Race History

Twenty-two years ago, the Miami Marathon was born almost by accident. Back in 2002, Frankie Ruiz was a new Florida International University graduate with a degree in communications. Leafing through a triathlon magazine, he came across a photo of Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who has since become a Gold Medal-winning Paralympics swimmer. Recalls Ruiz, “I came across an article about this 12-year-old double amputee who was running side-by-side with Robin Williams and competing in triathlons and I thought, ‘How cool it would be to get him to come and talk to the kids I coach.’ So I decided to give it a shot.” Ruiz contacted Tolson’s mother, who liked the idea, and encouraged him to send out a press release about Rudy’s visit from California.

Instantly, the media began calling, covering the athlete as he competed together with Ruiz at a local triathlon. Struck by the story, Javier Soto, the chief of staff to then Miami-Dade County mayor Alex Penelas, called Ruiz to invite Rudy to meet the mayor. “At that meeting, Rudy was asked, ‘Why don’t you run the Miami Marathon?’ There was silence from everyone else in the room because they knew we didn’t have a marathon,” recalls Ruiz.

Previous incarnations, including the Miamithon, the Orange Bowl Marathon and the Metro-Dade Marathon, had trouble attracting athletes, and eventually all fizzled out due to financial constraints. Ruiz adds, “The very next day, the mayor made sure I got a call from his chief of staff, who asked me what I would need to start a marathon in Miami. Mayor Alex Penelas and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz were big drivers of the upstart process. We also had lots of help from public officials including Commissioner Pepe Diaz and Sally Heyman” said Ruiz.

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In 2003, that first year, the marathon attracted 3,400 people. Over its 19-year history, the race has developed into an internationally renowned event with a field of 25,000 runners from all 50 states and over 80 countries. And Rudy Garcia-Tolson, the boy who was at the start of this all returned to Miami in 2017 as Grand Marshal for the race that, once just an idea, is now firmly rooted as a world-class, global event.

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