Sunshine in February: the Miami Tropical Marathon
Organizers of Miami's new marathon have the ambitious goal of making it one of the top destination marathons in the world. With a scenic course, top talent and an undeniable vacation allure, they just might pull it off.
Posted Tuesday, 13 August, 2002
Race director Robert Pozo isn't shy about his goals for the new Miami Tropical Marathon: "Within a few years, we aim to become one of the top ten marathons in the world." And you know what? He just might be right.
When the Miami Tropical Marathon debuts on February 2, 2003, it will feature a scenic tour of upscale Miami and Miami Beach, anticipated mild temperatures and, judging from the preparations, expert race management. And in true Miami style, the event is also shaping up to be one gigantic party.
"We expect this marathon to be popular with runners who want to escape cold and bitter weather to do some great running and, let's be honest, enjoy the sunshine," said Pozo, a Miami native. "It's all the best of Miami, all of the high-profile areas that you've ever seen in any of the tv programs or movies. You're racing through South Beach, Star Island, Coconut Grove. There's going to be great views, great scenery."
Organizers of the marathon are carefully crafting a destination event with the goal of quickly becoming one of the most popular marathons out there. Pozo says he's learned from the best, borrowing the best elements of the nation's top marathons, including Chicago, New York and, in particular, San Diego's Rock'n Roll Marathon.
"It is our intention to bring the standard of the Miami Tropical Marathon to the same professional level as some of the more established races," said Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer at the July press conference announcing the event.
The marathon is already attracting elite talent. Olympic marathon runners Keith Brantly (USA) and Ronnie Holassie (Trinidad) have both announced their plans to run Miami. And with a $50,000 total prize purse, the race is likely to draw other top runners, too.
"For the pros and elite athletes, we've got the fast course and the prize money," Pozo said. "For the masses, we've got the weather, we've got Miami."
Of course, it wouldn't be Miami if it wasn't a party. To lend a festive spirit, more than 50 musical acts will line the course on race day.
"We're in the capital of tropical music, and this is the tropical marathon, so we're planning lots of Caribbean and Latin music," Pozo said. "But we'll have the full range, from rock and reggae to high school marching bands. As early as the one-mile marker, you'll already be listening to what's going on."
For northern runners seeking a mid-winter migration to warmer climes, the Miami marathon adds a new option to the growing list of vacation marathons. There's some serious local competition, of course: the Miami Tropical Marathon will be held less than a month after the ever-popular Walt Disney World Marathon. Then again, since Disney closed its 2003 registration in July after reaching its 16,000-runner limit, there seems to be plenty of room for another big Florida marathon.
"This is a great alternative to Disney," Pozo said. "Disney sells out quickly, and frankly we think we have a better course. With Disney, you're running through parking lots, on highways, and only a little bit in the theme parks. But our course is gorgeous from beginning to end."
The weather is likely to be ideal, too. Although the summers can be outrageously hot and humid, February weather in Miami is temperate, comfortable running weather.
"I like to say that Miami has two seasons: there's summer and there's really, really hot summer," said Josh Brashears, a Penn State running star who moved south to Miami after graduating. "It's like a mild summer here in the winter, and it can be perfect running weather. I ran a half marathon in Naples in late January this year, and I couldn't imagine better weather for a race. It was around 70 degrees with low humidity. The February marathon should be nice."
Just to be sure, the marathon starts early at 6:00am when the average temperature at that time of year is 60 degrees. The finish-line temperature will likely reach 70.
"Those are nice enough temperatures to hit the beach and see what's going on in Miami after the marathon," Pozo said. "The water can still be around 70 degrees at that time of year."
Runners will have ample time on the marathon course to see what's going on in Miami, too. "They've chosen the most interesting parts of Miami to run through. It's interesting right from the start, with all kinds of things to look at," said Brashears. "And the course looks fast. I definitely wouldn't call it a challenging course."
The marathon starts in downtown Miami at the American Airlines Arena, home to the NBA's Miami Heat, and shortly after crosses Biscayne Bay on the MacArthur Causeway, a thin strip of land with water on both sides. Along the causeway, runners will see Miami's visiting cruise ships on the right, followed shortly on the left by the fabulous homes of Star Island, which houses celebrities including Gloria Estefan and Rosie O'Donnell.
The causeway also holds the only elevation on the entire course, a drawbridge. "It's not steep, and that's the only elevation," said Pozo. "You get it out of the way in the first mile, and the 'hills' are behind you."
From the causeway, runners make their way through the Art Deco playground of South Beach, whose exuberant nightlife and colorful, curving architecture have earned it the nickname of the American Riviera. Bright colors line the course here, as the Ocean Drive hotels offer up their signature pastels of pink, yellow and aqua.
Heading north through Miami Beach, the course turns back west to cross over Biscayne Bay again, this time over Venetian Causeway, and back into downtown Miami. Here runners head through the Brickell neighborhood and down South Miami Avenue, a popular training ground for local Miami runners who are drawn to its shady trees.
"That's a nice shady neighborhood where big old trees are shading the street," Brashears said. "Even if the sun is bright that day, you won't be feeling it there. It's nice and cool."
The course continues south to Coconut Grove, the once-bohemian bayside neighborhood that's now a popular shopping and entertainment district with tree-lined streets and waterfront parks. The course turns and heads back north along shady South Bayshore Drive, returning to the downtown area and the finish at Bayfront Park.
Area's First Big Marathon
Despite a strong running community, the Miami Tropical Marathon represents the area's first significant effort to hold a major event for the classic distance. The only marathon that's been held in the area was a small 250-runner marathon in 1995, the Doral-Ryder Metro-Dade Marathon.
By contrast, organizers for the Miami Tropical Marathon are aiming high, with a goal of attracting 5000 runners for the marathon and its associated half marathon event.
"Miami has a great running community, a lot of road races to compete in, and a lot of support for the sport," said Brashears, who plans to run the half marathon in February. "People here are excited about the race and the chance to run a marathon right in our hometown."
"This is going to be a great race, no question," said Pozo, "but visiting runners who come for this are going to get more than that. This is a whole experience, an opportunity to come and enjoy everything that Miami has to offer."
Miami Tropical Marathon website
Online race registration
Feb. 2, 2003
Wheelchair division starts at 5:45am
5000 total runners anticipated for marathon and half marathon
Average temperatures are 60-70 degrees