The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon has seen some shit. For 16 years, the scenic South Florida run has been attracting characters not only from our eccentric city, but also all over the world, and shut down some major streets in the process. And with the 17th edition set to draw 20,000-plus runners on Jan. 27, it’s time to highlight the offbeat occurrences. Stretch those hamstrings and tape those nipples, because here are some of the weirder moments in Miami Marathon and Half Marathon history.
What the truck? Those spiffy official marathon shirts many runners wear on race day nearly didn’t arrive in time in 2017. And it had nothing to do with misplaced boxes or an order error. Miami Marathon and Half Marathon co-founder Frankie Ruiz says the shirt company couldn’t locate the delivery truck for about a week because — ready for it? — the driver had gone rogue and stolen the truck. Fortunately, the driver eventually showed up to the marathon’s warehouse just a few days before the race to make the delivery. Close call. As for what happened to the driver, Florida Highway Patrol arrested him shortly after the delivery on U.S. 1, according to Ruiz.
No Hart. Kevin Hart got Miami’s hopes up for nothing in the lead up to last year’s Miami Marathon. In response to Diddy’s tweet stating “I’m a marathoner, not a sprinter,” Hart wrote “Let’s run a marathon in 2018. Let’s do Miami!!!!!!! Are you in?????” This was big. Hart’s participation in the 2017 New York City Marathon brought a massive amount of attention to that race. Ruiz envisioned the Jumanji star doing the same for the still-relatively young Miami Marathon, which already had Prince Royce lined up to run the half marathon. But when Ruiz reached out to Hart’s people to see if Hart was serious about running Miami, he says he was told Hart would instead run the race in 2019. Don’t hold your breath. Ruiz hasn’t heard anything since then.
When the course becomes a crime scene. The scene toward the end of the marathon course is an inspiring one. It’s where spectators cheer on exhausted marathoners who by that point are running on fumes, refusing to quit. But in 2015, the end of the course became a crime scene on race day, according to Ruiz. He says he was alerted before the race that police were on the scene in Brickell attending to a homicide on the sidewalk. Runners and spectators likely never heard about it because Ruiz says the crime scene, located at mile 25.8 before the Brickell Avenue Bridge, was cleared prior to the start of the race.
Unorthodox technique. It’s not enough for some runners to just complete the draining race. Some like to take things a step further by adding bizarre wrinkles to their runs. For Jorge Cruz, that meant running the entire half marathon backwards in 2018. Cruz gave WPLG Local 10 News some explanation about the world being “backwards” at times and said he wanted to raise awareness for Puerto Rico’s struggles following Hurricane Maria. And then there was Darren “Doctor Dribble” Weissman, who dribbled two basketballs while running the 2013 Miami Marathon for the same reason many of us do crazy things: His friend dared him to.
King James doesn’t do marathon traffic. Miami traffic is terrible. Miami Marathon traffic? A shit show. So when the Heat-Bulls game fell on the same day as the 2012 Miami Marathon, LeBron James, one of the most famous athletes on the planet and then a member of the Heat, opted to ride his bike 40 minutes to the American Airlines Arena rather than deal with the traffic headaches. "You guys drove here?” James asked media members after he hung 35 points on the Bulls in the win. “You guys are crazy." King James wasn’t wrong.
Frankie and the bandits. You know how some stores will post photos of shoplifters caught on camera? Ruiz did something similar to runners who took part in last year’s event without paying. With camera phone in hand, Ruiz recorded runners without race bibs who shamelessly collected medals. The video went viral, earning over 134,000 views on Facebook. Ruiz says he caught around 300 freeloaders — or “bandits” as he calls them — and vows to crack down even harder this year. He takes it personally that they’re stealing from the race and mooching off of participants who paid for race services and goodies or received free entry after raising money for charity. For the record, this isn’t just a Miami problem — imposters target major races all across the country.
White lie. Luis Rivero Gonzalez had 2:23:08 listed as his personal best marathon time on his 2013 Miami Marathon pre-race registration, which is a winner-worthy time and scored the Guatemalan runner a spot up front in the elite corral. But Ruiz says Rivero Gonzalez’s manager lied about the personal best time to get him a sweet spot up front. Apparently Rivero Gonzalez had never run a marathon before. So how did the first-timer do? He won the whole damn thing. That’s right, first place. There would be no sanctions for lying during registration (clearly he deserved to be in the elite corral) and Rivero Gonzalez would go on to win the Miami Marathon again in 2015.
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Quoth the raven. By now you’ve probably heard the tale of Robert Kraft, better known as “Raven.” The local legend is famous for running eight miles along South Beach every day since 1975. It would make sense that the city’s most famous runner would run the city’s most famous race. But Raven instead opts to protest the event — signs and all. According to the book, Running with Raven, the South Beach staple is opposed to organized races with entrance fees and hurt that people fly in for the Miami Marathon but not his free events. He also claims “The Promoter” promised he could fire the gun at the first marathon and that he’d organize a race in Raven’s honor, but never came through. Ruiz — who says he is the aforementioned “Promoter” the book refers to — denies promising Raven a role at the first marathon and acknowledges that there was preliminary talk of a race in his honor but his bosses changed their minds.
Tragedy averted. Right around the start of the 2018 marathon, Ruiz says he received word of a situation on mile 22 of the race course: There was a man threatening to commit suicide on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Runners were far away from that part of the course at the time, but marathon staff still needed to consider rerouting the race. Fortunately for everyone, particularly the troubled individual, the issue was resolved without incident, according to Ruiz.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go-Go! This might sound like an “Only in Miami” story, but it’s not exclusive to the Magic City: The female winner of the 2009 Miami Marathon moonlighted as a go-go dancer. Michele Suszek — who has finished first among women in a handful of marathons, including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon that same year — danced in skimpy outfits and go-go boots at her weekend nightclub job in the Denver area. “I use that as a mental strategy in my racing,” Suszek told the Denver Post. “I think to myself, ‘Nobody else had to dance four hours, run 20 miles, sleep only a few hours and do it all again the next day.” Hey, whatever works.
Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. 6 a.m. Sunday, January 27, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; themiamimarathon.com. Marathon entry fee costs $150 and Half Marathon costs $135.