Let’s be honest – this blog has mostly become an archive of old posts from when I was doing all the running and all the blogging and managing to fit it in with the chaos of everyday life. Since then I’ve started a new masters, a new job, another new job, an extra part-time job and I’m still trying to fit in the running and yoga and eating. But, if one thing has suffered it’s definitely been the writing down all the things I’ve been trying to do. Still, with half an hour in between meetings, reading, and writing I thought I’d get some words down about my first ever international marathon!
When one of my best pals, Jude, mentioned that she was planning to run the Venice Marathon I knew that a little seed had been planted. One that would grow into a decision I would later inevitably regret and moan about. So I signed up and went about organising a weekend away in The Floating City.
Flying out on Friday morning we arrived at Treviso airport in the late afternoon and then found our AirBnB in Mestre – a town on the mainland about 10 minutes by tram, bus or boat from Venice. We decided not to stay on the island as it was further from the start line and much more expensive.
First stop was San Giuliano park where we were able to pick up our race numbers and the official marathon long-sleeved t-shirt. I was a little worried after the long Italian bureaucracy themed saga of getting a health form signed by a Dr and uploading it, that we would face further red-tape but it was an easy process and before long we were weighed down with free cans of beer, fruit and our complementary sponges that apparently we could carry with us and dip in water as we ran. We hopped onto the tram to Venice and before long were surrounded by canals. We walked around, ate the free biscuits from the goodie bags and then gave in to our growling stomachs and walked to Al Timon, in Cannaregio. We bought plates of Chichetti, bitesize tastes of creamy mozzarella, fresh fig, salty parma ham and warmed up with glasses of house red .
After a while (and a few reminders) we got a table outside, tried to read the worn out menus by tea-light and eventually asked the waiter to bring us what was good. What was good turned out to be a chopping board heaving with velvet soft steak, chips so salty they almost burned and a scattering of vegetables including three hefty chunks of pineapple. It was delicious. We ate silently trying to make a dent in the heap of food before us and when we were defeated made ciabatta steak sandwiches and treated the local puppy to a taste of the best steak I’ve ever tasted. Holding our over-inflated stomachs we lurched back to Mestre to try and sleep off the food coma.
The next day was probably un-ideal marathon prep. We got up early-ish, ate breakfast and headed back into Venice for a day of touristing. We visited the Rialto Bridge (seen through a forest of selfie sticks) and then St Marc’s square where we visited the museum, laughed at all the very strange baby Jesus paintings and then, somehow hungry all over again, headed back out for more food. Lunch was slabs of pizza bought by the slice and eaten hungrily at the side of the road, two different gelato stops – one an incredible dark chocolate and raspberry vegan number to atone for the tonne of meat from the night before – and a hot veggie polpetto bought from a man in a window. Then, with aching feet and tired eyes we headed home to cook the all important pre-marathon pasta and rest up for a couple of hours before the race. Not before stopping off at the enormous interspa supermarket to marvel at the endless aisles of pasta shapes though.
It was an early start the next morning. We made peanut butter bagels and ate them on the way to the shuttle point. I’d left the boy in the apartment to deal with checking out and to find a way to store our luggage while we ran (the approved race bags were way too small to fit in all the extra pairs of socks I’d brought). The buses were meant to leave Mestre rail station between 7.10 and 7.30 am but when we arrived we realised that confusingly there were actually two separate shuttle points, one for the 10k going to San Giuliano park and one for the marathon runners heading to the start line in Stra. Unsurprisingly there were a few anxious looking 10k runners who had found themselves 20 miles away from Venice when our bus pulled up at the start.
After the normal loo stops, second loo stops and ditching our bags in the trucks heading towards the finish we joined our corrals. I was in the third one, Jude in the fourth and her friend Lee in the second (going for an insanely quick time) so we said our good luck and good byes and waited for the start, shivering in the cold.
I’d hoped that once we got running the nerves would disappear a little bit – they took a while to get gone but once I’d found a pace I could keep I settled in for the long haul. The route was almost a directly straight line from Stra to Mestre, around the San Giuliano park and then across the bridge connecting Venice to the mainland towards the finish. I’m not sure what I had expected but I did find that as most of the run was on the roads connecting very small villages there was a strangely quiet atmosphere to the race. Everyone was focusing on their own run and apart from the few villages we ran through there wasn’t the usual cheering crowds along the way that I’ve become used to in major city races in the UK. There were a few groups of runners accompanying racers in wheelchairs who brought a little colour to the day – their whistles and cheers and dancing brought a lift when I ran past them and I realised what a difference a little noise can make – especially without headphones! There were a few bands along the way too – playing live music from the side of the road – unfortunately the Italians love rock music a lot more than I do.
I’d been quite focused on keeping my pace steady, slowing down when I noticed my legs wanting to get ahead of themselves but slowly realised that there was another runner close on my heels, speeding up and slowing down as I did, veering left and right with me – I must have looked strangely at him but he introduced himself and we got chatting and he told me that he was aiming for a sub-3.50 time which we were well ahead of. I was happy to pace him and we ran in companionable silence for the next few miles until he decided just after the half way mark that he needed to slow down a bit. I wished him all the luck and cracked on, hoping that my legs would keep me going for the second half of the race.
The next couple of miles were good. There was water every 5km and then sports drinks, bananas, biscuits and apples. I made myself take on gels every hour and noticed that they helped and kept drinking because although it wasn’t super sunny it was pretty warm and I didn’t want to burn out too soon… At the 30km mark we entered the park and left behind the endless stretches of duel carriage way for a greener view. There were crowds here and I immediately felt a lift – I flew along for a while and had to constantly remind myself to slow down, too often I was running at my half-marathon pace and I knew it would only end in tears. I’m glad I did because the next five k was HARD. The bridge that connects Mestre to Venice is long, straight and while initially scenic wasn’t a totally joyful place to run the hardest 6 miles of the race. There was no shade, no variation in terrain or horizon, no support. Just endless miles of tarmac. I was thrilled to reach Venice expecting to turn into the cobbled streets of the city but was disappointed to be directed into an industrial estate.
I gritted my teeth and carried on until – finally – we reached the first of the fourteen bridges. Hooray! I thought. And then the second bridge happened and the third…. They had been covered so at least they weren’t stepped but they were STEEP UP and STEEP DOWN and didn’t my legs know it! Lots of the runners stopped to walk which created a bit of a bottleneck but I knew that if I stopped I might not start again so I kept on, over the floating pontoon that crossed the grand canal and into St Marc’s square, before finally, finally, heading over a few more bridges towards the finish. I waved at the boy, gave a last push and sped over the finish line only to be sick into a canal. Well, at least Venice will have something to remember me by! I was pleased with my final time – a PB of a couple of minutes in 3 hours 41 which was very unexpected after 6 weeks of trimmed down training, 2 of none at all after a really nasty virus and I felt pretty good the whole way round, most of it I felt really comfortable and was having to slow myself down so now I’m wondering what might have been if I’d let myself run the 5.00m/km pace my legs wanted (probably spontaneous combustion….)
Another bag of fruit and beer was thrust into my hands, I tried some hot sweet tea and hobbled off to meet the boy at the other side of the finish area. It was still warm and I felt pretty good so I nibbled on a couple of breadsticks and went to cheer on the other runners and Jude to the finish. After that was showers (COLD!), a change of clothes, accidentally crashing the elite athletes getting drugs tested, and then we found a bar, got our celebratory Spritz and a bite of arincini and then got lost in Venice trying to find our way back to the north of the island. A quick bowl of spaghetti and a mandatory platter of tiramisu and then we caught a coach to the airport to wait the long long hours for our delayed ryanair flight back to London.
Eating peanut butter bagels at 3.30am that morning I decided that it was time my legs had a rest. At least for a week or two. But after a whistle stop tour of a new city fuelled by carbs, and finishing with a big gold medal and a PB, I can see a few more international races on the horizon!