Back in a former life, I was once fondly known by colleagues as ‘Tommy the Bone’. Simply this was derived by people with too much time on their hands playing around with my name and taking Tim to Tom to Tommy to Tombola to Tomboner and finally Tommy the Bone, over a matter of a couple of weeks.
The reason I mention it is I used to like a drink and, as tends to happen, my character changed quite dramatically over the course of an evening. I wasn’t a nasty drunk, but a foolish one and it got to the stage where my colleagues and friends asked me at the time who was coming out this evening, Tim or Tommy? My casual reply usually being, “Well, you’ll likely have a couple of hours with Tim and then Tommy will show up a little after ten…”
For a number of years I suppressed Tommy, but still joked that he was in there, which he very much still is. Now, through (ultra)running, I have found a way to take Tommy for a walk every now and then, without the carnage occurring that he used to cause.
This past weekend I was in Venice with Solange for the 2014 Venice Marathon. This has been Solange’s goal all year and she has worked very hard towards running a strong time. She has been coached by the fantastic Edwina Sutton and been put through her paces with a personalised training program. She was ready.
I didn’t enter the marathon because originally I was set to run the Winter 100 the weekend before. However after the North Downs 100 chew me up and spat me out (this time with a buckle) and having Brazos Bend 100 in Texas in December, I opted to drop the Winter 100. I hadn’t really considered Venice until the day before we flew out, when I decided to glibly email the organisers and see if that had any spaces left, thinking that of course they wouldn’t. They did.
I don’t want to sound like one of those arrogant ultrarunners who thinks of anything less than an ultra as a fun run- it is a marathon and the distance has to be respected. That said, I pretty much run a marathon most Saturdays as part of my training so whilst I respect the distance, it doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is fast, flat road running and I immediately felt a little pressure to record a PB, having not run a road marathon since April 2012 in London.
We landed on Friday around lunchtime and decided to head straight to the expo so Solange could register and I could grab one of the remaining spots, rather than leave it to Saturday. This being Italy and with it being a weekday, naturally the whole of the public transport network was on strike, so we had a bit of a battle to get there.
There was a big wall where entrants could sign their name and whilst Solange did the sensible thing and wrote her name, I thought about Tommy and the fact he was in for a fast canter tomorrow, so simply signed myself as ‘Speedbone’. There’s nothing in the world quite like misplaced confidence.
Edwina had set Solange a gentle two mile leg loosener that afternoon, but the kind Italian strikers helped us amend that to a two hour walk from the train station to our hotel. But this being Venice and in my opinion the most magical city in the world, it wasn’t exactly excruciating and we had very little luggage. It was also a glorious weekend weather wise without a cloud in the sky.
After a relatively quiet Saturday organising transport plans for race morning, it was Sunday at 4:30am before we knew it and we were up for breakfast which the hotel kindly organised extra early, before a ferry set for 5:39am to take us to Tronchetto where a coach would take runners to the start. Seeing the sun come up over the Grand Canal is a sight I will never forget. Simply awesome. Venice shouldn’t even be there. It was built as a result of conflict and persecution with people literally fleeing into the lagoon for their lives. They decided to stay and build the most improbable and logistically ridiculous city in the world, but did it in style. What I love most about Venice is how quiet it is. Without cars there is no noise aside from the boats, but away from the canal it is silent aside from footsteps. Without cars it also feels less aggressive and more calm and peaceful. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Venice.
Once at the start we had a good two hours until the race began and whilst sunny, it was very cold. We huddled inside a marquee and had some last minute food and chatted with a few other Brits including a girl called Lorna who had just run Abingdon marathon the weekend before and is a prolific marathon runner (she ended up getting a PB at Venice).
Finish bags loaded, breath held in the portaloo for the last time and it was time to get into our starting pens and prepare for the off. I gave Solange some last minute words of encouragement and she headed off to her pen and I to mine. 2014 has been a pretty stressful year for us, so it was fantastic to be doing this together and we had already agreed where to meet at the finish.
The helicopter buzzed overhead, the Italians proved there is no word in their vocabulary for ‘queue’ and the countdown began. We had been in the pens for a while and I realised I needed a pee even before we started so I would have to find a quiet hedge soon after we were off. There wasn’t one for a good three kilometres but eventually I stopped for about three minutes (one of those dreadfully timed ones that went on and on and on…) and was back running and feeling much better.
I hadn’t given much thought to my time aside from having a vague goal of three and a half hours. This worked out as exactly five minutes per kilometre and I sustained this right up until the final 7k when my pace dropped.
A marathon is never easy, but the pace was a lot easier than I expected and I know I have a significantly faster time in me yet. The crowds in all the small towns we ran through were great and there was a rock band every mile or so, which really lifted the spirits. Slipknot and the Foo Fighters are big in Italy it seems and this is exactly the sort of music I like to run to, with the odd bit of Michael Buble, Miley Cyrus and Leona Lewis thrown in for good measure. Ahem.
At the 30k mark we reached the Parco San Giuliano, which is where the expo was held. I had hit 10k in exactly 50 minutes and halfway in 1:45. Bang on 5 mins per kilometre, but I knew sustaining that pace might be tough once in Venice, not because of fatigue, but because of the narrowing of the course and the 14 bridge crossings we had yet to come (kindly warned to me before the race by Rob Pinnington who had a friend run it in recent years). At the park they had gels and electrolyte drinks for the first time, so I grabbed a handful of gels and downed a few cups, trying to get some sugar and salt into my system for the last 12k push.
Cruelly after this there is a 4k bridge crossing into Venice itself. You can see Venice on the horizon, but it just never gets any closer. I had a few small walk breaks and then kicked myself into gear that walking wasn’t acceptable and ran whilst looking down rather than at the horizon until the bridge finally ended.
Once in Venice it was hard not to be excited. The crowds lining the fenced off route were great and the scenery just spectacular. It was at this point I started racing someone who had been with me for a while and we went back and forth, him talking in Spanish and me in English and just having a laugh together. A lap of St Marks Square and then 1k to go. Coming into the finish was great, I knew my pace had dropped and I crossed the line in 3:38, which was a new PB. Not that it matters but my chip registered 3:43, which is only a five minute discrepancy and it seemed a number of others had the same issue. Either time was a PB so I couldn’t care either way. The medal is already in the garage with our others, it was the memory that will stick with me. The only memento in the house is my 100 mile treasured buckle.
Solange crossed the line in 4:14 and we met up with her naturally being over the moon and me being very proud of her indeed. From having had two emergency caesarean sections in just an 18 month period, she tried running again three years ago and came home after five minutes exhausted and crying. She ran this to prove to herself she could do it, but it is a great message to others that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to put the effort in.
A great weekend, two PB’s and we can’t recommend the Venice Marathon enough. For me it was great to get some fast miles in as I now have final preparations for the Brazos Bend 100 for which my training will end the first week in December; which will come around fast.