Going the distance: Students run in 10th annual ING Miami Marathon

Juniors Brian Van Cleave (left) and Michael Oates, who represented TriCanes, cross the finish line at the ING Miami Marathon on Sunday. Marlena Skrobe//Photo Editor

At 4 a.m., while many Miamians stumble home after a night out on the town, one group of students was on their way to take on the ultimate physical challenge.

Members of both the University of Miami running and triathlon clubs were among the estimated 25,000 runners who competed in the 10th annual ING Miami Marathon early Sunday morning.

The ING, which has been a Miami tradition since 2003, has grown every year since its inauguration and attracts world-class athletes and runners from across the globe.

For UM students, it’s just a short ride on the Metrorail away.

“It’s hard to take in how many people are in one place to go on a run,” said sophomore Amanda Durham, who was running in her first half-marathon. “But with so many people in the crowd cheering you on, it’s just an amazing experience.”

The ING event offers both marathon and half-marathon races, with significantly more individuals signing up for the 13.1-mile challenge (about 19,000 as opposed to the 6,000 participants running 26.2 miles). But for many, the appeal of running in Miami, under the lights and through the beach as the sun is rising, is an experience that they can’t pass up.

“What’s great about the race is the location,” Durham said. “Running through South Beach, downtown with all the buildings, it really is a great spot.”

But as exciting as the ING might be, it’s the work done in the months before the race that makes crossing that finish line all the more satisfying.

“Normally, you start off training by running anywhere between three to four miles the first time, looking to see how you feel after that,” said junior Brian Van Cleave, running for the second time in the ING event. “After that, you just gradually add on. It normally takes about two months to train for a half-marathon, but for someone who is generally active, it can be done in less time.”

All runners have their own ways of preparing, but sometimes it comes down to just going in and hoping for the best.

“I started training in mid-September … but during winter break an injury kept me out for a little bit,” Durham said. “I was only able to do one long run before the race and kind of had to wing it.”

After months of rigorous training, however, it’s the hours leading up to the race that prove to be the most strenuous.

“For the most part you’re just trying to stay relaxed, but it’s a struggle to go to sleep. Your mind is just racing,” said David Magida, a graduate student who raced his second marathon. “I found the best way to fall asleep is to just walk yourself through each mile of the course and just focus. If not, you’re way too amped to even consider sleeping.”

As the race time approaches and runners warm up and gather near the starting line right in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena, experienced runners will note that once the gun goes off, the hardest part is not getting off to a fast start, but making sure you don’t tire out too quickly.

“The biggest mistake a marathoner can make is starting off too fast. You want to stay steady to your training and your pace,” Magida said. “Later in the race, it’s one of those things where at some point or another, you’re going to hit the wall and it’s all about survival. The mindset there is ‘just survive.’ You start to doubt whether it’s possible. The challenge is finding a way to fight through it.”

But while the training may be grueling, and the race itself both a physical and mental struggle, crossing the finish line at the end of the long race is an experience all its own.

“A marathon is just one of those things where, as a runner, if you haven’t accomplished at least one in your career, it’s hard to really consider yourself a runner,” Magida said. “I lost two toenails and have a giant bloody gash, but the pain eventually subsides. Finishing a marathon though, that’s a truly special feeling.”