Night has come. The ocean breeze rises. The survivors stand on blistered feet and swollen knees, gazing down the beachside concourse, waiting for the next shape to stagger into focus.
They are one big, exhausted family here on South Beach at the finish line of the World Marathon Challenge, an event of seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days.
The survivors hug family, swap tales and drink water. But there remain some runners on the course. They hope. If the runners haven’t collapsed.
“There!” someone shouts down the concrete concourse.
“Is that Mike?”
A couple dozen people by the finish line cheer. Shout. Whistle. Finally, here comes Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill crossing finish line with the team’s equipment manager, John Silverman, to end the endless run.
“Ye-e-e-ah!” Hill shouts with a smile.
Some collapse at this point. Some cry after completing 184 miles of running. One runner crossed the finish line drinking a bottle of beer. Most simply stagger to whatever friends or family are waiting and hug them.
If they can hug. If they have the strength.
“I was thinking in the last mile what didn’t hurt on my body, and the only thing I could come up with was my eyelashes,’’ said David Samson, the former Marlins president who assembled a 16-member team for this World Marathon Challenge that stretched limits and raised more than $1 million for 11 charities.
What possesses anyone to do this? They started seven days ago running on a five-mile loop around a Russian air base in Antarctica. It was what it sounds like. Twenty-degree weather. Blue ice. Blowing snow. Water meant to refresh them on the course was sometimes frozen.
“Brutal,” said Paralympic athlete Sarah Reinertsen, one of two people to do half-marathons and the first one-legged runner in the event.
Less than 12 hours after finishing in Antarctica, they were running in the 80-degree heat of Cape Town, South Africa.
“From the freezer to the furnace,” said Dave McGillivray, the Boston Marathon director who had run 148 marathons before these seven.
And then to Perth, Australia. And Dubai, United Arab Emirates. And Lisbon, Portugal, where it rained, making the cobblestone slick for another element.
In Cartagena, Colombia, the sixth leg, Brad Miller, a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, ducked into a bar to watch the final two minutes of their Super Bowl victory. And then he continued running.
The event finished in Cartagena at 3 a.m. The plane landed in Miami at 11 a.m. By 2 p.m., they were lining up for the start of this final leg at Fifth Avenue and Collins. The course was a five-mile loop beside the Atlantic Ocean the runners completed in anywhere from four to eight hours.
“Everyone said we were completely insane to do this, and now I think we are completely insane,” Samson said.
This event was the creation of Richard Donovan of Ireland. He stood at the finish line, putting medals around runners necks after they crossed. There were 12 runners in his first World Marathon Challenge in 2015.
Fifty-three runners in all paid $44,000 each for the round-the-world airplane charter, meals and occasional hotels of this one. One stopped in Australia due to injury.
Samson assembled the group by calling friends about running in it after reading a story about the first event. The idea was for normal athletes to try something abnormal. They weren’t all normal, as former Marlin Jeff Conine and Reinertsten attest.
But they had normal fears and questions. Samson’s best friend from seventh grade, Bret Parker, undertakes one extreme athletic event a year to defy his Parkinson’s Disease. He wasn’t sure he’d make the plane to each stop. That gave birth to the team name of Hold The Plane.
Now they stood in the dark of South Beach, waiting for the final members to finish. Some of the runners asked Samson what was the next team event to undertake. He looked at the floating layer of fluid on his left knee.
“We’re all going to get an MRI together,” he said.