the answers to those questions should be obvious, but I didn’t register without a pinch of trepidation.  After all, running can really suck under terrible conditions.  Regardless, I went back along with my cousin and her family for the weekend in hopes of conquering the 13.1-mile distance with a faster time.  Last year’s race did not adversely affect Paula’s love of running.  She went on to finish the Tamarindo Beach Half Marathon in Guanacaste, Costa Rica in September and later the Rock ‘n Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon the following month.  So while I was out to simply finish with a respectable time, she was looking to improve her PR.

We all arrived Friday evening and set up camp at my grandmother’s apartment on Brickell Avenue.  My mom had recently given the entire unit its first facelift since the Bronze Age and I was happy to receive a tour.  As my aunt showed me around the different rooms, I felt like I was an interested buyer at an open house.  It was a very bittersweet experience.  I’ve been visiting this place since birth and until a few years ago, the space hadn’t ever been changed.  But mom did a spectacular job modernizing it, allowing nostalgic attachments to quickly fade.  Check out the 12-year difference:

The next day, we visited the Expo for our race materials and strolled down Lincoln Road until we found an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Though Paula and I can’t speak for the rest of her family, our meal was great and primed us for the following morning’s race.  With a cab scheduled to pick us up at 4:50 AM, we went to bed feeling energized and ready.

Tío Daniel, Tía Ale, Andy, Paula, Nati

Unfortunately, I picked the most unreliable cab company in history.  Not only did the cab never show up, but the company’s number, which I relentlessly dialed upwards of 30 times, would answer once out of every eleven dials with a nondescript “Hello?” as if I were dialing my friends’ parents at 3 in the morning.  They continued to reassure me that the cab was five minutes away, but all evidence suggested otherwise.  By 5:30, I was an unstable combination of rage and panic, leading us to ask my aunt to drive us as close to the race start as possible.  To our great surprise, there weren’t many cars entering downtown Miami and she dropped us off a short 10-minute walk from our respective corrals.  Because of the last-minute contingency plan, I was denied the privilege of gear check and a pre-race bathroom break but at least I was in Corral E as the national anthem finished.

American Airlines Arena, start of the race

The race began at around 6:20 PM with temperatures in the mid-50’s and humidity hovering around 70% – a colossal improvement over last year’s conditions.  By the time I reached mile 4 and entered South Beach, I was feeling great and not showing any signs of fatigue, which were more than apparent in the previous running.  Because of this good fortune, I was much more aware of the course’s scenic beauty.  I was able to enjoy the palm trees that split up the MacArthur Causeway, the restaurants that line Ocean Drive and the many families of spectators that exit their homes on Meridian Avenue to cheer.  By the time I reached the Cheer Zone at Mile 11 to the sounds of crowds and my family, I was confident and running at a pace reminiscent of my summer half marathons.

The Cheer Zone is crucial in this race.  Though there are always a few spectators to be found at any point in the race except on the Causeways, there is never a large, critical mass of booming shouts until this point.  As more fans show up, they slowly push off the sidewalk and into the street, narrowing the road to only three shoulder lengths.  This makes it look like you’re running faster (and truth be told, the rush of adrenaline does make some people actually run faster), which boosts your confidence, if only for a few hundred feet.  In my case though, as soon as the crowds died down, I began to flag.  It wasn’t a bonk by any means, but for the first time in the race, I felt like I had to try to keep up my pace.

You see, Chicago has been consistently recording temperatures below 20°F for the last month, which has relegated me to the treadmill for 90% of my training.  In fact, my longest run prior to Miami was an 11-mile run at the gym (fortunately, TNT was playing The Dark Knight so I wasn’t bored out of my mind).  Once past the Cheer Zone, conveniently located at mile 11, I entered territory not explored since early December.  But like anyone who has a time goal in mind, I pushed onwards and made it to the finish in a respectable 1:41:42, knocking off fifteen minutes from last year and logging my sixth fastest time on a flat course.  Paula, however, earned top laurels at the event by finishing in 2:05, fourteen minutes faster than her PR.

A few hours after the race, with a medal proudly in her carry-on and muscles glazed with PF Chang’s’ orange peel sauce, Paula left for Costa Rica with her parents and siblings.  She and I are close to making this race an annual tradition.  I don’t need to make a cost-benefit analysis to show that going to Miami in January is a perfectly timed escape from Chicago’s interminable winter – and the free accomodations definitely help.  I don’t know about her, but I already jumped on the early bird special and signed up for 2012.  Anyway, I spent the remainder of the day relaxing before heading back out to Chicago for what meteorologists were calling one of the worst blizzards in the city’s history.  After that, it’ll be just under three weeks until the LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon in the Lone Star State.  Onwards!

State 1: Florida (2010 ING Miami Half Marathon)

Editor’s Note: I wrote the recap below shortly after running the 2010 ING Miami Marathon.  It was a brief description of the race and little else.  However, over two years later, I was asked to describe the race with additional details on another blogger’s website, which can be read here.

I began 2010 with a then-ambitious challenge to myself: run ten half marathons before the Chicago Marathon in October.  In the summer of 2009, I learned that my cousin Paula had signed up for her first American road race, the ING Miami Half Marathon. Without hesitating, I made arrangements to run with her. Seven months later, it was time to inaugurate the ten halves of 2010 with my family, a belly full of pasta and a head swimming with ambitious dreams of scenic vistas, cool ocean breezes and bold PR’s.

Ah, the gift of dreaming. The actual race was brutal. Although the temperatures were hovering in the low 70’s, the humidity was an oppressive 97%. At the top of the MacArthur bridge, right before the causeway, I was sweating bullets and hadn’t reached the first mile marker. Usually I feel my energy start to dwindle by mile 9, but Miami pushed me to this point by mile 5, barely out of South Beach. I kept sneaking glances at my watch, furious at the rising pace time. Once the course returned to the mainland around mile 11, I managed to speed up for the Cheer Zone, where my mom, aunt and cousins were waiting for us to pass. They got a glimpse of pure athletic histrionics, because I was (not-so) secretly dying on the inside.

Shortly before the finish line, the course splits, giving the marathon runners an additional 13.1 miles of punishment. For everyone else, the finish line was a few more gasps away. I finished in 1:57:09, my slowest half to date, grabbed the famous spinner medal and made my way through the post-race refreshments to meet up with my family.

 

Tía Ale, Paula, Tío Daniel, Andy, Nati

Had the weather not monopolized my focus, I would have enjoyed the race a lot more. I would have enjoyed the beautiful views of the ocean in between islands, the rows of palm trees lining the roads, the themed restaurants gracing Ocean drive – I might have also talked to one of the many Costa Ricans running the race. The bridges in between islands weren’t as backbreaking as I had imagined, though they did slow me down. But as far as aesthetics go, this race has been undoubtedly the most beautiful I have run. In fact, I feel a little sorry for my cousin, who will forever benchmark future races against this one.

But alas, I shook off my woes and returned to training.  With the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon in mid-April, I had some training to do.