We ran next to a woman running in a gold Indian sari, an Israeli group singing in Hebrew and Mexican runners reuniting for the first time in years. My #MiamiFamous recap from the Miami Marathon
By Chris Umpierre
MIAMI — The banner hanging above the starting line said everything you need to know about this community: “It’s not Miami without you.”
Over the course of 13.1 rain-slogged miles Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, my wife and I ran alongside an Indian woman running in an elegant gold sari and sandals, Costa Ricans holding their country’s flag and runners conversing in German. We heard an Israeli group sing in Hebrew in Mile 1 and saw a Mexican runner greet a long-lost friend in Spanish in Mile 5.
In an era when ethnicities are singled out and divisiveness is expounded, Miami is the antithesis. Miami is multicultural. Miami is multilingual. Miami is welcoming.
Multiculturalism is important because it allows residents to learn from different backgrounds and experiences. A diverse population powers innovate ideas.
About 24,000 runners from 80 countries and all 50 states ran and supported each other at the Miami Marathon. The runners did it on a picturesque course illuminated by the world’s biggest cruise ships, downtown’s American Airlines Arena, South Beach’s famous streets and the Venetian Causeway.
I trained for five weeks for this race. Running, for me, is more mental than physical.
I’m not a runner. My wife, Christina, is. I can remember struggling on long runs during high school baseball practice. And I struggled training for this half marathon.
On one of my early runs, I could remember seeing three vultures sitting atop a 30-foot tree. Those vultures seemed to be looking at me as I ran. They were probably wondering if I was going to be their next meal, but I kept going.
I learned a big part of running is convincing your mind you can do it. Once you do that, you learn to love running.
Running, as they say, is an exercise of the mind. You have a lot of time to think when you’re running. Any stresses in your life get pushed aside.
A Wet Start
Rain starting falling just as our Miami Marathon and Half Marathon corral was called at 6:30 a.m. The rain didn’t stop for the entire race. It wasn’t a downpour, but more of a slow, steady precipitation. Hey, it was better than 80-degree heat!
Some runners ran with ponchos or augmented garbage bags. Christina wanted to do the same, but I convinced her to take her homemade poncho off.
When the heavy rain began to fall just as we approached the starting line, she glared at me. “These (marathon) pictures better be good!” she said with a smile. Ha!
The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon’s first five miles is the same every year: a climb up the MacArthur Causeway, a bridge linking the mainland to Miami Beach.
As we began our MacArthur Causeway ascent, something unscripted happened. Runners from a large Israeli group began chanting in Hebrew. Picture it. It’s dark. All you hear is the squaking of rain-slogged sneakers and all of a sudden a serenade begins.
We didn’t know what they were singing, but we could feel the excitement. We could hear their joy. We felt it, too.
The Israeli voices and all other runners quieted down when we reached the top of the causeway.
In freezing rain and cold win, two bagpipers in Scottish kilts were playing. This was one of the surprises the Miami Marathon had hinted at. This was, of course, the 15th annual race.
As it turned out, the bagpipers couldn’t have played in a better setting. Where else should you hear bagpipes than in cold rain and freezing wind? Hey, you could close your eyes and think you’re in Scotland. OK, maybe not, but you know what I mean.
Runners roared in approval and cheered for the bagpipers.
Just beyond the bagpipers, we looked to our right and saw some of the world’s biggest cruise ships. They were all lit up across from the causeway. The largeness of these cruise ships puts in perspective the global city Miami has become. It’s one of the top sights of the annual race.
In the waters off the causeway, a Miami sheriff’s boat had its lights and siren on. The boat was shooting water cannons high into the air in a salute. It honked for the runners.
Running in Formal Indian Dress and Sandals
When I first saw her on the course, I had to do a double take. Yes, an Indian woman was running 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles in the rain in an elegant, full-length gold sari and in sandals.
Running a half marathon or marathon in a dress and sandals is one feat. Running in a dress and sandals in rain is 1,000 times more difficult.
I had trouble with rain seeping into my shoes. How did this woman run 13.1 miles in sandals?
Everyone here runs for a purpose. That’s what I thought of as I passed this woman.
You don’t run 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles for fun. You run to prove something to yourself. You run for personal achievement. You run to inspire others. You run for your country.
This woman was so proud of her culture she wanted to make a statement in Miami’s biggest race. What. A. Statement.
That was just one of many inspiring things we saw during our 13.1 miles.
We also saw a Miami firefighter with a helmet and full uniform. We had seen this man in last year’s race. But this year, he was joined by several police officers. One police officer was walking ahead of him holding the American flag.
As we passed the group, a female runner ran up to the police officer holding the flag.
“Hold on. Hold on,” she said, whipping out her cell phone. “I have to take a picture with you. I love this country so much. I love this flag!”
Running through South Beach
South Beach is my favorite part of the race. You never know what you’re going to see in South Beach.
It is Mile 4 and we’re running down Alton Road toward South Pointe Drive. We make the turn onto Ocean Drive and your eyes immediately look to the right. There’s the beach. You can hear the waves.
You look to your left and see Miami’s hippest hotels, bars and restaurants. It’s 7 a.m. on a Sunday, but there are quite a few people on the street. There are bar-goers going home after a long night out, people eating breakfast outside restaurants and residents holding signs for runners.
One person, however, stood out.
It was an elderly man in a long white nightgown standing outside of an Ocean Drive hotel. It looked like he had just woken up. His hair was amiss, but he had the biggest grin on his face. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was shouting in support of the runners.
Other South Beach residents held up signs. Our favorite sign we saw all day: “Somebody just called you a Jogger!” Ha! Still makes me laugh.
During Mile 5, I saw an interaction that I don’t think I’ve seen in a race. It began when a Mexican runner ran next to me and then appeared to study the runner ahead of me.
They were each wearing Mexican caps.
After a few moments, he sped up to the runner and said, “Guuuusssss!” The two runners embraced in mid-stride and had a full conversation as they ran. The long-lost friends spoke in Spanish about how they hadn’t seen each other in years and how each of their children were doing.
The moment was another example of the power of the Miami Marathon. It’s an international event that brings the world together.
Time for Rock Music
The marathon is great in how it sets up bands and music stands throughout the course. Most music played at those stops is pop/hip-hop. But as we made the left turn on 14th street during Mile 5, the marathon DJ/music stand was playing Metallica at full blast.
It was just the music we needed to pick up our pace. We slapped high fives with a group from Baptist Health and charged on to Mile 6.
We made the turn on Washington Avenue and noticed we still had more to run in South Beach. One man sitting on a bicycle in the median screamed: “The sun’s coming out any minute! Nothing but blue skies to the finish line!”
There were no blue skies, but this line made me laugh. For some reason, I kept repeating it to myself.
“Blue skies to the finish line! Blue skies to the finish line!”
As we ran, other runners provided entertainment.
“Do you know where the finish line is?” somebody asked at Mile 6.
Oh My! The Venetian Causeway
Miles 6-8 are the toughest in a half-marathon — it’s where you really earn your time. It was here when Christina, the best pacer in the business, turned it up and inspired me to keep moving.
We kept up our pace as we hit the historic Venetian Causeway. The Venetian opened in 1925 and links the mainland to Miami Beach. The Venetian Causeway follows the original route of the Collins Bridge, a wooden 2.5-mile structure built in 1913 by John S. Collins and Carl Fisher.
The Venetian, which wasn’t used during the last two marathons, underwent major reconstruction and recently just opened. In 2003, the Venetian was the site of dolphins leaping in and out of the Biscayne Bay during the inaugural Miami Marathon.
There were no jumping dolphins this year. But we did see a different side of Miami.
The Venetian and the area around it is a very much under-appreciated place. The bridge is majestic and the area is beautiful. The Venetian has antique-looking light poles and Venetian architecture. My friend, Danny, said the Venetian has walls you see at Yankee Stadium, and he’s right.
As we reached the mainland (Mile 11), we saw a table and a sign outside of a restaurant. About 10 cups were lined on the table. The sign read: “Free shots of JAVA.”
One runner stopped and threw back a shot.
We kept running.
It’s here when you feel your legs get heavy. Your stride drops. Your mind is telling you to stop, but you have to trust your training and keep going.
As we made the turn onto Miami Avenue, we heard and saw more spectators on the roads.
The spectators are what really make the race. Just like the participants, spectators from all ethnicities come out to cheer for Miami.
We heard a lot of “Go Miami” or “Si, se puede!”
Shout out to Danny and Vivian for getting up early to support us! You are the best.
One man came out of a business and said: “Right, left, right, left. March.” Another said: “No walking!”
The Last Mile
We’ve now hit the final mile and believe it or not, our pace is picking up. Our PR is in sight.
The crowd is a big part of it. I turn and pump my fist as a youth marching band plays along Flagler Street.
We cross the finish line with a personal record time.
Our knees are wobbly. Our legs are tired. We are drenched in sweat.
It was worth it.
Here’s Christina’s finish:
Here’s my finish:
After we accept our medals and guzzle water and Gatorade, we walk around the race booths at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
With a race so multicultural and international, it’s only fitting Miami Marathon runners gravitate to the same food after running 13.1 or 26.2 miles.
Yes, eating Cuban arroz con frijoles negros is the only way to end your Miami Marathon experience.