The Florence Marathon is on the cusp of becoming really large, so I am glad I did it while the field is still in the range of 10,000 runners (when I first started considering travelling there from Amsterdam in 2002, the field was only around 4000). I have a few minor complaints, but for the most part it was a fantastic venue with fabulously supportive crowds and I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to make a trip to Italy whether or not you plan to actually run.
The weather all week was beautiful autumn stuff with mostly sunny days and temperatures around 7-10 celcius (mid to upper 40’s F). So it was an especially rude surprise on race day that while the rain fell in buckets (and sometimes shovelfulls of sleet) the temperature hovered around 2-4 C (35-39 F). I enjoyed a nice stroll the mile and a half to the finish and found that the bag drop was another half mile away (and noted that I would have to walk this after the race, then backtrack to meet Jamie at the Duomo and then to the hotel to shower before heading out again for the Uffizi…shit).
Having dropped my bag of dry clothing I slid on the green garbage bag/rain gear from the starter’s packet and joined the queue–or as much of a queue as Latin’s are capable of–for the shuttle bus to the start, only to find that there was room for roughly 100 more runners and the cluster of us amounted to roughly 5000…and thus we were compelled to death march up the side of a steep hill to the starting pens at Piazzale Michaelangelo (another mile or so away).
The race started just after 9:15 and we sped down Viale Michaelangelo between tall spruces and near some palatial homes, across the Arno at the Ponte San Niccolo (Merry Christmas), and on around the north side of town past the English Cemetary, through the Viali, beside the Fortezz di Basso, and into the Parco di Cascine (part of which spanned roads named for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln).
At this point we were only about 11 km into it and I started to lag behind my 3:30 pace group. I have had a case of plantar fascitis before and could feel a similar pain so I adjusted my pace, stride, and expectations and decided I would just try to enjoy the beautiful scenery despite not so beautiful weather. This turned out to be a very wise choice indeed.
We crossed the Arno again, this time at the Ponte alla Vittoria and started heading east from the Piazza Taddeo Gaddi (where a student protest would be held a couple of days afterward, almost forcing us to miss our flight home). After awhile along the Arno we turned south into the Oltrarno and were treated to narrow streets filled with cheering folks…a bit too enthusiastic in some cases but everyone made it through alright it seemed. At the Porta Romana, a gate in the old city walls, we headed back north past the Palazzo Pitti and then continued our eastward tour of the Arno, crossing again at Ponte San Niccolo (and continuing east this time).
Along there I crossed the halfway point at 1:46:30, chip time; this was still fine for a 3:30 finish but I had already given that one up 5 miles earlier. In fact, I slowed severely to relish in the pain that was now in both feet and a sciatic nerve twinge crawling down my hip. I walked for a couple of minutes to eat an orange and a banana packed in my backpack for the run and as I returned the pack to its place I noticed that both nipples were already bleeding worse than on most 20 mile treks…yep, this was going just perfectly.
This was a bleak section of the run, as well. Few spectators were out in the shitty weather, the neighbourhoods were a bit modern and indistinguishable from any other european suburb, and we spent an awful long time (at my slow pace, anyway) along the railroad tracks. The loops through the sports complex were fairly welcome, though. Here there are a large stadium for track and field events, a baseball stadium (there are professional leagues in Italy), a number of soccer and rugby pitches, and Stadio Artemio Franchi for professional footie…and more graffiti than you could ever hope to see. Also, this marked our turn back into the historical center of town and the last 8 miles of this torture.
In this section, loads of runners were on the side of the street desperately trying to stretch out overly tight muscles and tendons. We’ve all been there…starting out too fast or without sufficient training or to little proper nutrition the week prior or not respecting the weather in these sorts of conditions. I genuinely felt sorry for them although not so much that I was going to stop and lend assistance. Everyone I passed from 21 km (and at least until I got back onto a proper pace at 39 km) had the stink of death on them; I doubt any of them finished.
As we approached the Piazza dell’ Annunziata I could hear this wailing Southern Gospel music and wondered who the heck was playing this out of these apartments so close together; not that I’m a fan of most things to do with god-botherers, but this really rocked and was very loud. After about a half kilometer, we were at the Piazza and the electric band came into view, doing Jesu on the one. Awesome, but on we went (although you could still hear them as we approached the Duomo).
We travelled west again, to make distance, then returned along the Arno on Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci (a lot of American references I spotted are already forgotten, but here is another one). Here is where I was passed by the 4:00 pace group and spent the last of my energy chasing them. We crossed the Ponte a Santa Trinita specifically so that the path could travel across the Ponte Vecchio which was all alight with Christmas lights and jewelers’ shops. Another pass of the Duomo and a quick loop east, now sprinting to catch the 4 hour group, and there was the finish…and I chip timed at 4:00:39 (shit).
So there it is. Every marathon I have participated in since the 30 Pack Marathon has been bitterly cold and rainy (or sleeting or snowing or some combination of the foul weather pallette). Looking ahead, I have the Grizzly (20-ish miles through mud and obstacles) in March and the London Marathon (which has had lovely weather the last few years) in April, and another 10K in London in May. After that there is sweet fuck all on my race plate, so if you know a good someplace warm and dry, let me know (although the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromso, Norway is singing to me).