Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Race Report: Florence Marathon

Alternate title: Follow the thin green line

Alternate alternate title: It's a long one, folks, so get some coffee first

Florence and the Arno river

I didn’t act the way I thought I would. I thought I would be emotional, weepy, spastic. Although I was still rather anal about laying out my clothes and such the night before, I was fine. It didn’t feel like I would be running a marathon the next day. The lack of fear and nerves allowed me to fall asleep at 9 pm, getting in a good solid nine hours of sleep for race day.

On race morning, as I was suiting up and packing my bag, Z presented me with my birthday present. Custom made t-shirts! On the front of mine, it said “It’s my birthday and my sister loves me” and on the back it had my name and the number 30. She said she wanted to have it read “and my sister made me wear this shirt” but she ran out of iron-on letters. Her shirt said “Happy Birthday [insert my real name]”. She knows how to embarrass me, I’ll give her that.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, with runners clustered around the other tables. Then we headed out to the bag drop-off on the other side of the river. Z and I marvelled at the amount of exposed skin and public self-fondling going on in the changing tents, particularly since the ‘performers’ were all men. It was just plain fascinating. [Editor’s note: There was a 6:1 ratio of men to women at the marathon. It was a total sausage fest.]

As we were walking towards the buses, it started to sprinkle, so I donned my complementary salmon pink rain poncho from the race organizers (tres chic and no, I’m not showing you a picture of it). Z took some photos of us and then I was charging off into a bus to be taken to the start at Piazza Michelangelo. Z filmed me as I was crammed like a sardine in the bus with other runners, almost all men. Her camera attracted a lot of attention which we both found amusing.

view of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

A short drive in the B.O.-filled bus (seriously, gentlemen, deodorant is a necessity not an option) and then we were at the piazza where the skies continued to spit down on us. I immediately got into the port-a-loo queue, stupidly in the women-only area. It took freaking forever. After that, I hopped on over to the apparently gender neutral port-a-loos and was pleasantly surprised when many of the men allowed me to cut in front of them. Chivalry is not dead after all.

By this point, it was pouring buckets. I stayed in the port-a-loo queues until the last possible second before lining up with the 5 hour pace leaders, of which there were four. The arms of my long-sleeved shirt were soaked as were my shoes. To protect my ipod, I turned it around on my arm to face my body.

Standing in a sea of drenched runners, I still wasn’t nervous. Instead, I was just freezing cold and praying the rain would stop at some point. When the crush of bodies began to move forward, I reminded myself repeatedly to run my own race and enjoy myself.

As we crossed the start line, I spotted Z immediately. I waved frantically as she simultaneously filmed me and protected her camera with an umbrella. Things were starting out well. Because the course looped back and forth across the city multiple times, Z was going to have a chance to see me at several points along the course, a fact I appreciated immensely.

The first three kilometers were downhill. I hung with the pace group and listened to their banter while fervently hoping the rain would at least slow to a trickle which it in fact started to do. People began to chuck their ponchos left and right, but I decided to keep mine on for at least a little while longer.

I know this may be difficult to believe, but I’m actually kind of a quiet person when I first get to know people. Because of that, I opted not to strike up a conversation with the people around me. Instead I just listened in on snippets of conversation and, eventually, pushed play on my ipod.

Disaster hit at the 3 km mark. I tried to turn down the volume on my ipod to no avail. Then, suddenly, it died. Holy mother of god, I thought, I’m going to have to run the next 25 miles without music. Fuuuuuuuucccckk! At this point we hit level ground and that’s when Disaster Part 2 hit me—we were going too fast.

At the race expo I snagged a free pace bracelet for a 5 hour finish. I assumed the pace leaders were going to run at an even pace, about 11:26 per mile. Yeah, you know where assuming gets you? Out of the gate too fast, that’s what. When we passed the 3 km mark, I checked the pace bracelet and realized we were going a full minute faster per mile than I had anticipated. Either they were planning on running positive splits or they were overexcited and not realizing how fast they were running. Being as they were Italian, it was probably the latter.

We hit the 4 km mark at the same pace and I knew I was on the path to burning myself out before I had even hit the 10k mark. That’s when I decided to let them go. Surprisingly, I wasn’t angry about it, though I admit I was rather frustrated. The one thing I didn’t want to do was go out too fast and that’s exactly what I’d done. But because of my surprisingly zen-like attitude that day, it was easy to let it go. This is when I noticed that there was a narrow green line on the road marking the race route. The rain had washed it out in places, especially on the cobblestone streets, but most of it was still there. It was nice to see it. It reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and, subsequently, the story I wrote on my blog this past summer. Needless to say, that put a smile on my face.

At the 5 km mark, I stripped off the poncho since the rain had slowed. It finally stopped around the 7 km mark. At km 8, my ipod resurrected itself. I think I should call it lil Jesus or iJesus now.

There weren’t a whole lot of people along the race course except for in the city center, so much of the race was rather quiet. The people we did pass though were very kind and enthusiastic, even those leaning out their windows who shouted encouragement. All throughout the race I had people look straight at me and say “forza” (strength), “brava” or “dai” (which, though unfortunately pronounced like the English word ‘die’, means “come on!”). In response, I would always smile back at them in thanks which they seemed to appreciate immensely. At one point I even high-fived two little kids. It made their day.

I passed the 10k mark still at a too-fast pace but not as much as before. The 12km mark was right next to our hotel. When I saw it, I was hoping to see Z, but she had told me that she would next see me at the Duomo, so I didn’t hold out any hope. But I should have. She was right on the sidewalk, waving frantically. I waved back, so happy to see her. She yelled encouragement and I kept on trucking.

From km 10 to 15, I actually managed to average my goal pace of 11:26, but that would be the last time I would run that fast. From 15 km on, my pace steadily decreased. I wish I’d been running with someone at this point to keep me motivated to stay on pace, but that wasn’t meant to be in this race and that was all right because I was still enjoying myself. At the 20 km refreshment stop, they were handing out chocolate crostata, little pie-like tarts. I know it’s inadvisable to eat anything new on race day, but I threw caution to the wind and grabbed one along with a cup of water and proceeded to shuffle-run the next three minutes as I chowed down. I must have been a sight. :)

Between the 22 and 23 km mark, I spotted a lone port-a-loo on the side of the road. I’d been needing to pee for a few miles by now, so this was definitely my oasis moment. I ran up to the door and ripped it open, thankful I didn’t catch anyone in medias res. I did my business and was back on the road in less than 45 seconds. Compared to the horror stories I’ve heard from some of you, I’d say the only way my experience could have been better was if I hadn’t had to stop at all.

Runners were pretty thin on the ground in the back of the pack, but I tended to see the same people again and again. I seemed to be stuck in the run-walk zone. I’d pass people as they were walking and then they would pass me again when they started to run. Surprisingly, it didn’t annoy me. I actually found it quite comforting. Well, until the race-walker passed me. That was a wee bit demoralizing. All in all, though, it felt more like one of my training runs rather than a race. Though not as motivating, it was a more comfortable feeling to have.

Some time after the halfway point, I felt a bit of an ache in my left arch. It didn’t seem to be anything serious though, so it was easy to tune out. It reminded me that I need to look into getting some more supportive insoles for my shoes though. My lead-like legs were a little more difficult to ignore, but since I’d experienced them on almost all of my long runs, it didn’t dampen my spirits any.

the Duomo

another view of the Duomo

When I passed the Duomo the first time at the 28 km mark, I missed seeing Z. This marked the last long out and back of the race. It was quite nice though since it was predominantly in wooded park land. Again, there were few spectators, but it was a very pleasant environment particularly as this was the beginning of the Marathon Walking Dead portion of the race.

I succumbed to my first walk break at km 30. Even though I had planned on walking through all the refreshment points I didn’t until this point. This is where I switched over to my Plan B—walk 1 minute and run for 10. It was a good strategy. It kept me moving and motivated while giving my legs the rest they needed.

At km 34, I got a boost from a drum band stationed along the race course. I got another unintended boost right after km 35 when I had to launch myself in front of an ambulance that was going to cut me off on the very narrow race path. No way was I going to slow down and suck exhaust fumes for the next ten minutes. I could see two racers through the windows of the ambulance, both sitting up and not apparently on the verge of death, so I looked at the driver and shook my head vehemently then skirted around the front bumper, even pushing myself up and out with my hand on the ambulance hood and then I sprinted for a good 100 meters to make sure I was clear of the vehicle. The driver probably wasn’t too happy that he had to wait for me, but whatever. He could kiss my ass.

The last five kilometers were both amazing and frustrating. As I made my way back towards the city center, only some of the course was cordoned off so I had to deal with a lot of pedestrians, tourists and locals alike, crossing my path and generally being pains in the ass. The strollers were the most annoying. Seriously, people, I know there weren’t a lot of us runners left on the course, but we were still well within the 6 hour finishing time. Keep the roads clear for us slow pokes!

Making my way along the river and back towards the Duomo, I saw a lot of runners already finished and wearing their space blankets and medals. This had the potential to be very demoralizing, but instead it was heartening. They all made a point of looking at me and clapping or shouting out encouragements which kept me running. As I passed the Duomo I saw Z again telling me I was almost there and to keep going.

When I saw the 42 km marker from afar, I ran flat out to the finish, passing three other runners along the way. In honor of all of you guys, I made sure to give my best gymnast dismount pose as I crossed the finish, a big grin on my face the whole way. I was so happy when I crossed the finish, the race announcer approached to interview me afterward. He asked me how I felt and I said I was so happy to be done.

San Croce

The finish line

I made my way down the shoot, grabbed my medal, water, food and space blanket (I know there’s an actual name for it, but I like calling it a space blanket) and met Z on the other side.

Race swag #1: Long sleeve technical shirt that says "Run Like a DeeJay'. I have no idea what this means.
[Editor's note: Blogger keeps messing with the orientation of this photo. I'll fix it later.]

Race swag #2: sweet running jacket

Z willingly hugged her stanktastic sister and helped me shuffle all the way back to the bag pick-up and then the hotel. Sadly, lied to me and told me there were bathtubs at our hotel. Not in our room there wasn’t. So no ice bath, but otherwise, I felt pretty good post-race anyway. A bit stiff all over and with heavy legs but no more so than after my 20-mile LSDs.

That night we went out for a pizza dinner in celebration. Falling asleep that night was the easiest it’s ever been. All I could think was that I was finally a marathoner. It felt fantastic.

The next day we walked around Florence a bit and then took the train back to Rome. At the end of dinner at the Nerditorium that night I was surprised when everyone started singing happy birthday and then brought out cake and prosecco. I promised my friend Canadia that I would drink champagne on my birthday since it’s my champagne birthday and prosecco was as close as they could get. I kept my promise.

This was by far my best birthday ever. I hope they only keep getting better from here on out.

To steal and modify a line from Caesar, the events of my 30th birthday can be summed up in these three Latin words:

veni, cucurri, vici
(I came, I ran, I conquered)


Brooke said...

Awesome report and (besides the rain) it sounded like a wonderful day. And how jealous am I of your marathon jacket? That is WAY better than what most marathons give now that you've done it- any new races on the calendar?

RazZDoodle said...

Flat out awesome! Now all I need to do is channel *your* zen for me. I'm already getting antsy and nervous.

Nice job!!!!!!!!

Jenn said...

Sounds like you had an amazing adventure. I sure hope that my 30th is as amazing. I have one more year.



Merry said...

I'm very proud :)

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Ms. Xenia,

Steve Jobs, here, aka, iGod. I don't know who leaked to you the fact that we have an as-yet-unreleased product, the iJesus, in beta-testing, but that information is proprietary, and I hereby insist that you cease and desist with any further discussion of this product lest I be forced to crush you like a Zune ...

Just kidding! It's really me, Glaven!

Great job on the marathon, sister! And great report! I love the pix - I gotta visit Florence one of these days. I was gonna come for the art and architecture, but, thanks to you, I now know they also have a sausage-fest! Mmmm ... sausage. I want me some of that sausage! Glaven loves him some sausage ...

What? Why are all the other commenters laughing at me?

Seriously, you are a MARATHONER now, X! w00t!! On your birthday! Could it get any better? I don't know how.

Proud at ya, kid.

tfh said...

Congratulations! Great race-- and your race report was a pleasure to read. It sounds like a fantastic 30th birthday indeed, and may the year to follow be full of achievements, surprises, and elation.

I, by the way, now have to arrange to run Florence just for that jacket. The t-shirt, though, makes me laugh in a condescendingly American kind of way. Sorry, Italians.

the other one said...

Awesome medal, awesome jacket (so happy you got some decent race swag at last), awesome runner. You did good!

Melanie said...

Yay! How exciting! Congrats and happy 30th birthday! Welcome to the blog club of marathon runners. Ok, so there's not really a club, but there are a lot of us out here running and blogging about it.

Ted said...

Dai Dai Dai... I love it. I should hear this more often here. It is a blessing that your iGod was working. Whew !!! Great post race report !!! So what's your next marathon on your list now?

Karen said...

Congrats. Awesome job.

Viv said...

OK hope you don't mind I did Airborne instead of coffee trying to fight off some crud. Glad you were able to get a great night sleep. who woulda thunk with all the nerves before ,you just pulled it all aside come game time.
I have hear the naked self consiousness is at the wayside with these over sea events. Geez, I got to run on the other side of the world. I mean you had me at fondling! so cute and thoughtful on the tee's too!
Civalry excists over seas still, I am moving. I have actually fought with a dude at a port a can.

Ah geez, Xenia on the iPod dying in addition to the giddy pace group.
HAHAHAH at not getting annoyed with the run/walk...You are stronger than me, chicke.

Way to keep the calm out there.
I am so proud of you Xenia, you just trucked along kept pusing through the aches,and followed that green line! You marathoner you!!

HAHAHA at the gymnist
dismount post, I will let you know when else that pose is appropiate on a more private email.LOL!
The pictures were beautiful what a way to celebrate your 30th!
Run like a Deejay, hahaha like spin records or sumfin?! Awesome, swag wear that jacket and medal proudly! I hope you continue to recover well.

OK sorry my comment was long...I guess I coulda just

*aron* said...

so so so awesome!!! CONGRATS again! amazing race and amazing report :) i hope i can be that calm on sunday!

MissAllycat said...

iJesus? I LOVE IT.

Sweet medal!!

And CONGRATS! You did it, and YOU? Are a total rock star!!

Marcy said...

YAY!!! CONGRATS chica!! I'm so happy for you ;D ;D ;D YOu did a fabulous job.

Now I need to go put this marathon on my potential marathon list. "Sausage fest" CHECK!! I AM THERE BABY!! Although . . .I guess I have to bring the noseplugs to fully enjoy it, eh? :P

BeachRunner said...

Congrats on a great race and an amazing experience.

MCM Mama said...

Great job and wonderful race report! Cool jacket too! Congratulations!

X-Country2 said...

Congrats! What an AMAZING race to have run. Great pics, great swag, and great that your sister could come cheer you on.

joyRuN said...

Fabulous report to go with an awesome race, marathoner!


That crostata sounded deeeellllish! Oh, & stinky sausage fest? Blech.

Ms. V. said...

Very nice report! Loving that medal!

Anonymous said...

That is one great and impressive run. Congratulations!

Lily on the Road said...


Way to go girlie, well done! Nice job on Plan B, by the way!! LOL...

European men, you gotta love them, well I do anyway! LOL....

Sounds like a GREAT way to spend your birthday and to get such great swag too!

So, So proud of you!!

Viper said...

Congrats! You finally got some good swag. Nice medal too.

Were all those men about to race? Who cares what you smell like at that point?

Nitmos said...

Cool report and, again, great job! I'm envious. I want that jacket and medal now. Way to show the ambulance who's boss. I do that at home too but all I ever get is a night in jail.

Roisin said...

Wow! I do believe that sounded like a lot of fun and what a great place to race! Congrats again...I am jealous of your swag!

Marci said...

I totally grabbed a coffee and curled up to read this report, and it didn't dissapoint, great job. What a perfect way to celebrate your birthday and to have your sister there to support you must have been awesome. You really ran a great race, very calm, and zen-like, and to run to 30K, that's great. Congratulations! (and thanks for the Florence pictures, they are amazing, super jealous).

Anonymous said...

I LOVED THIS POST!!!!! So proud of you! YAY!! Dude, nice swag. The next time I see you, you do know that I'll force you to march up and down to the Olympic theme. You know, just for my amusement.

chia said...

Wow, aside from the obvious "cool factor" of being in Florence, it sounds pretty close to my initial woes :-). Rain, iPod going iJesus, starting off a little swift and nimble :-)... but you by far rocked this race to the max!!! I'm so happy your first race was brilliant-fantastic-spifferific!!! I HAVE SHWAG ENVY!!!!

Meg said...

Congratulations! Great job! I love this report, especially the pictures and ambulance story. That jacket is very cool. That plus the mystery t-shirt totally make up for all of the race shirts you were shafted from in the UK! I'm proud of you!

P.O.M. said...

I've been so MIA.

First off - happy late bday. Fellow Sag, right???

Second - CONGRATS you fantastic marathoner, you!

We want pictures. I bet you have jazz hands in some of them. I bet you do!

Run For Life said...

Congrats!!! Sounds like it was a fantastic first marathon and a great birthday as well. Loved the report! :)

Laura said...

You're a straight female - I don't get why you're complaining about a sausage fest! :)

Aren't courses where the spectators can find you easily great??? My first was like that, and it was SO great for my directionally-challenged mom.

Wow, I would have grabbed a crostata too. Why can't any of the races I run hand out delicious treats along the way? Oh, that's right... because I would stop at the aid station and eat everything and never finish :)

Ugh, spectators on the course is obnoxious. I actually heard about that phenomenon with a lot of European marathons though... at least according to MarathonGuide.

I always call them space blankets, by the way.

Love the slogan!!! Congratulations, and happy birthday :)

Aaron Cunningham said...

A much belated congratulations on your marathon (and happy birthday)! Great race report and an amazing place for your first!

I ran my first marathon on 30 November as well. (Ignoring a few hours of time zones.)