Friday, October 17, 2014

Verona Marathon 2014

 So, How did I end up running a marathon in Italy? I have to thank my friend Margherita Bonfante Scott for that. She was going to be running her 100th marathon and wanted that special milestone to be done in her hometown with family and friends. When she asked if anyone wanted to go I was ready to jump at this chance of a lifetme to travel overseas for the first time with her as our interpreter and tour guide. I will have another post about the trip soon but for now lets concentrate on the race.

 Well back up a little. When this came up I was in the best shape I have been in years but as I mentioned in the previous post I had been injured since mid July and as the trip was approaching I was not even running at all and it was looking like I would just be a tourist and spectator instead of a participant. In desperation and thanks to John Stiner massage as I mentioned before, just three weeks before the race I was able to run for 3 miles. One more visit a week later and things had greatly improved but with a total of 24 miles in the three weeks leading up to the race and a "long run" of 7 slow miles the week before I was woefully under prepared to run a marathon .

   Even before the injury I had planned on running the race as a fun run and enjoy the scenery and share the miles with my regular trainng partner Karla. THE Marathon Princess who was also along for the trip with her  husband Frank. Now it was going to be a survival run. Just try to get to the end and not damage anything along the way. As it turned out Karla had been having some foot issues and was way behind in her training also which as sorry as I was that she was not in shape at least now we could still try and run together.

  We arrived at the start in plenty of time on a morning that turned out to be much warmer than we had hoped for and with the 9am start it was already in the upper 60's. The three of us lined up together. Margo was hoping to run well and if things went well break 4 hours. Karla and I were looking more at 5 hours plus so we wished her well and didn't even try to stay with her as the gun sounded .

 Ok, back up a little. Verona like most of Italy has a very long and ancient history and the race started in the shadow of the 2nd largest and best preserved Roman coliseum in the country, just one of the many sights along the way.

 Now back to the start. Since we were both out of shape we came up with a plan to run/walk from the beginning, something we really don't like to do in marathons but a neccesity in this case. With the course marked in kilometers we decided to run to each marker and then walk for one minute and then run to the next kilometer and repeat as long as we could.

  Did I mention I was dehydrated? Yes, being a tourist I really wasn't keeping up with my normal hydration in the days leading up to the race and like a dummy I didn't even think to take a water bottle with me on the drive over and while waiting for the race to begin. This would play a part in the final outcome.

 Back to the race  !

 Ok, we started running through the city on an out and back spur to one of the old doors to the city, a structure built during the middle ages as part of the walls surrounding and protecting  the city.    It took a few minutes to get warmed up but we made it to the 1st kilo marker and sticking to the plan begin to walk. It was still a bit crowded and we tried to stay out of the way and soon enough it was time to run again. We ran back to the coliseum where we could see Frank and Tony taking pictures and then the course turned away from the square. A bit of cobblestones now for the next couple of miles as we ran by the Castelvecchio.   We ran over the Victory Bridge where just before as we were kidding about watching our step, Karla nearly went down when she stubbed a toe on a cobblestone ! Glad she stayed up !

 We turned behind the castle and it got a bit confusing. It looked like runners were going over the fortress bridge and into the castle but when we got there we figured out it was just the 10k runners and we were suppose to continue straight. We hoped we were right ! Apparent;y some people did get confused because over the course of the day we saw at least 20 people going in the wrong direction, some walking and some running with bibs from all 3 races.

 We got to the first water stop at about 5k and being thirsty already we were disappointed to see they we not prepared for us ! We decided to keep going and hoped things were ready at the next one. We were already very warm and working up a sweat. The next 5 miles or so were alongside the the river Adige.  Things were going well, we both felt pretty good, my hamstring was holding up well and our pace was better than expected even with the walk breaks.

  The kilometers were pasing by and we were having a wonderful time as always when we run together. No better way to share the experience than with your  #1 long time running partner. This was our 14th marathon together since the time I paced her in her first back in 2005 at Myrtle Beach ! Some nice views of the river and outskirts of town along this section. It was mostly a gradual downhill along the river and I was already thinking that meant at some point we were going to have some up hill. Nothing steep but  more like a 1 to 2 % grade.

    Yes, the next water stops were well prepared with lots of volunteers and good size cups. Around mile 8 my hamstring begin to remind me it was not yet completely healed but not hurting enough to cause much concern. The run/walk strategy was helping with that. Soon we made a right turn away from the river and soon found ourselves running along the vineyards.  After about a mile we made another right turn heading back to the city with gorgeoous views of  Vineyards and Villa's  of which the pictures I took do not do justice.

   We were both feeling great and way ahead of the pace we had expected. We crossed over the river and the course we had run earlier as we headed back to the center of the city and could then tell that the course was mainly a double figure 8 with a couple of out and back spurs at the start and finish. Before we ever got to the split for the half and full marathons we were passed by the lead Kenyan at what for him was the 37 k mark. I estimated that at the pace he was running that his finish time would be upper 2:13. lower 2:14    and I was right. There was no one with 2 miles of him !!

 We hit the split and headed back out for our 2nd trip around the course. We had noticed that there were no port a potties on the course and both of us needed to take a pee break so we were paying close attention to find a spot. Nothing for quite awhile so we moved on. The hamstring was still doing ok. Every now and then it would scare me for a minute or two but then the pain would go away again. The run walk pattern was still working and we passed the half mararthon in about 2:20, a good 10 minutes faster than we had expected. Our pace while running  was still decent and consistent and I was now thinking if things continued to go well we could finished in 4:45 to 4:50 instead of the 5:30 ish we had feared we would do.

 Finally around mile 16 we found a patch of woods. We had to climb up a short steep embankment to get up to it and after finishing our business we ran for  a couple of hundred yards on a single track trail back down to the road.

 Soon we were making the right turn again away from the river. I had noticed the first time around that we didn't see some of the kilometer markers for the marathon and I was thinking maybe they had to add some distance to make up for the 1st loop not going all the way back to the start. It was Karla that soon noticed that we were going up a long fairly steep hill that we didn't on the previous loop. We were getting tired so we decided to walk  it.

  Once we topped out  it was a turn back toward town but this time on a long gradual downhill with breath taking views of the surrounding countryside. We took advantage of this and ran all the way to the bottom instead of walking at the next kilometer mark. I was getting tired though and it was right after that the wheels started coming off around the 20  mile mark.  I told Karla  that we should cut back to 2 minutes of running and 30 seconds of walking now but I was soon struggling to do that so we walked for a full minute.

  The kilometers were slowly clicking off and if we could hold that pace we still had a shot at about 4:50. Karla was definitely feeling better than  I was and at one point I said  in my pitiful exhausted voice, "sweetie I need you back back off the pace just a little". At this point I just wanted to hang on and get it over but with about 4 miles to go  both calves and my right hamstring begin to feel like cramping before I could finish the 2 minute run portions and now was doing as much walking as we were running. Things were getting pretty miserable for me and I was feeling about as bad as I ever have in a marathon. I really appeciated Karla staying with me. She could have easily pulled ahead  but she wouldn't leave me.

 With 2 miles to go my legs were a mess and I saw a bench so I asked her to stop and let me stretch for a minute. That just made it worse so we shuffled on ahead. Soon we were back on the cobblestones and I was worried about falling now. I could barely run 30 seconds at a time now without wheezing, gasping and cramping. I knew it would probably be bad but not like this.
  What a relief it was to finally cross that finish line. All I wanted was a place to lay down and die. Many of Margo's friends and family were there to celebrate her 100th but I was in no condition to celebrate or be socialable.

 But we got it done. Margo had a great race finishing in 3:58. Karla and I were 5:06 but she could have probably gotten in around 4:50. We have been through some tough ones  together over the years and it was far from our slowest at least and considering how under trained we were I guess we didn't do too bad afterall.

 A very good race with a nice course which I would recommend to any of my friends looking for an international marathon.

 Here is a link to  the few pictures I took in the race

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