Some people have superstitions and start each race day tying their left shoe lace first.
Some people have a routine and eat the same food with exactly the right amount of time left before a race.
I, too, now have a lucky charm. While it may become a superstition if it happens again, it’ll probably be tough to make it a routine: getting peed on by an Italian pre-race. Andrea, bib number 2035, f*ck off, f*ck off and … piss off. Literally.
We had about 5 minutes to go ‘til the start of the Florence Marathon and I was trying to do one of those “focus, concentrate and visualise the race” type exercises they tell you to do before races. The persistent rain wasn’t helping and my mind was drifting off until, wait, why has it started raining warm rain on my leg?! WHAT!! I turned around to confront my new nemesis, whose best line of defence was “it wasn’t me”. Sure. I guess it was just an unusual cloud formation. Or many someone doing some limbo dancing behind him and turbo-jetting their piss through his legs onto me. I mean … come on!!
Anyway. The Florence Marathon. Urological incidents aside, it’s pretty good actually! On the plus side, it’s perfect for fast times: it’s by far the flattest course I’ve ever done (and I’ve raced a fair bit in the Netherlands…). On the down side, it’s the squiggliest course ever – did they just give a crayon to a toddler and let them loose on the map? –it also has quite a few kilometres on uneven cobbles. Scenery-wise, it feels like you could be running through a museum at times, even if, like any marathon, you end up slightly in the suburbs at times.
The organisation was pretty good overall with an absurd number of volunteers with flags and whistle at each corner (there were a lot: trust me!). There was an adequate number of toilets though, bizarrely, not a single one in the 2h30-3h00 pen.
Maybe this lack of toilets was a reason for my golden shower.
Once again: Andrea. Screw. You. There’s nothing quite like starting a race with a shoe waterlogged with piss.
Rewinding the clock a little, my race prep had been mixed as 60-70hour work-weeks meant I had had to prioritise quality of training sessions over quantity. I never went over 70 “good” kilometres per week, whereas standard orthodoxy suggests that good marathoners should do at least 100km and very good ones significantly more. Short of giving up sleep, that wasn’t going to happen. Plus, I historically break if I do that much.
Instead, my sessions were pretty tough. I think my hardest sequence involved 5,000m @3’30”/km on Saturday, 35km @4’00”/km on Sunday, 10x1000m @3’20”/km on Monday, 1,600m + 15x400m @3’15”/km on Wednesday, 40km @4’05”/km on Saturday, 2x5000m @3’30”/km on Sunday. Ouch.
However, even though the volume of my training hadn’t been great, my previous 3 months had been slightly silly with PBs coming in over 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m, 10,000m and Half-Marathon. So who knew. I didn’t have a strict target but “gold star” would be sub 2h45 (3’55”/km), “silver” sub 2h50 and “bronze” sub 2h52.49 (current PB). Anything slower than that would, frankly, be disappointing.
Another two excuses I’d drafted up for underperforming were that a) I’d been to 5 countries in 4 days in the week before the race. Zzzz. And b) the apartment we rented had some sort of bed bugs (yuck…) which woke me up scratching like hell both nights until I found a home-made solution. See photo. Sexy.
So, with all this said and once Andrea’s pee had dribbled off my calf, we were good to go. Weather-wise, well, it was a terrible weekend to visit but a good combination to run in: about 10°C, pretty much no wind and rain for 100.00% of the race.
The gun went, and we left the Duomo (the massive and slightly over the top – on the outside: it’s quite dull inside – cathedral in the centre of Florence) where the race started behind us.
I was very near the front and there was – unusually – very little pushing around. We all settled pretty quickly into a rhythm. Mine was slightly above Gold target pace for the first 5km at around 3’50” – nothing TOO stupidly fast mind you and it felt reasonably comfortable.
The cobbled streets were a bit of pain, no less because I think some of those cobbles have been there for a few centuries and, warn down by generations of stilettos, they created quite a lot of large puddles. At least it’d cleanse my right shoe a bit I guess.
The squiggly course at least meant that Pippa could see me a few times and wouldn’t get the chance to hide from the rain in a café all morning. She was very happy about this. The first time I saw her was after 4km, just before we briefly dipped down an underpass (which made me register my fastest km of the day at 3’35” though I suspect the GPS was a bit off) and back out. I think this was the 3rd hardest climb of the day: for all the downsides of the cobbles and the twisting and turning, the course really was abnormally flat (and therefore my kinda course!).
Italians were shouting Vai, Vai, Vai (go, go go) which was nice but, at speed, it sounded more often than not like Die, Die, Die which seemed incredibly harsh.
After that, we headed out to the barely 3km long and 300m wide Park delle Cascine where, somehow, we still managed to run over 10km in (squiggles and all that). This was the scene where legends were written a day earlier when Pippa bagged her first full-out parkrun (ladies) win and smashed her 5k PB in 21.50. The course, for anyone chasing parkrun PBs, is outright the fastest parkrun we’ve ever seen: 2 loops of a flat rectangle with soft corners on tarmac. Perfect!
One odd thing about the park and a lot of the town mind you were the lamp posts.
Maybe it’s just me and Pippa (and I highlight this again: and Pippa) who thought it but they really looked like someone squatting and shoving something up their arse.
Back to the race.
The rain was getting worse and I was slowing a little but that just meant I was nearer my target 3’55” now. If I could keep that going ‘til at least the half way mark, then I’d be on course for a good time.
We hopped over the river Arno a few times though I think it was exclusively designed to ensure we got to cross back over the Ponte Vecchio, the iconic bridge with jewellery shops/houses across it. Pippa was there to wave me on, once she’d fought her way past pushy locals! One last hop across the river and I crossed the halfway line in 1h22’06” which was pretty much bang on target with a few seconds to spare.
And then, well, it all just got a lot harder suddenly. I’m not sure why the legs started say “oi” at this point but they sure did. In the first half, I didn’t once go slower than 3’57”. In the second half, I didn’t once go faster!
Slowly but surely, every few kilometres added a few more seconds to the pace counter. By the time we were at the furthest point from the finish line after 30km, I was down to almost 4’10”/km. At this point, a first in a marathon for me, they take you round for a lap of an athletics track. Unusual (mid-race), but cobble-free at least!
The course was pretty much spectator-free by now, but there were still the usual hoards of volunteers. Another plus was that they had the kilometre markers every kilometre (some races “forget” them) and they even had the 5, 10, 15 and 20mile markers which most locals probably had no idea what they referred to! They had water every 5k as well as energy drinks and … warm tea! I stuck to water but it was a nice touch, especially for slower runners.
Half-way between every water station, they had sponge stations. So far, so normal. However, and this may be an Italian thing, but in every race I’ve ever done, sponges are wet and meant to cool you down. Here: bone dry. All of them. Maybe they’d decided the runners were drenched enough as it was? It was very odd.
By the time we reached 35km, I was quite up for stopping. My legs were stiffening with every additional step but I could not chicken out. Not when I was so close to a PB. Accept the pain, work with it, blablabla. Easier thought than done.
On the plus side, this is when “museum marathon” really kicked in: Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Giotto Tower etc etc If we hadn’t been staring at our feet to stay upright because of the cobbles, it would have been stunning! There were hundreds of statues too, some slightly more graphic than others (see earlier photo).
In a cruel twist, the race course takes you within 50 metres of the finish line after 37km before going back off for another 5km.
Pippa had weaselled her way to the front of possibly the best spot in town and the scrunchiness of my face at that point is a reasonably reflection of how I was feeling.
My pace was down to 4’25”/km and I was not enjoying it anymore! My gold target was long gone and my silver was slipping through my fingers but damn it if I wasn’t going to at least get a PB!
Although I dropped out of the Top 100 for the first time at that point, I just about kept going. I would have liked to have done a sprint finish but not a chance, my legs were shot. In the end, I crossed the line in 2h50’56”.
It was a Peed-B (get it? Haha) by 2 minutes which was amazing based on my limited training but it was also a little anticlimactic considering the last hour or so.
Anyway, as I could barely hobble, I really knew I’d push myself to the limit and this was my max.
That said, maybe next time I should get someone to piss on both my legs before the race and give me the full dose of lucky charms.
Andreeeaaaaa? What do you think? Dick.
Time: 2h50’54″ (130th/7,604)