The Connection Runners + travel

Marathon #4: 2011 ING Miami Marathon

What an amazing weekend!

When I first began planning out my 12 marathons 12 months challenge I knew I'd have to travel a fair distance for a January race, but Miami was a fairly easy choice. I lived there for several years, knew the city, and was familiar with the course. In fact Mile 25 went right past my old building, which brought back a flood of good memories (more on that later).

Our hectic schedules being what they are, this was a quick 48 hour hop for the marathon and back. My wife and I flew down to Miami Saturday morning from Logan, arrived around 1pm, got the rental car, and checked into the JW Marriott on Brickell Blvd, about .7 miles from the start/finish. There are lots of great places to stay down here but we opted to stay here so we could 1) use Marriott points and 2) walk to/from the race. After we had a bite for lunch, my wife went out for a 5 mile run around Brickell Key, and at 4:30 we headed to the Miami Beach Convention Center for the expo/packet pickup. The MacArthur Causeway which connects downtown to South Beach was bumper to bumper, and a Carnival cruise ship was departing causing all sorts of gawking and traffic. What should have taken us 15 minutes took us an hour, and the expo was closing at 6 - so I zipped through, got my bib and swag bag just as the exhibitors began breaking down their booths. Nice technical tee but it was the wrong size (M not L) and I was told the safety pins for my bib were included - but they weren't! Oh well, no big deal.

Next we headed to the Fountainbleau Miami Beach, the iconic hotel from Goldfinger - but it has been completely renovated since the James Bond days and is a stunning work of luxurious design. We had a drink (Voss water for me, some funky mojito for her) in the Blue Bar before our 6:30 reservations at Scarpetta, the highly acclaimed Italian restaurant by chef Scott Conant.

They had a marathon pre-fixe menu for runners, and I opted for the braised short ribs to start, the Scialatelli (homemade fettucine with spot prawns and clams tossed w/ garlic and basil - transcendant!) and a tasty rice pudding for dessert. My wife opted for the classic spaghetti with tomato and basil - a truly remarkable dish. Perhaps the best Italian meal I've EVER had, and I've been to Italy 12 times. Carb loading has never been so divine.

We stopped at a Walgreens on the way back to the hotel to pick up a Clif Bar and Red Bull for the a.m. and some safety pins for my bib. Asleep by 9pm, and wake-up call set for 4:30am.

I opted to wear my black Adidas running shirt, North Face shorts, compression calf sleeves (best invention since the corkscrew) and my Brooks ASR's. I walked the short distance along Brickell to Bayside, and there were runners everywhere walking as well. It was hilarious to see the early a.m. partygoers with their dates stumbling along Brickell in their Manolo Blahniks - got a few high fives and used my long-since archived Spanish as I bantered, joked and laughed with them on my way to the start.

Nothing quite like an early morning start in the dark, and this race had a tremendous, positive vibe. The start was right in front of the American Airlines Arena, and club music thumped and pulsed in the pre-dawn air. They drew a record number of runners this year 21,000 total: 3,500 of them marathon runners and the rest doing the 1/2. I was in corral D and surrounded by runners from Latin America - the man to my left was from Honduras, and a bunch of runners from Panama were to my right.

I was feeling good, but came into the race not having run in 2 weeks. I had logged 111 miles since the beginning of the year, but on Tues January 17th slipped on a patch of ice taking my son to the bus stop and twisted my back the wrong way. I opted to play it safe and not run for the next 4 days, and then on the following Saturday went to the black belt class and did Taekwondo to keep my cardio up. In the last few sparring rounds I felt a pull in my right calf, the same place I felt one back in December. Not good. So deciding rest was the best medicine, I 'shut it down' until the marathon, making sure I was healthy and ready to run 26.2.

At 6:20 the gun went off, and marathon #4 in my quest to run 12 marathons in 12 months was underway. Being in corral D I had hoped to avoid the slower 1/2 marathoners, but about 200 yards into the race a bunch of us immediately found ourselves dodging walkers! Unbelievable. A group of 4-5 women walking side by side by side created a 'wall' that forced us to slam on the brakes and go around to avoid smashing into them - and it was shoulder to shoulder to begin with.

We banked onto the causeway headed toward Miami Beach and I was feeling wonderful. Back felt 100% fine, calf a non-factor either. Weather was ideal, maybe high 50's to 60 at the start, and a lovely crescent moon that you could hook your finisher's medal on hung low in the Miami sky. I couldn't help but keep looking back over my right shoulder at the city skyline. Just a breathtaking sight. I was savoring this run the way I savored my meal the night before - really appreciating the fact that I was running another marathon in such a gorgeous locale.

My goal was to set a new personal best, which was 3:39:19. That would require a 8:22 (or better) min mile pace, and with a flat course and perfect weather I was up for the challenge. I was going for it.

Had to take a quick nature break at mile 2 but quickly got back in the groove as the sky began to turn a gorgeous hue of orange and pink above the horizon. Once over the bridge, we careened right onto Alton road and cruised down to South Beach Pointe and then back up Collins Ave. 8:32, 8:19, 7:35, 7:50 my 1st 4 miles and have to admit - I was feeling great.

Now my biggest flaw as a marathon runner is the tendency to 'go out too hot.' It can deplete your energy stores and come back to crush you later in the race. When I ran Sugarloaf last May I avg'd around an 8:40 mile min for the 1st 13 and ran a negative split of around 8 min the rest of the way (approximate, those were pre-Garmin days). I told myself to try to keep these early miles around 8:30-8:35 or so. So what do I do here? Totally disregard any advance strategy planning and just run. Miles 5, 6 and 7 through South Beach were 7:49, 7:56, 8:08. Faster than I should have. The Maine Marathon and NYC were attempts to run all-out all the way, and they both ended with Mile 20 bonks.

Part of the problem with going out too hot is the unavoidable fact that I was packed in alongside 16,000+ half marathoners, and it's tough to maintain an early pace that is slower than those runners around you. That foolish, egotisitical mentality of 'you're not going to pass me' can get the best of you. It did.

The other problem, if you will, is that I hadn't run in so long - and it felt SOOOOOOOOOOOO good to run. And not run in zero temperatures bundled up in three layers of fleece with a hat battling a biting wind chill. We're talking Miami, the palm trees, the Art Deco sights, ahhhhh it seemed so hedonistic and pleasureable to run this race.

I made sure I stopped at every water station. They were ample and I always first got a cup of water and then a cup of Gatorade. Mile 4 my 1st GU, and Mile 8 my second. Still feeling good. Mile 8 was 8:12 and we began our way back across the intercoastal over a series of steel-grated bridges - very cool to see the turquoise water beneath our feet.

It's about 2.5 miles across the Venetian causeway back into Miami and once over the bridge the crowd support was nuts. Mile 9, 10 and 11 were 8:17, 8:18, 8:19. Mile 10.5 was an 'ING Cheer Zone' - and it was lined with people and the atmosphere was crazy. Bands, drums, cheeleaders, and the street narrowed and I found myself slapping high fives with the crowd. Great adrenaline boost.

Another GU at Mile 12, which was a straight shot south down Miami Ave, a seedier part of town, but the 1/2 marathoners were in their final kick and I still managed to keep my pace at 8:17. We banked left on E. Flagler Street, then a hard right, and the 1/2 marathoners veered left toward the finish while we went right and continued on.

I saw my wife just after the breakway point, a few strides before the 13.1 split. I hit that halfway mark at 1:47 and was feeling strong.

Miles 14, 15 and 16 I started to show signs of fatigue. 8:26, then a 8:58 and Mile 16 9:07. I had my first 9 min mile at the same point in New York, and that was when I started to realize history was about to repeat itself. Mile 17 and 18 were through Coconut Grove, a nice neighborhood of shops and cafes. I remember telling myself that I already had some quick miles in the bank, and to try to maintain an 8:30 pace. 17 was 8:31 and 18 was 8:29. I was working hard, but felt like I could keep this pace. I knew I was still leading the 3:40 pace group, and was bunched in a pack of about 10-12 runners who seemed to be keeping about an 8:30 pace with me. At times we would really crowd together, elbow to elbow, so I would bolt ahead for some more room, but fade and fall back again into the pack. I was also deep into my iPod playlist, and the newer songs I'd added helped at this point.

Then came the bonk.

I was trying to maintain that 8:30 pace when at mile 18.75 my legs began to stiffen and I felt like I was on a treadmill and couldn't keep up. I kept forwarding songs on my iPod looking for something to keep me going, but when the 3:40 pace group pulled even with me I was fading fast and couldn't hang with them. They wooshed by, and I'd lost about 45 seconds in maybe a four minute period, and now found myself running completely alone. Mile 19 registered at 9:23, and now the plan was to try to keep my miles at 9 minutes. It wasn't the cement mixer feeling I experienced going over the Willis Avenue bridge at NYC because that was exacerbated by the incline - this was more like a 'running out of gas' feeling, or like I was a fan and someone put me in a lower speed and I just couldn't reach the switch. I really pushed the next mile and managed a 9:19 for Mile 20 - but now keeping a 9 min pace just didn't seem plausible. My arms were pumping wildly for some extra inertia/momentum but it didn't seem to matter.

Were now on Bayshore Drive past the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and runners were passing me left and right. I was pretty much in 'let's finish this damn thing' survival mode.

Now the pain sets in.

I passed the Mile 21 mark at a whopping 9:56, partly cursing to myself for those early miles. I was grinding as hard as I could and couldn't imagine going any faster than I was. Ten minute miles? Really David? I just wanted to reach the Rickenbacker Causeway (the bridge that leads out to Key Biscayne) because then I knew it was a 5k to the finish. My mental approach was to just break the remaining parts of the race in small, manageable pieces. I told myself to just make it to Mile 22. Just get there. That was 10:08. Ouch.

We curved onto the Causeway and I was baking in the sun - the first time I felt the heat/sun all day. Time seemed to have stopped. I knew the turnaround point on the Causeway was also the Mile 23 mark. Just get there. Time: 10:23.

Brutal.

Had another GU, but it didn't matter. Just run.

They handed out sponges and I squeezed one over my head and that felt good. Only a 5K left. I do those in my sleep, I tell myself. I run 5K's before I'm even loose, I say. The 3:50 pace group now pulls even with me, and I try to hang with them. No way. They become an apparition in the distance in no time.

That is when I had my moment. My Garmin read 3:30. I told myself: you have two choices. Runners - and any endurance athlete, really - knows what I mean. Either I fold up that tent, or drill deep into that reservoir of desire and KEEP GOING.

I made the difficult choice, but the right one. They're usually one in the same, aren't they?

KEEP GOING.

So we spilled off the causeway back onto Brickell Ave and I saw my Garmin buzzed the time for Mile 24: 10:14 with two point two miles to go. This was my old neighborhood. I worked on Brickell, and lived on Brickell Key. I drove this road every single day. Home turf. So close! Get at it.

I didn't even look at the time the rest of the way - I just put my head down and went. Crossed Mile 25, Garmin buzzed but didn't glance. Grind, baby grind! The familiar sights were encouraging, and since our bibs had our names on them I could hear spectators yelling 'Go David!' and that makes a big difference when you have nothing in the tank.

All I had left was the short walk I took to the start, and up and over the Miami River bridge. The road twists past the Intercontinental hotel, and the crowds were getting bigger and bigger. I sprinted as best I could and entered the chute: I was elated as I crossed the finish line: 3:52:32

So finishing 884 overall out of 3,558 isn't bad (729 out of 2301 men) with an average pace of 8:52.

They hung the 'Spinning Palm' medal around my neck, and it felt great. Four marathons in four months!

The walk back to the hotel was slow, and I continued to cheer on my fellow marathoners as I walked along Brickell. I took a brief ice bath, and had planned to have dinner at Gotham Steak back at the Fountainbleau but was too tired and sore so we went to Morton's across the street for a celebratory dinner, which was fantastic.

So next up is #5 Hyannis Marathon on Cape Cod. Rest assured, I will adapt my pacing strategy accordingly and once again give it my all.

Eight more 26.2's to go!

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Marathon #4: 2011 ING Miami Marathon + travel