But let's be honest. An unanaesthetized root canal is also a great excuse for a trip to Miami. It's Miami, for god's sake! The excuse part is strictly optional.
But an excuse is an excuse, and there's no reason to waste one. So, kudos to Coaches Joe and Suzy--owners of the triathlon club, "ET," to which my wife and I belong--for spotting the marketing genius in leveraging Miami as a destination to get us ET'ers off of our expanding, off-season asses and into our race gear.
When all was said and done, 35 ET athletes and cheer crew members treked southward for the ING Miami Half-Marathon that took place on January 25th. Certainly, a far better outcome than last year's failed attempt to organize an ET outing to the East St. Louis "Run For Your Life! Half-Marathon."
Team ET stayed at The Albion Hotel. What the Albion lacked in functioning wifi, air freshener and in-room coffee makers, it more than made up for in location, location, location. Just three blocks away was South Beach!
Or was it Miami Beach?
It doesn't really matter, I suppose. It was January, it was warm, and it was a beach. We'll just call it "ET Beach." And it was in our back yard, baby!
ET Beach was lovely and inviting, with white sand and silicone spanning as far as the eye could see. Everywhere you looked, fit and shapely Latinas demonstrated picture perfect breast strokes. Some of them even went swimming.
Framing ET Beach were an endless line of whitewashed, Art Deco hotels sporting beautiful outdoor bars where famished athletes could enjoy four cocktails and a Caprese Salad for $87. Truly, paradise on earth!
But let's not get lost in all this decadence. We were in Miami for serious business. The business of kicking some endurance sport assification!
First up was was a new ET member named "Flecky."
The day before the half- marathon, Miami hosted a 5k race. It was Flecky's first 5k, and she was pumped for the challenge.
Rising that morning at 5:30am, she prepared for the battle by meditating at ET Beach while the sun rose. Raising her arms to the heavens, she dedicated the race to the Greek god Apollo, kicked a snoot full of sand into a sleeping vagrant's face, and then leaped into the back seat of Coach Joe's studly Chevrolet rental car.
The outcome exceeded all expectations. She not only finished her first 5K race with vigor aplenty, but also took first place in the "Runners Named Flecky" category!
Great job, Flecky!...if that IS, in fact, your real name?
After flagons of mead were drained in honor of Flecky's triumph, thoughts turned to the following day's half-marathon.
For reasons that could only be understood by the Spanish Inquisition, race organizers decreed a 6am start time. But Coach Joe was unperturbed.
He wisely counseled all ET athletes to carb up at a 5pm Italian dinner, abstain from all forms of alcohol, and get to bed no later than 8:30pm. And every single ET athlete heeded the sage coach's advice.
Except for four.
Lamentably...your author, his wife Anne, our good friend Sue and her sherpa, "Eric with a 'C',"felt it prudent to indulge in two bottles of wine over a multi-course, multi-table, Indonesian feast that lasted well into Coach Joe's sixth REM cycle.
Now, there are those who might dispute the wisdom of this culinary lark by noting that the country of Indonesia has never--in its entire history--produced a single world-class endurance athlete.
To which I respond, "Neither has Italy. So fuck off!"
The 4am wake-up call arrived with a BOOM!!!
Actually, the call arrived with a whimper. The BOOM!!! occurred when Anne launched the hotel phone at the adjacent wall.
This is the point where Hotel Albion could have scored some large-scale brownie points by fitting our room with a Mr. Coffee. Or even a jar of Sanka and an empty tuna tin! But alas, opportunity lost. We were required to guzzle a pair of cold Cuban coffees purchased at...ahem...11pm the prior night as we stumbled out of Ristorante Indomania and into our waiting cab.
The Cuban coffee did the trick. Within thirty minutes, the trickle of blood had ceased flowing from our eye sockets and we were comfortably seated on the athletes' shuttle bus. Downtown Miami bound!
The race site was adjacent the American Arena, where the Miami Heat plays. It was a crush of bodies in search of the one, elusive, microscopic entrance into the race corrals. Most runners chose to simply hop the security fence when they located the corral that was theirs. Or that wasn't.
I was placed in Corral C--where each athlete is expected to sustain a 7:30 to 8:00 minute per mile pace for the duration of the race--and quickly found myself surrounded by "runners" from an orthodox religious charity that, for the sake of this essay, I will call "Team LifeLemon." Apparently, they mistook Corral C for Corral ZZ.
The Team LifeLemon race wardrobe required its women athletes to wear knee length skirts, long sleeves and head scarves. Not exactly the most appropriate attire for a runner facing 13.1 miles of south Florida humidity. But then, as became apparent from the very first mile, nobody in Team LifeLemon was much of a runner at all. Including the woman pushing a baby stroller.
A baby stroller. In Corral C, for fuck's sake!
After the national anthem, the race director got on the bullhorn and--at 200 decibels--encouraged all athletes to power up their iPhones and tweet and Facebook at regular intervals throughout the race. This was a request that, absurdly, far too many runners fulfilled.
As we waited for our turn to approach the starting line, I took a moment to take note of my fellow runners. They truly were an eclectic and multi-national crowd. There were athletes from Guatemala, sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex, runners from Mexico, sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex, triathlon teams from Puerto Rico, and sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex.
Boom, went the starting gun, and we were off. The first mile was not so much a run, as it was a steeplechase. We bobbed and weaved over, under and around Team LifeLemon's endless array of slow-moving human obstacles--a task made more difficult because it was still pitch black outside.
Two-thirds of a mile into the race, we climbed a long bridge spanning the harbor where three cruise ships were docked. Whether it was their blistering 13 minutes per half-mile pace or the bridge's dispiriting .00001 percent incline, the vast majority of Team LifeLemon athletes hunched into an IronMan death shuffle, further bottlenecking the course.
My gorgeous wife, Anne, further reports that one of the cruise ships blared its fog horn as she crossed the bridge.
And now for a personal message to Royal Carribbean cruise ship Captain Knut Fargstrom: Listen up, Fargstrom! I don't know how you do things up there in Scandinavia--you know, with that Socialist free love thing and all. But down here in the USA (particularly in the deep south), we don't take kindly to having our wives honked at by lonely, blonde haired sailors. So the next time you see my wife running across a bridge...with her clingy Lycra and rippling, muscular thighs, you best keep Norwegian Wood inside its dust jacket.
And now, back to the race.
Once we cleared the bridge and medical personnel cleared away the lifeless corpses of Team LifeLemon athletes, the sun began to rise and the race opened up. For the next twelve miles, the course was flat and fast.
As is my custom while running, my brain wandered into Teletubbie land and to be honest...I have almost no recollection of the remainder of the race. I do recall, however, that we ran past ET Beach and a few interesting sandwich shops. I also witnessed two face-plants, a medical team lifting the legs of a passed-out runner, and our friend "Bill J" in the midst of a gastro-intestinal crisis.
Some time later, Tinky-Winky waved goodbye and my brain emerged from the BBC ether. It was at that point that I looked up and spotted the finish line.
Throwing the hammer down, I made a turbo-charged sprint to the finish and crossed the line with lungs in throat. And as I waited triumphantly for a pretty Latina to place a crown of olive branches on my head, I noticed that my fellow runners kept on running. WTF!?
I looked at my Garmin watch. "12.4 miles."
"Damn you, false finish line!!!"
Dispiritedly, I resumed running for what seemed an eternity. When I finally crossed the finish line...the REAL finish line...my watch read "13.2 miles." Which, I guess, makes me an ultra half-marathoner.
Shortly thereafter, Team ET congregated at the finish. Coach Joe's dreadlocks were drenched with sweat, a sockless Annie Bananie sported Steak Tartar for achilles tendons, our friend "Chili Pepper" somehow sunburned her ankles, Bill J assumed the fetal position for the following four hours--but all were happy.
Team ET athletes all agreed that the Miami Half was a great one. We would certainly do it again.
But next time, only one bottle of wine.