Running a marathon on “fresh” legs (as opposed to the shuffle that takes place at the end of an ironman) has always been on my mind, even more so since I stopped racing triathlons.
Always thought it’d be nice to have a reference time over the distance, and even extra nice for that reference to be under 2h40. Of course I am long retired from professional racing, and, really, I shouldn’t be focusing on times and performance any more, but hey, like it or not (I don’t), once a competitor always one.
Only the goals cursor has changed, unavoidably shifting rightward. A few (ten? fifteen) years ago I would/could have reasonably dreamed about a sub 2h30, but what with ageing legs and rather limited training the sights have been lowered.
I still do think however that it should be possible to run circa 2h38, which means sustaining a 3:45 min/km pace for the whole of 42.195 km. After all it’s a pace I know very well and which I’ve been comfortable with for most of my running life. For various reasons I never found the time and space to actually do it, but, at a youthful 46, I was determined to make it happen this year.
The first goal was to qualify for London 2024 by running the Virtual marathon in April 23, which I did with my brother doing loops around Victoria Park and some stretches of the canal.
Despite the lack of preparation (my longest run up to that point being 26k), the run felt pleasantly smooth. We’d left some gels and electrolytes drinks on a bench which served as our aid station for the day and never strayed too far from a comfortable 4:00 pace. I had wondered what could happen beyond the 30k mark but the dreaded wall never materialised and to my surprise I was even able to accelerate towards the end of the run. Having cruised the marathon distance in 2:48:49 (according to my Garmin) and feeling very much in control throughout, this felt like a good boost of confidence. Surely with adequate training and knowledge of the distance I should be able to shave a dozen minutes a year from that?
Three weeks prior to that I had run a half marathon, also in Victoria Park but in an official race. 1:17:31 was the time – not exactly fast, but fairly decent nonetheless (my PB stands at 1h09 sth back in 1999 (!) when I was in my running prime, and I ran 1h12 sth in a half around Hackney Marshes in 2010 – that’s some implacable and cruel statistics of getting old right there).
Two weeks after that I went through a (long planned) inguinal hernia surgery (!).
I hadn’t really given it much thought beforehand and got caught by surprise upon realising how disabled I was in the following days/weeks. Me who thought I’d be ok to play an 8 hour set a brilliant corners the day after the surgery (which was the plan)… yeah right. Five weeks of no running followed, and another five-six weeks of progressively getting back into it. Truth be told it took me a good three months to run properly again (especially uphill), and nearly six months on I still don’t feel fully recovered. No jokes.
Given all that, the Venice marathon wasn’t in my plans at all, but after hearing about it randomly, the thought of entering it quickly appealed to me for various reasons.
a/ Silvia is from Venice,
b/ it falls during half term meaning we can go together,
c/ it falls exactly six months before the London marathon, and regardless of the result it should be a perfect way to test myself and understand what I can hope for.
In I was 😍
What with only two months of proper training, the longest run I clocked was a 30k two weeks before the race (which I really struggled with in the latter parts), and the biggest week I’d done was a 70k one that same week; otherwise my regular routine hovered around 3-4 runs or about 50k a week.
The preparation was also marred by two bike crashes in successive weeks, one which had me somersault over a cab passenger door carelessly opened on my front wheel (!), and the second one just the Monday before the marathon which led me to spend an evening in A&E with a dislocated little finger (!!). Commuting tribulations inna Babylon…
Thanks and praises to the NHS services for providing the best care on the day, and to my trusted osteopath Joe Dale (himself a 2h29 marathon runner) for loosening me up on the Monday before the race (only hours before that dislocated pinky that is!) 🙏🏼 🙏🏼
Marathon ready I certainly wasn’t but Venezia, here we came nonetheless (always a pleasure, thanks).
*•.¸♡ 🏃🏽 ♡¸.•*
With the customary delayed flight we arrived in Lido past midnight on the Friday, Silvia’s parents waiting for us with a meal of wholegrain short rice (a rarity in Italy), spinach and chards, as per instructions from Silvia ❤️. Perfetto.
Cheeky 30 min run on the Saturday past the Palazzo del Cinema (home to the Biennale) and along the beach past Murazzi and back – a real favourite of mine when in Venice, which I really had no intention to resist.
This might be dubbed the Venice marathon but most of the race take place outside of the islands, on terra ferma, with the start taking place in front of Villa Pisani, apparently the Queen of Venetian Villas.
Getting there in the morning was quite a trip in itself, waking up in the heart of Venice after a mostly sleepless night and having to navigate the spellbinding maze of the city, dead quiet in the morning dusk, to get to the shuttle in time. Silvia of course led the way with her eye closed, and for a minute it felt like being transported in a time capsule of bygone days – until our paths crossed those of other out of place marathoners.
After a long hour bus journey, we marvelled at the grandiloquent Villa for a minute, until the sight of (literally) thousands of runners lining up for the portaloos somewhat took some of the magic away. Having no choice but to get in line, it took me a good 30 min to get in, and I’ll spare the details of what I saw. Instead here is a pic of the villa:
Soon it was time to be shepherded around the back gardens onto the start line.
There were literally thousands of people in front of me and I started to panic a bit, even though the start was still nearly an hour away. This might be a small marathon when compared to London or Berlin, but still the scale of it felt quite overwhelming – much bigger in size than any sporting event I have ever taken part of. Eventually I found my way to my allocated “corral” (new word to me), with forty minutes to spare.
What are you then supposed to do in a 50 m2 space squeezed between dozens of other runners (to be fair my corral was luckily not as contrived as the others behind me)?
a/ Listen to the local mayors and whatnots congratulating each other about how beautiful the region is (that we know)
b/ Listen to the Italian national anthem played by the local Alpinis, with choir provided by the runners themselves (ouch)
c/ watch the doors of the Villa Pisani suddenly opening, Sesame style, letting a bunch of feather light elite runners escape to jog unimpressed to the start line
d/ do this
e/ do all of this
*•.¸♡ 🏃🏽 ♡¸.•*
And finally… off we went!
Super smooth up to just after the halfway mark.
Locked on a 3:50 pace, mostly on my own.
With a 1:21:08 for the first half marathon I felt good and started to dream of a negative split, even of approaching the 2h40 barrier. Very soon however I understood that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride, and that in fact another, very different race was starting there and now – instead of slowing myself down to keep the 3:50 pace I now had to dig deep to barely keep it. I was still on track by K25, but I was already struggling.
I knew Silvia’s zio and zia – residents of Mestre, which sits bang in the middle of the course – were waiting for me at the 27k mark with a bottle of electrolytes I gave them the day before, and I had planned to take my second gel around this (the first one I took at k14).
With hindsight I realise I probably hadn’t eaten enough already by that point. My quads were already starting to give in and I was sweating profusely (Venice’s climate is crazy humid, surprise surprise), meaning I lacked sugar, salt,… and miles in the legs.
I managed to grab that bottle, but there was no miracle. The pace slowed to 3:55, 3:58, 4:01, 4:08 even. One never knows how comfortable it can feel to run at a 15.7 kph pace early on, and how excruciating 14.5 kph can be an hour or so later, until you do a marathon that is. Likewise one would never think how running up a highway bridge can feel like a climbing a mountain…until you bonk in a marathon that is.
The ponte della Libertà which links the mainland to Venezia was one of those Way of the Cross I encountered oh so often in my triathlon carrier (hello Embrun, Nice, Lanzarote, Langkawi, Alpe d”Huez, Super Besse,…). A never-ending 4k straight line, running solo and desperately looking for a second wind, but instead inhaling the fumes of a bumper to bumper traffic jam on the side. Not fun.
*•.¸ 🏃🏽 ¸.•*
Arriving in Venice could (should) have been a hallelujah moment but instead, like so often in the past in similar overcooked situations (see above), the dreaded abductor cramps awoke to haunt me and within seconds I had to pull over and was left on the side in heavy contortions trying to stretch the muthaf**** (in a scene reminiscing of Blummenfelt earlier this summer at the PTO championships – watch here at 0:40).
At least two minutes and four or five guys went by – strangely enough I had spent my whole race overtaking people up to that point – until I could finally go again, albeit at a different pace. I was now hovering around 4:20, just about managing the cramps and on survival mode to the finish line. Getting my feet wet in the Aqua Alta, running around Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, I sadly didn’t enjoy much of those supposed highlights. Not on the moment anyway, though in hindsight (as I write this), yes!
The final official time of 2h49:12 (2h49:06 chip time) might not be what I was hoping for, especially considering how easy I felt for the first half of the race, but at least it got me hungry for more, eager to nail the distance with some better experience and preparation.
Next stop, London ’24 🙌🏼