Thursday, February 3, 2011

ING Miami Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 3rd Edition 
65.5 miles raced in 2011
Race: ING Miami Half Marathon
Place: Miami, FL
Miles from home: 2532 miles
Weather: 60-70s; Slight humidity, sunshine

I have come to learn the difference in cold weather over the past few years.  Nothing I have experienced in Salt Lake City has compared to East Coast cold.  It is, plain and simply, the humidity.  you hear about a dry heat and scoff but I will take 95 degrees in SLC over 80 in, say Washington D.C. with its normal humidity any day of the week.

After getting reintroduced to weather that hurts when visiting my family in NW PA last weekend (-14 degrees or so in temperature- not counting wind chill) the 30 plus degrees in Salt Lake City when I returned home was downright balmy.  The 60s and 70s in Miami this past weekend were glorious.  But what was so wonderful about this weekend’s weather, at least for me and many other similar runners, was very low humidity in the air.  In fact, the weather conditions were just about perfect.
Me, some guy named Dick or something, and GP.

As is usual, I met a plethora of fascinating and special people at the expo where I was happy to be part of an excellent guest speaker schedule which included my good friend GP Pearlberg.  I saw runners who I had first met last year when I ran the Miami Marathon and got to catch up on how their running had gone the through the past 365 days.

My goal for the weekend was to help my good friend Shannon set a new personal best in the half-marathon.  Having already done two marathons in January alone, her attempt at setting a new PR in the half might be stretching it a bit (especially since she is not fully back from a severe iron deficiency problem late last year and is still getting used to a completely new gluten-free diet.) But I like to help people strive for all they can get.  As Robert Browning said “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”

The goal for the race was to run between 1:40 and 1:45.  I knew Shannon wanted to run faster but I also knew she wasn’t quite ready for it. Her drive and determination were not to be doubted but it was too soon after taking a lengthy break from running to deal with her iron deficiency issue to go after a huge personal best.  We combated the iron part head-on by having fantastic dinners at Outback Steakhouse the night before the race.  My goodness there is just something about having beef in my belly which just fuels me to finish!
Somehow I convinced Shannon to not wear a watch and totally rely on me.  No idea how I did that for someone who is such a control freak.  The plan was to run between 8 minutes and 7:40 per mile for the first half and if all systems were go, to take advantage of the fantastically flat last few miles and cheer stations for a fast finish.

First 5K: 7:49, 6:55, 7:56

With the biggest hill of the entire race being after the first half of a mile as we cross over the MacArthur Causeway, my intent was to hold up and run over 8 minutes.  However, as the case always is, it is nearly impossible to do so with the thrill of the race finally upon you.  Nevertheless, the 7:49 first mile was a good start.  The downhill of the Causeway gave us a little speed on the other side  and make the second mile seem awfully fast.  I had a feeling the exact placement of the mile marker was just a few yards off which gave us the illusion of speeding up.   As the sun just began to peak over the Atlantic Ocean and the behemoth cruise ships in the water next to us cast shadows of darkness over the runners, we were running by feel in the cool temps with the slightly warm breeze rolling over us.  The pace felt solid, the weather felt good and the volunteers were plentiful, enthusiastic and warm.  This camaraderie gave us the sensation of one big happy family.

With the first and only really hill of the race out of the way, I was happy to simply settle in the best we could to churn out some miles. However, I could tell Shannon was already experiencing tightness in her IT band just from her gait.  I was very much hoping that this would loosen up over the next few miles and I told her to slow down just a touch to see if we could work it out.  She would later tell me that from the very first hill she had felt the tightness in her legs overtake her and mentally she had been beat from that very beginning.

To the 10k: 7:25, 7:38, 8:01 

Having said that, the next mile felt fantastic for both of us.  The miles always felt good for me whenever I actually had to verbally hold Shannon back because that meant she was surging. I would like to say it was my wonderful pacing and words of encouragement that spiked this next mile.  Chances are, however, that Shannon saw this guy(?) and panicked.  He really brought his talents to South Beach that morning.  For realsies.

And while he was a little atypical of the fans we saw cheering on the runners, his spirit was definitely that of South Beach.  The cheer station put together by Robert Kraft, aka Raven (I wrote about Raven here) was extremely nice even though if I understand correctly he does not necessarily support the race. Revelers from the previous night were still heading home, some were throwing beads to runners and even more were lining the streets the yell for everyone.

Passing where Versace was murdered on Ocean Drive I couldn’t believe that was nearly 14 years ago.  As I rapidly approaching 35 years of age, time is really beginning to speed up.  I said this out loud and the guy next to me said “I am glad it is for you.  This fricking thing is going slow as heck for me!”  I honestly think everyone becomes ten times wittier when they are running.

The 6th mile felt just a tad long but we also were doing a lot of weaving around people which may have added some extra time to our run.  Some runners had obviously started too fast and here, just about halfway through, were beginning to regret that decision.  We then passed underneath a big inflatable archway which said “.75 mile”.  I pondered that thing for a good three minutes and looking back still have no idea what exactly it was supposed to signify. Was it the .75 mile mark of that particular mile?  And if so, um, why?  At the very least, it gave us something to think about.

Another nice thing to think about was the weather.  I don’t know the history of every Miami Marathon (this was just my third of nine they have had) but this was just about the most perfect weather you could possibly hope for in Florida.  Very low humidity, a slight chill in the air, a small breeze and electricity from the crowd.  If it weren’t for July and August I might make my next home in Miami.  I guess I could be a 35-year old snowbird!

On to double digits at mile 10: 7:50, 7:45, 7:57, 7:58

Around the 9th mile, the 1:40 pace group slowly inched up behind us and began to overtake our own pace.  I knew Shannon really wanted to go under 1:40 but I had a feeling that was not in the cards today.  Her time slipped a bit over the next miler or so as the group began to edge away from us.  Her stride was really beginning to be affected here and I could hear some definite strain in her breathing.  The absolute worst part about pacing people is when they begin to slip just a little from their desired pace.  You just want to pick them up, throw them over your shoulder and carry them.  Every time I have been an official pace group leader, this desire is so fierce sometimes I have to physically restrain myself from putting a hand in the back of one of my runners and nudge them forward.  You are hoping they can steal the excess energy you have simply by touching them.

As Shannon was trusting me to be her watch, I had to keep edging her forward with my voice.  She couldn’t look down and figure out where she was in the race to push herself.  There were indeed clocks every mile but I don’t think she looked at a single one of them.  In hindsight, for someone trying to set a new personal best, she was putting an enormous amount of trust in me and I am beyond flattered. That said, I could see we were very close to getting her personal best but realized we still had three miles left and anything could happen.

To the Finish: 7:45, 7:58, 8:28, :49

We began to cross the Venetian Causeway and having been told that a pod of dolphins liked to frolic right in this area I was hoping for one of those magical moments where a dolphin jumped right out of the water next to us.  It didn’t happen.  However, at the officially designated ING cheering sections where the crowd pushed together tightly so that runners could only run about three abreast providing a wonderful energy blast.  Personally, I would have liked if they had backed up just a touch so the runners felt less claustrophobic.  And the people dressed in the full orange body suits were a tad too freaky.  They looked like the Teletubbies were in a bad S&M movie.

With two miles left, it was what I like to call “hunker down” time. Scenery no longer matters.  Other runners do not exist except as targets in front of you to reel in, stomp on and leave behind in a bloody disemboweled mess.  Figuratively, of course.   I would tell Shannon to pick a runner in front of us, focus on their back and lasso them.  Pull them close, steal their energy and then find a new one.  I could hear her swearing under her belabored breath.  She told me she was hurting.  I said if it was sharp pain, we would walk.  If it was dull pain and exhaustion, well- that’s what you get when you are running faster than you ever have before.  If it was easy, you would have already done it.

As the crowds grew more intense, the streets began to do a few twists and turns to get runners back on Biscayne Boulevard and heading home.  Around 12.5 miles to archways were setup  - one for the marathoners who were turning right and going on to their second half and the other for us.  I remembered being here last year running the marathon and wishing so hard I was turning left.  Shannon took off like a shot and I immediately knew she saw the arch and thought it was the finish.  I caught up to her and told her we weren’t done.  Hold that intensity and a new personal best is yours!

Around the corner, coming from out of the shadows of the Intercontinental Hotel we burst into the sun and the throngs of people in bleachers and lining the street.  The huge balloon arch signifying the real end beckoned.  Once again picking up the pace, Shannon kicked it into high gear.  We crossed the finish line with the sun kissing our faces, the announcer, Jeremy Pate, calling out the names of the runners and, most exciting, a new personal best for Shannon- 1:42:13.

She undoubtedly has a much faster time in her but as this was her first half-marathon in over four years, and given the challenges of the past few months it was a sweet -tasting PR for sure.  The rest of the weekend was spent within the warm confines of Miami Beach and the hearts of the Miami Marathon organizers.  While I have not been around as long as they have, I feel like family here and could not have been more honored to be invited to their post-race party.  Humility and caring prevailed throughout that room and you can see how much everyone had poured into the race.  I was asked to return again in 2012 and I accepted on the spot.  I plan on ending my January in Miami as long as they will have me.

Trust me- you should too.

Having been invited by my friend Ben to enjoy South Beach from 2,000 feet up, I hopped aboard the Twin-engine Cabin Class Cessna of his Flay Catalina charter business and enjoyed looking over every square inch of the course we had just run.  The Keys to our south, Bimini to our east and tons of people bathing in the sun right below us made for a perfect ending of a wonderful weekend.  Ben was so smooth and relaxed in his flying demeanor he 100% rekindled a desire of mine to get my pilot’s license.  Check out his website, Catalina Aerospace.

I return to Miami in just over a month to run the 13.1 Miami, an event put on by those who put together the Miami Marathon.  Having run in the inaugural 13.1 Miami last year (recap here), I knew I had to come back again to see how they make it even better.  I have no doubt I will be satisfied.

Guess I have to start growing the beard again.

1 comment:

Jill Beardsley said...

When is this picture from?