My wife Alexandra is sharing a tongue in cheek account of her latest accomplishment – running the Marathon in Venice. My kids and I are extremely proud of her, it is amazing what real passion drives people to accomplish. Read here how it all started.
It is my husband’s calling to educate the world on Greek wines. I take advantage of this, to spread the word about my own passion: running. Wanna hear a bit more about marathons? It seems the perfect topic, as just over two weeks ago, Athens celebrated the 2500 year anniversary of the first ever marathon run, by promoting the city’s own annual marathon event with unique and amazing publicity, that even led to the participation of the prime minister and several celebrities in the shorter runs surrounding the main event of the marathon race.
The marathon run, as every Greek learns at the age of about 9, is a Greek invention. The myth goes that a Greek soldier, Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce to the city of Athens their victory over the Persians, dropping dead immediately afterwards from exhaustion.
Centuries later in 1896 the modern Olympic Games introduced a marathon race of 40 km (which then evolved to 42,195 km) which was held in Greece and was also won by the Greek Spyros Louis. Today Greeks know all about the marathon myth but virtually nothing about the sport – whilst abroad, it is exactly the other way around.
I decided around May this year to participate in another marathon race. Since I wanted to treat myself to another trip for the occasion, I began scouting around European events. In the end, I decided to run in Venice: I love Mediterranean countries, I could not imagine a more beautiful city, it took place at the right time of year, the course was advertised as scenic and fast, and if there is a place to manage an outstanding pasta party for carbo loading this had to be it. It so happened that Venice took place exactly one week before the Athens event, namely on October 24th.
Naturally the special anniversary marathon event in my country raised awareness for the sport and it was the first time that I was asked so frequently if I had participated. My response that I ran in Venice a week earlier, more often than not returned me a blank look though: “What do you mean, you ran in Venice? How could you run in Venice? The marathon is here, in Athens….”
It seemed a revelation, that Athens does not have exclusive marathon race rights but that major and minor cities all over the world organize marathon runs on an annual basis, to give the public the opportunity to rise to the challenge and promote the athletic spirit. Following this explanation, the clarification required about my experience was:
“So then how many kilometers is the marathon in Venice?” 42,195 km seems to stun people. And 42,195 km in Athens, in Venice, in Istanbul, in London, in New York, in Melbourne and in every other place, even more so!
Of course there was curiosity about how long that took me. ‘A bit over 3,5 hours’ raised the next inquiry of: “How often do you get to stop in order to complete the race?” I will leave the readers to figure that one out for themselves.
And then with 110% certainty came the query: “What place did you make…?” I don’t think there is a single marathon runner (with the exception of the few Kenyan ones leading the race) who gives a damn. You don’t run against the crowd – only against yourself. Fellow runners are your helpers and inspiration; they are not competitors. Victory in a marathon is to finish – and cause for celebration is to finish within the personal targets.
At that point of the dialogue my re-count of Venice was finally good to go. The long awaited question was posed: “So then, how was it in Venice?”
Well, it was well worth it!
I had decided that logistics would be easier and cost less if I booked it through a marathon-travel agent – they organize stay and transport for runner groups attending the same event.
The hotel was right in Venice, close to the finish and the race start was on the mainland, about 30 km outside Venice. The adventure commenced at 5 am. I had never before done the group experience and it started when all marathoners gathered to have breakfast. It was a room full of dead tired people, in denial that they were about to completely wear themselves out. There was not a lot of talking, and only restricted enthusiasm for the upcoming run. Some singles used it as a meeting place. One guy talked about the value of sex before and after – his wife accompanied him though, so I guess that made him legitimate. After breakfast there was plenty of time for mental preparation as transportation to the starting point was endless. The boat left Venice at 6.20. Walking, buses, more walking and lots of waiting at only 11 degrees followed the ride. We finally crossed the start at 9.30. Thank god for outstandingly good company until then!
The course was beautiful, just beautiful, and extremely cheerful. Despite the chilly and humid day, Italians made a huge party of it. There were 26 live bands on the way, several entertainers, and a very enthusiastic crowd of all ages. I now know the full declination of bravi, brava, bravo…. Shout-outs along the way meant for me were: “Cuatro ciento e due brava brava brava!” They were plenty and it was amazingly uplifting.
On km 30 in the middle of a park an unbelievable Alice Cooper lookalike was deafening the runners – despite the fatigue I was able to pick up speed to get quickly past this.
Pace groups in the race were surprisingly pronounced. Pace leaders hold a balloon with the target time and it is their job to take runners following them into the finish at exactly this time. When I overtook the 3.50 balloon the crowd was massive behind the leader, he was singing Italian folk songs to cheer his horde up and seemed to have taken personal pride in not losing any of them!
Due to the cold, I felt cramps looming on both legs already from the 13th km. Despite pacing myself to suppress them, they finally hit me with full force on the 36th km. Stopping was of course not an option for the eager runner, so I crossed the finish line in 03.36.14, albeit distinctly behind my personal target for the race. In the second of my finishing, some guy standing next to me emptied the contents of his stomach almost on my feet. Paramedics started coming towards us and to my surprise bypassed the guy and came to help me. My frustrated look about my race time and the cramp pain was clearly mistaken for the onset of a collapse.
I was given my goodies bag and my stuff and followed the crowd to a cheerful pasta party in a heated tent. It was after 19.00 that the last marathon runners left the tent and started making their way home. The day had been long. But it had also been satisfying in every respect: on my way back to the hotel I warmly thanked every volunteer still cleaning up, for an experience that should not be missed by any fellow athlete: the Venice Marathon.
Sadly, in my country there are not a lot of marathon runners – and too few female runners at that. Suffice to say that with my finishing time in Venice, I managed to make 36th place in the list of best Greek female marathon runners for the year 2010. That would be impossible in any other country and I am happy to lose my placement to the young, eager and fast ones. So if you have been considering even remotely taking up the sport after the glamour that was attributed to marathons during the 2500 year celebration, I can only assure you: it is well worth the pain. Go for it!