Pacing for the 4:10 group…
Originally scheduled to be in the 4:00 group, two days before the race we receive notice that due to expected heat, we will start the pacing groups ten minutes slower. Ok, I did 4:10 last year, I’ll do it better this time!
I used the Skechers Ultra shoe this race. I figured the upper portion of the shoe would be similar to the Go Run and Go Rides I have used all year. It’s that cushy “double stuffing” bottom I was anxious to feel. Worked well for me. I didn’t widen the lacing on my right foot near the toebox enough, so my sock folded over a wrinkle on itself on that foot, giving me some chafing inside. But clearly my fault, I should always dabble with the width and laces before just running a marathon, wouldn’t you think? Big thanks to Sole Runner in Miami for the great gear given to all pacers. Best singlet and shorts combo yet!
We had a few problems getting from the hotel to the race site. Although the route was straightforward and we knew from last year to park under the arena, there was plenty of traffic and construction near the race start. I was the lead car with three other cars full of pacers driving from the hotel in tow. We parked under the arena and paid the $5.00 fee, which was easy. We found an exit out of the basement parking lot that put us directly by the stairs in front of the arena. Skye Bakker, Robin Platt and I used the porta pottys and went to the group photo meet spot. We did the group picture once we figured out Marcela and some of the others were waiting at the very top of the stairs, we were at the bottom. I went to Corral F before it were open for the runners with Danie, Andrea and Mark. I didn’t have too many people clustered around me that planned on finishing at my pace. I spoke to everyone about hydration, getting their shoes tied properly, how to drink on the run, etc. I think many people have aspirations of a 2 hour half marathon or a four hour full marathon. 2:05 and 4:10 are not popular times people are chasing. This year the starts were staggered by corral. My group started approximately 20 minutes after the first group began their race. It was warm, and the beginning mile is usually slow here in Miami due to the skinny exit ramp and hill we get to run.
Starting out, I had many people around me wearing headphones, they weren’t really interacting with me. I did have Mark Schachner’s son Matt, and girlfriend Tracy with me talking and keeping pace. Our first mile was 10:15. Not a worry, now the road was wider and the sun was beginning to rise in the east. Miles number 2 and 3 were run our correct pace (9:30ish). The first water stop is at mile 3. There was a big crowd surging towards the right side of the road for their first drink. We did that well and I kept the group together. I knew we could keep the correct pace and chop off a few seconds each mile to get us back on the goal time. I didn’t have to hurry to make up the 40 seconds, we could do it gradually on the narrow roads of Miami Beach. That worked well here at last year’s race.
The next 2 miles are on Miami Beach. We ran well at pace, making sure to stay aware of bumps in the road, uneven pavement and curbs and medians. The water stops were always only on the right side. This is a problem, especially for the half marathon with so many people on the course at once. I understand you can’t always have water on both sides of the street, but in many places on Miami Beach there is room on the right and left of the road. We ran past the convention center and then on small side streets near the golf course. These are miles 6 and 7. Somewhere between mile six and mile seven we had made up the 40 second of deficit from the first mile. It was during this period that Matt and Tracy fell off the pace. I motioned to them thumbs up or thumbs down and Matt waved me to run ahead. Now our goal was to keep all half marathoners on pace until their turnaround spot. A tall male runner named Alejandro had stayed with us from the beginning. He never spoke to me, always using a “thumbs up” sign to let me know he was with us on the pace and successfully back with us after the mobbed water stops. Alejandro was wearing a blue shirt but his most distinctive feature was that he resembled a certain “Lord and savior” popular among Christians. I wasn’t the only one to notice this, I saw others pointing him out and chatting. There were several other runners that I would take note of next to me or just behind me. They had blue bibs so they were in for the 13.1 distance. I spoke to some of them about reaching the half marathon finish line in 2:05. Again many had headphones and just smiled or waved when I spoke.
Once we were over the Venetian Causeway, the sun’s heat was noticeable on our backs. The crowd in Miami among the buildings and elevated railway can be very loud. I made sure not to let this enthusiasm cause a surge in our pace. At mile markers 10 and 11 we were always within 5 to 10 seconds of goal time. The course heads south through the city, our group was now passing some of the tired half marathoners who were nearing their finish. I made sure everyone in my group with a blue bib knew to stay left at the turn off for their finish line. And likewise, I kept the orange bib full marathoners with me to continue.
After the turn off but before the 13.1 half way mark I found two more runners that wanted to stay with me. Eduardo and Alicea. They both stayed with me for 3 to 4 miles. Running south towards Coconut Grove was easy at our pace because of there were less runners on the road and the water stops were more manageable. The temperature was rising, and now the sun was on our left side. I tried to keep my group in the shade whenever possible. I also encourage people to drink more than they thought. I explained that each cup filled was only 6oz, and you rarely got a full cup! We ran south miles 14, 15,16 and saw Steve Chin heading north. He said he was at mile 21 and on pace. I went into neighborhoods with skinny streets and came out near mile 17 with less runners. At this point, no one was talking with me, I was telling stories and encouraging the group. It’s amazing how a few Paula Radcliffe and Alberto Salazar tales will entertain folks while they run!
Coconut Grove’s main drag, “Coco Walk” marks the place where runners are furthest from the finish line. This happens between mile 18 and 19. When I announced to my group that every step from here forward is taking them closer to the finish line, they are very happy! I saw clouds and what looked like a rain storm coming from the east. Two girls, Kristie and her friend join us before mile 20. It starts to rain as we pass through the water station manned by the hammerheads triathlon group. One of my male runners is a member of that group so he takes the pace sign and runs thru the people, enjoying his friend’s high fives. I didn’t get his name but he was entertaining for the 2 or 3 miles he stayed with me. He made sure to show me where LeBron James lived, we saw the police car stationed in front of his house signifying LeBron was home. Neat!
The following 3 miles were spent running in the rain. It was good to be out of the sun and the temps dropped a few degrees. I was now passing more people, trying to encourage them to run with me. The two girls were only 10 feet ahead of me but running the same pace, a man names Omar was slightly behind me and off to the side. I gained a few stragglers in the rain, then they would stop to drink water and not catch back up. Course turns right onto the tollway for Key Biscayne and Rickenbacker Causeway. We are approaching mile 23, those running on the other side of the road are almost at mile 24. One gal runs with me for ½ mile and walks. It’s now finished raining and I have only Omar next to me. He is laboring through the breathing, not in a medically bad way, in a “squeeze out the last drops of energy” way. I see Andrea M. running with Tracy on the other side of the road, then Jeff Gad running solo. We come around the covered water stop and head back to Biscayne Blvd. It is hot again, we have a breeze at our back and we are heading home. At mile 24 I see I am 3 seconds off perfect goal time of 2:09:30. Omar is silent in speech but huffing through these last miles. Another runner, Patrick, decides to stay with us after we pass him. Now we experience more fans cheering, clapping and we see half marathoners with medals on their necks walking on the sidewalk. We are doing the right pace and getting closer. We are three guys with the two girls now running 25 ft ahead of us. I hear Omar start to growl and muster up a yell…, I slow so he is right next to me and I ask if he’s ok. He was not cramping, it’s just tough going and he feels his legs slowing. Now he takes his earpiece out and he finally talks to me. He says,”I have to thank you so much, without you I would be way back there! I have followed you the whole way; I slowed for a few miles but caught back up.” I ask if it was his first marathon, he replies, ‘No, I did one a few years ago, that was 5 hours. Today with you I will have a great time!” I tell him what I tell everyone else – that once he gets to the finish, that time will be next to his name forever, so lean into the challenge now and stay with me. Another girl which we pass, Patricia, hops in with us for the last bit. We pass mile 25 right on time. A quick drink of water then I tell my three runners that we only have 5 laps around a high school track left. Five laps at nine and a half minute mile pace – they could do that ANY Tuesday morning I remind them! Omar moans loudly again but he is with us. Patricia fades a bit but stays close. We run towards the buildings and the little metal drawbridge.
There is less than half of a mile to go. I tell Omar that if he has energy left, he doesn’t have to stay with me, he can run ahead! He makes it up the bridge with some more encouragement and then paces faster down the hill. Patrick tries to follow him. Patricia is behind me but close. We make a right turn, run a quarter mile then a left turn. This is the finish chute, the two guys are ahead of me and they’re definitely not going to walk. I look at my watch and I have 20 seconds to finish at perfect time, but I am too far away for that. Rather than sprint and pass Omar and Patrick, I stay right behind them. Done in 4:09:43. I think hanging with Omar on the bridge and talking when he struggled took a few seconds off, but TOTALLY WORTH IT!
At the finish, I find the other pacers talking, I put my sign on the pile they were making and I spoke with Skye about his first day out pacing. He is a great runner, he really enjoyed it. Omar found me before I could get a medal and gave me a hug and a big thanks. I thought I had a thin group at the 4:10 pace. I was so looking forward to running with a huge group at 4:00, but the last 3 miles with a few determined runners made it a great day for me.