In cities like Boston, Chicago and even New York, the streets are eerily quiet on the eve of a marathon. Thousands of locals and visiting runners opt to lay low, eat a quick pasta dinner and get to bed early. This is not the case the night before the Miami Marathon.

The Italian joint that I decided to pop into for my pre-race fuel was packed, mostly with runners, and everyone seemed to be relaxed and having a good time. I chatted with a group of well-dressed New Yorkers sitting at the next table. Party dresses and running shoes were the dress code of the place. Some runners were even dancing to the live Cuban band. “Sure,” they said, “we’re here to run the half-marathon, and everyone wants to do well, but also to have a good time – before, during and after the race.”

It’s the perfect escape from a Canadian winter.

That seems to be the prevailing attitude at the Miami Marathon, going into its 15th anniversary in January. It’s a unique opportunity, especially for those of us living in a northern climate, to escape the doldrums of winter and run either a 5k, half or marathon and then recover laying on the beach. For those that, say, missed a fall goal race due to a setback in training, Miami can serve as a beacon of hope in the new year. Both the half and the full 42.2k courses are extremely flat, and thus quick. And for those looking for a fun mid-winter break, there are plenty of other runners from around the world that descend upon Miami to basically party and also tuck a race in as well.

Quick facts

Date: January 28, 2018
Distances: 5K, half-marathon, marathon
Fees: $40–170
Runners: 25,000
Website: themiamimarathon.com.

The course is a great showcase of the city. It starts and finishes downtown, near American Airlines Arena where the NBA’s Miami Heat play. Within the first few minutes, racers cross Biscayne Bay past the Port of Miami over the lengthy MacArthur Causeway. It’s a unique way to start a marathon, particularly because it’s still before dawn, so the hulking docked cruise ships glitter in the darkness. Thankfully, the causeway is pretty much flat as a pancake and is also closed to ship traffic for the duration of the race. From there, you’ll spill out into South Beach.

Miami Marathon

Immediately, runners enter the art deco district, with its simple, elegant low-rise structures flanking wide, palm-lined boulevards. You’ll probably find yourself making a mental note that you should come back to the area at some point over the weekend (and you should). South Beach is everything you’d imagine it to be: glitzy, a bit sleepy and laid back, and fun.

At the finish, 25,000 runners, families and friends can grab a bite to eat at a food truck and lay in the grass.

After cruising around a couple of different neighbourhoods in South Beach, both the half and full marathoners will head back over the causeway towards the city. This is a treat because you get to see the sun kiss the bay and Miami’s downtown skyline just as it rises behind you. From there, the halfers run back into the finishing area (which is conveniently very close to the start line). The marathoners head south to take in even more of the southern part of the downtown, as well as the Coconut Grove area.

The finishing area features grandstands for spectators, and a big party-like atmosphere in the adjacent park. Here, over 25,000 runners, families and friends can grab a bite to eat at a food truck and lay in the grass. In 2016, 80 countries, including many Canadians, and all 50 states were represented at the Miami Marathon. The organizers even hand out little country flags, giving it a truly international feel. The medal is also a special one. Last year, local street artist Jenny Perez designed the finisher’s medal, reflecting the city’s huge art scene. Each year, the city hosts Art Basel Miami, one of the premier art shows in North America. The Miami Marathon has got a little bit of something for every type of runner: a builtin party vibe, a fast course for a PB and the big-race feel that makes you feel like you’re a part of something special.

Getting There

Nearly every major airline, including Air Canada and WestJet, fly direct to Miami from Toronto. There are also direct and indirect flights from just about every major Canadian city.

Where to Stay

Because the start and finish lines are so close together and right in the middle of downtown, there’s a plethora of choice. Staying at the official race hotel, the downtown Hilton, is always fun because it offers a glimpse into the organization and energy that goes into the race. They also may provide special race morning perks and discounts to runners. Although, because it’s such a huge event, many other hotels, lots of which offer pasta dinners on Saturday, in the area do as well.