Christopher Zablocki lives in Essex Connecticut and does not like to run in the heat. Therefore, the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon had never been on his running radar until a week ago when he checked the advance weather forecasts online and discovered that a cold front would create an uncharacteristically cool weekend in South Florida.
Zablocki quickly bought himself a plane ticket and cranked up the heat Sunday on the International field of runners that always make the Miami race a special venue. He finished the Marathon in 2:18:15, a minute and 27 seconds faster than second-place Hillery Too, a Kenyan running his fifth career Marathon.
Ethiopian Marta Ayela obliterated the field, winning the Women's Marathon by more than seven minutes over Ashley Paulson of Orem, UT.
The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon celebrated its 15th Anniversary on Sunday, January 29, 2017. Eighty-six of the more than 25,000 runners who entered the race were participating for the 15th time, but it might not have been a coincidence that those who ran best Sunday were running Miami for the first time.
Experienced runners are programmed to conserve their energy since it typically gets warmer in Miami as the sun rises over the Atlantic. However, Sunday's atypical South Florida temperatures in the 50's called for speed despite wet pavement from the sporadic drizzle that accompanied the cool air all morning.
In the Men's Half Marathon, budding 23-year-old Kenyan Panuel Mkungo won the Male Division with the second fastest time in event history (1:04:12). Krystalanne Curwood of Denver, CO made a late-race move to pass her female competitor Mariela Ortiz of Argentina and claim her first career half-marathon win with a time of 1:18:48. Ortiz finished 18 seconds behind.
Florida's premier distance race got underway at 6 a.m. adjacent to the American Airlines Arena, with runners getting to experience 26.2 miles of the scenic communities of Miami, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove.
The race wound past the glistening cruise ships docked along the MacArthur Causeway, the art deco colors of South Beach and the high-rises of the Brickell financial district, all providing unique backdrops on the way to the finish line in front of Downtown's Bayfront Park.
The un-Miami like cool weather delivered a 58-degree temperature at race time, but the light rain throughout the morning brought it down to 50 degrees by the time Zablocki crossed the finish line at about 8:19.
"I am glad that it wasn't too hot, it felt good," Zablocki said. "I am a cold weather guy. I like racing marathons and the Miami Marathon seemed like an exciting race. This is one of my best times."
Zablocki, second place finisher Too (2:19:42), and third place finisher, two-time Miami Marathon winner Luis Carlos Rivero Gonzalez (2:20:01) were all running together until the 23-mile mark, when Zablocki made his move.
"By the time it got to 20 miles, I was just focused on (Too and Rivero Gonzalez) who were with me," said Zablocki. "I was wondering who was going to win the thing?
"We got to Mile 23 and then all of a sudden I was trying to keep it as fast as I could while saving a little bit for when one of those guys tried to make a move. I was going as fast as I could, but still being efficient. But a gap opened and I decided to go as hard as I could go. Then my arms and legs seized up a little bit, so I was praying that they hold together until the finish."
The diminutive Ayela, 33, won her 10th career marathon, creating separation from a pack of runners at the 7.5-mile mark.
"I like Miami, Miami Beach is fun," said Ayela, who has a goal to run in the London Marathon in 2018. "I like the Miami Marathon because of the ceremony, the course and the cheering people. Miami people are good."
Not only was the half-marathon winner Mkungo in search of his first half-marathon title, but the oldest of seven children was running to pay for his two young sisters' school tuition in Kenya. First place netted him $1,500.
"(When I run) I think about my family a lot; this is my job," said Mkngo. "I have to work hard to help my mother and my small sisters. My aim is to work hard and help them (my sisters) finish school."
Mkungo has been living and training with coach Jason Rita in northern Maryland since 2015.
"He has been stressed out about having the money to pay for the education," said the coach.
Clary, the 27-year-old runner-up in the Half Marathon, was also in the middle of a stressful period, but for a different reason.
The Doral, FL resident spent the 24 hours prior to the race flying from Miami to his hometown of Albany, NY to check on his mother, Christine, 50, who suffered a mild stroke Friday evening.
Clary boarded a plane in Ft. Lauderdale early Saturday morning, soon after getting the Friday night call from his sister who relayed that their mother was unresponsive and on her way to the hospital.
"When I saw mother she said 'don't you have a race?" Clary said on Sunday before he was able to text her his second-place result. "I told her 'yeah, but I wanted to make sure you were ok'. She told me to get back to Miami and run the race. So we scheduled a flight for 5 p.m."
Despite arriving back in Miami less than five hours before he was due at the start-line, Clary was able to improve on his eighth-place finish in 2016.
"It is hard work," said the former SUNY collegiate runner. "I work three part times jobs which comes out to be more than a full time job per week. So I am happy with my effort."
Curwood, 31, the female Half Marathon winner, took up running five years ago behind the urging of her mother, Lynn Marie Nann, who also ran in Sunday's race. In 2012, when one of Curwood's friends was murdered and she also lost her job, her mom suggested they do something fun together to lift her spirits. When they ran the Las Vegas Marathon the next weekend, Curwood turned in a promising time, and a running career was born. Now her goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
"We passed mile 12 and I was slowly catching (Ortiz)," Curwood said. "At the turn onto Flagler Street, I just started kicking it and I passed her and (she) couldn't keep up with me. At that moment, I was just like 'stay with it. Put the pedal down and go go go.' I looked back and she wasn't near me. I was, like, 'alright just get to the finish line.'"
The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon generates more than $50 million in economic impact to the Miami community each year, and includes runners from all 50 states and 80 countries. More than 1,500 runners hailed from Colombia and Mexico alone, and large contingents represented Guatemala, Costa Rica, Canada and Brazil.
Even before the 2017 race ended, 2018 Miami Marathon and Half Marathon registration opened with sizeable discounts, up to 50 percent off for early bird registrants. Registration for the 2018 Marathon is $85 and $75 for the Half Marathon through February 5th. Prices then rise to $100 and $85 through April 12. Registration for the 2018 Tropical 5K is $35 through April 12.
About the Miami Marathon
The Miami Marathon is Florida's elite distance race with 25,000 runners representing all 50 states and more than 80 countries converging on Miami and South Beach to experience one of the most unique courses in the world. The race has come a long way since 3,400 runners participated in the first Miami Marathon in 2003. Now proudly celebrating its 15th year, race participants include elite runners, top age-group competitors, and many thousands who run for charity and to achieve their own personal goals. Together they enjoy the tropical views and the sounds of South Florida, with a diverse array of entertainment blended into the experience, and generate more than $50 million in total economic impact for the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
About Life TimeSM, The Healthy Way of Life Company
Life Time is a privately held, comprehensive healthy living, healthy aging and healthy entertainment lifestyle company that offers a personalized and scientific approach to long-term health and wellness. Through its portfolio of distinctive resort-like destinations, athletic events and corporate health services, the Healthy Way of Life Company helps members achieve their goals everyday with the support of a team of dedicated professionals and an array of proprietary health assessments. As of January 2017, the company operates 122 centers in 26 states and 36 major markets under the LIFE TIME FITNESS® and LIFE TIME ATHLETIC® brands in the United States and Canada. Additional information is available at LifetimeFitness.com.