By Pete Williams
With the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon scheduled to welcome a record 21,000 runners this weekend, is it now fair to ask if Florida is the best marathon state in the country?
Sure, the Sunshine State has no single race to rival Boston, New York, Chicago or Washington (Marine Corps). But it has two solid second-tier events in Miami and Disney, which attracted more than 44,000 runners for its marathon and half-marathon three weeks ago.
No state has capitalized on the half-marathon (13.1 mile) craze more so than Florida, which averages at least one half marathon every weekend between Halloween and mid-March.
Florida, of course, is one of few states with a climate conducive to such as schedule. Still, it’s impressive how the state has become a mecca for marathoners – certainly half marathoners. At a time when the tourism-dependent state still is reeling from the economy, the latest running boom has been a godsend.
Florida’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average and even that number is probably low given the number of struggling self-employed people who do not factor into those numbers. If, as many industry observers believe, many of these folks have turned to running as a low-cost outlet for exercise, entertainment, and to work out frustrations, it’s perhaps no surprise that the sport has grown faster in Florida than in many states.
Plenty of blanket coverage about the Miami Marathon in South Florida. The Miami Herald offers a lengthy preview and Herald sports columnist Linda Robertson tells the inspiring story of Dawn Walton, a Largo teacher who is running the race after a three-year transformation in which she went from 404 to 165 pounds. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel details the comeback of Fort Lauderdale resident and onetime Olympic hopeful Stacie Alboucrek.