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Famously Crowded

January 30, 2012

2012 ING Miami Half Marathon

January 29, 2012
Bib Number: 17654
Overall Placement: 3750 / 16036 (23.4%)
Age Group Placement: 238 / 1454 (16.4%)
Gender Placement: 1126 / 8291 (13.6%)
Chip Time: 2:00:50

Little G and I drove down to Miami on Saturday morning. We were staying with her daughter, who lives in the city, close to everything, and who was acting as our navigator and crew for the race. We got down there around 11 and went to the expo almost immediately, picking up our packets and visiting a few booths before settling into first-row seats to hear Ryan Hall speak at 1.

It was very inspiring to hear one of the most prominent runners of our time answer questions about his training, diet, and lifestyle. Hall was very open, and as a fellow Christian I was very inspired by his down-to-earth approach to life and training.

After lunch and some more expo-ing we returned home, had the requisite pasta dinner, and bedded down. We were up by 4am so we could make it to the American Airlines arena by 5 since the race started at 6:15. We were thankful that race organizers had decided to make this event a wave start this year, since with an advertised 25,000 runners we knew the start could get chaotic. The first miles also go up over the causeway, and starts that go up over an entrance ramp tend to make for very crowded and generally unsafe, trip-hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, Little G and I had been assigned different corrals, which meant we would be going off one minute apart, separated by a thousand people, but we’re not used to running together in races, and we figured we might eventually catch up with each other anyway. As it happened, I never did catch her–she finished two minutes ahead of me on the clock, so about three minutes ahead of me overall.

Although I love the general atmosphere of race day–the comraderie of other runners, the endorphin of pre-race nerves, the darkness of early morning, and the excitement of the unknown–I absolutely despise the minutes of standing in the corral, waiting for the gun to go off. In this race, of course, that time was magnified by the sheer size of the race, which required that we all get in our corrals many minutes before gun time. Maybe this one more reason I’m not inclined to run Chicago, Marine Corps, or New York. If I didn’t care for the feeling of running with 25,000, how would I like running with 40,000?

When it was finally time for my corral to get started, the clock had been ticking for a long time. We walked/shuffled to the front, and finally crossed the mat and started running.

Suddenly, we’re off, covering mile 1 onto the ramp and over the bridge . . . and I’m just not feeling it. Still, I’m amazed at how, as we climb, we can pick out who has trained, because half of the crowd is already walking. I feel good going up the bridge, knowing I’m passing people, even though I know I’m way off my ideal pace. Even though I don’t want to be doing this race, I know I can kick this bridge. And then I think to myself that maybe I’ll just make this an easy run. 9:33 pace on mile 1.

Mi 2: We’re going past the cruise ships on the causeway. But it’s too early, so I”m not really enjoying seeing the beautiful ships, or the sun over the water. I’m just trying to distract myself by watching the runners around me. I remember that 13 miles is a really long way to race, though I outrun that distance regularly in my training. I somehow manage to bring my pace down to 9:04.

Mi 3: We hit the first aid station as we begin the turn over the last bridge to go onto Miami Beach. I see a bank of porta potties and think briefly of hitting one, but it’s early in the race, and I’m loathe to lose the time when my legs, I know, are barely moving fast enough. I pass the aid station, taking water and Endurolytes, my mineral-replacement product of choice, and keep moving. 9:22 pace.

Mi 4: We make a beautiful turn onto Alton Road, and discover that some people have either stayed up from their Saturday night club fests or have risen early on Saturday to cheer us on. We make a couple loops in a residential neighborhood, and I realize that we’re all wearing a thin sheen of sweat already, though some of us still have 22 miles to go. The temperature is remaining steady at 70 degrees, because it’s overcast, keeping it from getting warmer, but the humidity is making us work hard. All over the road are shed garments of clothing, and a runner in front of me goes down over a discarded item in the street. I hit my first sub-9 minute mile: 8:56 pace.

Mi 5: We turn onto Ocean Drive, running north along the club district. We had driven this part of the course last night, and I am struck by the difference: last night, a scene of debauchery, high heels, and very short skirts; today, the street filled from end to end in split shorts, muscle shirts, and strong, well-trained legs. I’m feeling more myself, and have discarded the idea of making this just an easy run. I know I have eleven minutes off the clock, but haven’t yet calculated what that means for my finish time and determine to simply run as close to nine-minute miles as I can for the remainder of the race. I take more water and Endurolytes. 9:02

Mi 6: We make a slight s-turn and continue north on Washington for some blocks, then make some bizarre turns that looked really sharp and zany on the course map but, incredibly, don’t feel so bad on my legs. I finally realize I haven’t taken a gel yet, and I’m not taking as much water as I should–probably because I didn’t hit the potty when I should have. I take my first gel at the mile 6 aid station, and realize that I’m probably going to have to sacrifice some time in order to stave off dehydration. I know I won’t take water if I have to go to the bathroom. I start staking out porta potties and lament the fact that I’m a girl and can’t go in the bushes. I finish the mile at 9-minute pace.

Mi 7: We finally have most of the crazy turns behind us. We’re heading down Meridian, then are thrown into Dade Avenue, which will take us west and return us to Miami, where the half marathoners will finish (yay!) and the marathoners will continue for the second half. I see a new bank of porta potties and I decide to take it, bummed that there isn’t an open one. But it’s a only a twenty-second wait, and there’s toilet paper (yay!). The potties are stationed on a corner, and I purposely make myself go back to the street at exactly the place where I stepped off, refusing to allow myself to cut the corner. My bladder and my honor, combined, cost me a 9:53 mile.

Mi 8: We enter the Venetian Islands district, and we’re running over small bridges again. It is very beautiful, and I admire the view, but I find myself hating the crowded course. Of all my races, this one has the largest field by far, and because the marathoners won’t break off until we’re almost finished, all 25,000 of us are running together for the first 13 miles. I am both adding distance and wasting time by weaving through the crowd. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by my inability to find a clear lane, and I finish mile 8 in 9:34.

Mi 9–I’m doing that thing now where I’m finally starting to do math–and yes, it still takes math every time I do a half marathon, because I want to make sure I do this right–wait, this is the nine mile marker, so I have four miles to go, right? 13-9=4. That’s right. I finally look at the race clock and do more math: I’m despicably close to going sub-2. This is the worst kind of realization because it means I have to fight for it. I can’t just say, too bad, I’ll never make it, might as well take it easy and come in at 2:10 but I also can’t take it easy because I have absolutely no time to play with. I took another gel at the mile-8 aid station, and if I keep my splits at or just under 9-minute miles, I can come in under 2 hours–maybe. I want to push, but I don’t want to do a Keitany and fall apart at mile 11 or–God forbid–12. I have visions of falling to the pavement, writhing in cramp-induced pain, like I did at the Palm Beach Half. I force myself to run gracefully, without pushing. Find your happy pace. My happy pace, in this mile, is 9 minutes.

Mi 10–We go through a toll booth, and it’s the most ironic thing I’ve ever seen in a race course in my years of running. A toll booth for runners? Really? I go through the change/receipts lane and make all kinds of jokes in my head. We’re running over the last small bridge into the city proper now, and the city of Miami has brought one of their rescue ships into the harbor to greet us with beautiful arcing sprays of water. The sight is glorious, and as I crest the bridge and see the mass of runners dancing together, heads bobbing, moving as one, I realize, this is why I run. For moments like this. I finish this mile in 9:04.

Mi 11–We make a sharp turn south into North Miami Avenue, and the city has turned out to welcome us. They have cowbells, shofars, noisemakers of all kinds. In a city like Miami, the noise reverberates off buildings, Metro tracks, empty lots, you name it. People are lined up on both sides of the street, and there are so many runners that I find myself, again, weaving around slower runners. I go from one side of the street to another to avoid people taking walk breaks, stopping to greet their families, or waving for pictures; there is no logic to their sudden change of pace, and I’m frustrated by the interruption to my rhythm. I find myself running with hands outstretched to warn runners, but some passersby give me high fives instead. I’m baffled, confused. Mile 11 comes in at 9:19.

Mi 12–It’s a funny time. I’m starting to push, and I know it. I want to push hard, but two miles is a long way to go at the end of a half. I know all around me, people are slowing down, and I’m taking my heading from Garmin and not other runner’s strides. I hear someone next to me say to his partner in Spanish, “when my watch says we’ve run 12 miles, we run with nothing but heart.” I say to myself, you do that. I’m running with nothing but legs now, and nothing but heart after the 12-marker. I leave them behind, and keep pushing. My legs push me to an 8:47 pace.

Mi 13–The mile 12-marker passes by, and I’m increasingly irritated by the crowd and their slowing pace. The crowd is pushing us on, and I find myself now saying out loud, Move, move, move! Though I know this is just the fourth of six half marathons, and I have to be in good enough shape to race again in three weeks, the specter of two hours is dancing before my eyes, and it is fearsome. I am driving for the finish with all I have. In spite of increasingly tight muscles, and my pounding heart, I finish this mile in 8:12.

The finish is hiding behind those turns I love so well, and I cannot plan for the tangents because I have to move around competitors instead. I weave and bob around those in front of me, stepping left, right, left, and fly into the chute, stopping Garmie as I step onto the mat. I know I’m close–the clock reads 2:12–and will only find out post-race that I was 50 seconds over my two-hour goal. Last .29 miles run at 7:31 pace.

I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say about the race, both in organization and my execution, but I like to get my mile-by-mile report done within a few days while everything is fresh. I’m glad I did Miami, and I might even do it again. For now, the priority is to recover well, and to hit the ground–you guessed it–running. The next half is in 20 days, and Gasparilla and its thirty miles await.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2012 12:29 pm

    Congratulations on your strong finish. I loved your breakdown of each individual mile — your descriptions of your thoughts are very familiar and they’re a remarkable description of the runner’s stream of consciousness. It too ran the half marathon. It was actually the third Miami half I run and now that you’ve completed it, can you blame me? It’s such a great race.

    Good luck in Tampa!

  2. the Ringmaster permalink*
    January 31, 2012 3:08 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my ramblings. It’s funny how much time your brain has to ponder and think while you’re out there pounding the pavement for thirteen miles, isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the race. It really is a great city to run in, and I’m glad we put it into our schedule.

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