Thursday, February 2, 2012

Miami Half Marathon Expo and Race Report

Happy to have my bib
The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon was my first major race in large city.  I'd been looking forward to this event for nearly seven months and at one time had hoped to do the full marathon.  If you've followed this blog for long you'll know that I wisely dropped down to the half last October.  At the time, I knew that I wouldn't be ready for a full marathon, and it was the right choice.

I was looking forward to the Expo because I have read about them on many blogs and just wanted the experience one at a major event.  I had been to a couple of smaller mini expos that were nothing to really write home about, and mainly just made me want to see an expo at a major event even more.

The Expo: The excitement of the crowd and buzz in the air from a room full of fellow Runnerds just can't be beat.  I love just being around so many people, who share the same sort of passion and obsession with running.  And, I have never been in a room before with so many taped up knees and achillies tendons in my life!  I fit right in here!  Hiroko and I walked from our hotel to the expo shuttle bus with a couple from Austin, TX.  We talked about running, races, and injuries all the way to the pick up spot and most of the bus ride.  If I had any complaints about the expo, it would be the location and the buses.  The start and finish of the race were in downtown along with most of the hotels where runner's were staying.  However, the expo was in Miami Beach, which meant you either had to drive or take the shuttle buses.  I don't know if the the separate locations was a way to spread out the economic impact of the race or if it was just do to scheduling, but it caused a lot of confusion.  Also the shuttles just sucked.  They were school buses that were uncomfortable and didn't maneuver well through Miami traffic.  The trip across town, which seemed to take close to an hour left me drained.   

Ryan Hall speaking to the expo.
Ryan Hall was speaking at the expo just as I arrived and it gave to room a sort of celebrity in the house vibe.  I didn't try to get an autograph or really listen to that much of his Q&A because I didn't feel like standing still.  I wanted to get my race packet, walk around and take in the expo.  The packet pick up was easy breezy and done in a flash.  After picking up my packet, I stopped by a lot of the booths but wasn't over whelmed.  Most of the clothing looked like remainders, and I wasn't here to really shop.  However, I did enjoy just walking around the room and seeing all of the different gear that was available.  The one thing that I was most interested in was the Rock Tape, but the line was really long, so I just made a mental note to look into it once I returned home.

After cruising the room a few times, buying some gel, and picking up all the free swag I could get my grubby little hands on, Hiroko and I went for lunch then returned for another hell ride on the shuttle.  The ride back was worse than the ride to the expo.  Everyone seemed to agree that riding the bus was just awful.

Race Morning -- Hiroko and I got up and made our way to the Finish line with no problem.  We spent a few minutes scouting out the area and decided where she would be at the end of the race so we could see each other as I made my way to the finish.  Afterward, we went to the starting area and scouted out a place for her to stand at the start she could cheer me on as I began the race.   
After a few pictures, I left and tried to find a port-a-john line that seemed to be moving, but after striking out, I decided that I didn't need to go and made my way to my corral.  Luckily, my decision to forgo the last bathroom break wasn't a major factor in my performance.  I regretted it a little, but the struggles that befell me were not caused by natures natural calling.  Once in the corral, I began to sweat, but I didn't notice the humidity.  I just thought that I was sweating because of nervousness and being cramped in the corral.  I tried to stretch a bit, but there was no room, so I just waited for the sound of the start and tried not to get too hyped up, trying to go over the start of the race in my mind and remember not to go out too fast.  Mentally I felt great as the other corrals began to start.  I was in Corral E and when D was sent to the shoot to the starting line, I was still feeling awesome. 
View from the starting line

A great Picture of the stating area that Hiro took.
The Start and Mile 1 -- I was excited as I made my way down to the start, but I everything felt very natural and relaxed despite the fact that this was the first time I was in a race this large.  It was like  . . . fish meets water . . . just completely natural.  I hit Old Bob just as I crossed the start and got under way.  Hiro was waiting for me about two blocks past the starting line, and I gave her a high five as I ran by.  I was going a little slower than wanted, but everything was in order as the first mile progressed.  I was weaving through slower runners a bit and a few walker, but for the most part I didn't feel like I was expending too much extra energy.  I tried to find runner that seemed to be going my pace and stick to them, but it was hard to hang on to anyone person in the crowd of people any length of time.  My goal was to get as close to a 9:11 pace as I could for the first half of the race and then try to negative split the course.  Following this plan I thought a sub 2 hour finish would be achievable.  I did mile on in 9:51 but attributed the slow start to the density of the field.

Miles 2, 3, and 4: False Hope -- These mile were on the MacArthur Causeway, which was a great place to run in the morning.  The cruise ships along the causeway provided a spectacular sight.  I was running well and enjoying the chatter from the other runners around me.  I picked up my pace by skipping the first water stop.  I ran to the outside as most of the runners moved over to get water and hit the port-a-johns.  Mile 2 went by right at my goal pace of 9:11.

Mile three went well and was fairly uneventful other than I notice two disturbing trends.  The first thing was that I was sweating profusely and I was drinking more water than I had on any run since late summer.  The temperature wasn't too extreme, but the air was thick with humidity.  The other disturbing thing was that volunteers at the aid stations had begun to throw water bags to runners rather than passing then to runner', which turned the aid stations in mini water balloon fights.  I made it through the third aid station without issue and did mile 3 in 9:22

Mile four saw things begin to get dicey.  As we entered Miami beach we were greeted by what some locals said were a pimp and two prostitutes who were doing their best to support the runners.  Honestly, the ladies were clapping and cheering just like any other people along the road, but their attire was slightly different, and since they were speaking Spanish, I have no idea what they were saying, but people seemed to find them amusing.  I still felt like I was running well as I approached the aid station at mile four, but I looked away for a second and didn't notice the guy beside ask for a volunteer to throw him a bag of water, which he tossed short.  I unknowingly turned into it and got hit right in the face.  The bag didn't bust but caused me to drop my own water bottle which I had to stop and pick up.  I was a little pissed but decided that I was going to do my best to just shake it off and enjoy the race.  What sucked most was that I could hear other runner's laughing about it.   Despite the water bag to the face I did mile 4 in 9:44  From this point on all of the aid stations became stressful messes.  Also, all of the wet plastic bags on the ground made them slippery and dangerous.  If I were the race director, I would do away with the water bags next year.

Miles 5, 6,and 7: trying to put up the good fight -- Frankly, I could feel the race slipping away from with each successive mile from this point on.   I tried to tell myself that everything was alright during this period of the race, but I just couldn't find the right gear.  I was feeling slow and fighting harder than I am use to on such a flat course.  Mile 5 was 9:42, and led me to think that maybe my pace was evening out, but Mile 6 slipped to 9:52.  I hoped that I could muster a second wind, but Mile 7 slipped to 9:59.  Sweat was just pouring out and with it my ability to keep up the fight.  I kept pushing and hoping that things would just suddenly click, but as we headed down Dade Blvd., the knowledge that we still needed to run the length of the Venetian Causeway began to wear heavily in my mind.

Miles 8,9,10: fighting the bonk -- The feeling that every runner dread was beginning to solidify in my hear.  I knew that picking up the pace was no longer an option at this point.  The Causeway was kicking the heck out of me.  I just wanted the pain to stop.  Pride was pushing me forward.  I wasn't enjoying the crowd, the other racers, or myself at this point.  I wished that that I had brought my I-pod just so a could center my thoughts on something outside of myself.  Mile 8 was 10:22 and I knew that the race had gotten away from me.  Mile 9 I took my second gel, which had turned to liquid rather than remain gel.  It was disgusting and nearly caused me to vomit, but I fought it off. I finished the mile in 10:30.  Mile 10 was my last ditch attempt to dig deep and push through the race, but it was to no avail.  I pushed a little, but the race pushed back.  I did the mile in 10:26. 

Mile 11, 12, 13: THE BONK-- All of my attempts to avoid this failed.  I didn't want to stop running, and I knew that if I did the rest of the race would be a mental hell.  But, I just couldn't get my legs to keep moving.  And the bonk was on.  I staggered through the next the miles trying to will myself to run.  Sometimes I would push myself or someone int the crowd would cheer me on and pride would push me a few blocks on, but my will to run would falter, and I would find myself walking once again.  Then another runner or a policeman directing traffic would read the name on my bib and yell some support that would fuel me for a few more blocks.  I remember one police officer and old runner, whose encouragement momentarily steeled my resolve and pushed me forward.  I felt so much gratitude to them that I wanted to keep going more for them than for myself.  Still my legs were just spent, and I just couldn't keep them churning.  Still, I was moved by the support that was offer to me.  People could tell that I had mentally checked out, but were doing their best to help me find the will to push on.  I was moved by the sentiment and is something that I'll always remember fondly.   I did mile 11 in 11:07 and mile 12 in a horrifying 13:00.  Mile 13 was a little better than the last and the prospect of see Hiroko aided me.  I was able to push a bit and did the mile in a sluggish 11:45.  The last .1 was just me deliriously scan the crowd for Hiroko, when I saw her, I forgot about the pain, my time or the last few miles ran right up to her, kissed her, told her I love you and headed to a painful 2:17:31 finish.

Post Race: Immediately I decided that I was fine with the results of this race and wouldn't spend a minute beating myself up about anything, and I've managed to keep this promise to myself so far.  The experience was amazing and something that I'll never forget.  The race wasn't what I wanted, but as soon as that finishers medal was around my neck, everything felt just fine.  I was sweaty mess, and my legs hated me, but after some of the mental fog of the last few miles faded away, and I stretched out my legs I could stop smiling.  After returning to the hotel, I had the most wonderful ice bath and a fabulous nap.
Male Elite Half Marathon Finishers

Michele Suszek former winner of the Miami Marathon and 3rd place finisher in this years Half.

Miami is an amazingly multicultural race. 

Not posed in any way.  Just crushed.

Beginning to return to human form

Sweaty as hell, but starting to enjoy life again

Ok, I am a happy man.


  1. Congrats on the race & having such a great attitude!! Sounds like the humidity was rough & the water stops sound like a mess.

    1. Victoria,

      Thanks! The water stops were just kind of surreal. I couldn't have imagined it if I had tried.

  2. I'll let B.o.B tell you the whole story, but she too got whacked in the face with a water bag! I can't believe they were doing that, they had to have known there would be casualties!!!

    Good job pushing through a tough race buddy, I know it wasn't what you wanted but your attitude speaks volumes. There are some things you just can't control, the weather is one of them. You are wise beyond your running years to know that you just have to chalk this one up as a tough day to run and move on. Next half will see that sub-2 in the bag I promise you! It's hard to train in the 'winter' and race in the 'summer' like that.

    1. Yeah, it was a tough day, but in my next race, no matter how bad it gets, i'll be able to say that it is not as bad as Miami . . . well, unless some one is throw water ballons in my face! Actually, other than my own struggles I had a great time.

  3. Nice job, Greg! That's a kick-butt medal to boot.

    1. Thanks! I'd be lyin' if I said that medal wasn't a major reason why I picked that race. I love it!

  4. OMG I got hit right in the head with one too! I'm going tell those effers not to throw those silly things! LOL!

    Great job on your race. It was pretty miserable out there so way to push through. I almost quit a few times myself. No more Florida marys for me for a while. Heh.

    1. No kidding. I think my next big race is going to have to be somewhere cold, like Fargo! Ok, maybe not Fargo. ;) But you get the idea.

      The water bags were just a bad idea all around IMO!

  5. Great job and even better attitude!!

    1. Thanks. I think you learn more about yourself from a bad day than you do from a good one.