First things first, this was not my first marathon neither will it be my last but it was my first abroad. This can cause problems but gives you a greater chance to explore. So why Venice? In short, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it has a reputation of being a top marathon for overseas runners. Being more overseas friendly was key considering I do not speak a word of any other language other than Geordie and broken queens English.
With getting there on the Thursday, it gave Jo and I a chance to get the tourist bit out of the way first. Best to this before or after the run because trust me, you miss some of Venice’s best bits on the marathon route. Flying is the best way, the public transport from Marco Polo airport is first class and puts the UK to shame. A word to the wise, purchase a rolling Venice 2 or 3 day pass for the transport network, ACTV. Saves you money and you can use the boats and buses at will. Easy for the post-race get back to the hotel trip.
Then you arrive at a question. Where to stay? Either Mestre or Venice itself. Why is this important? For a few reasons. Firstly, on race day, there is a bus service which takes you to the start area and the fact this is point to point race. The buses run from Mestre station. You finish right in the centre of Venice. So do you plump for the easy morning start or the easy post-race digs? I would recommend the first option. Furthermore, as with any big city marathon, there is an expo. Basically an excuse to sell you races and sell you tat. More importantly though, to get your kit bag, number and chip. This is based in a park close to Mestre town centre. It is easily accessible from either Mestre or Venice. The transport links are excellent. To summarise, on reflection, Mestre was by far the better choice (which we went for). There was no mad queues on race day taking the stress out of it. It would have been a mega early start if you travelled from Venice. No lugging heavy cases round the tight streets of Venice in the forlorn hope that you find your hotel. Was laughable seeing some tourists trying to do it. Finally, actually getting back from Venice was reasonably easy. Took longer but not that long. Just increased traffic that’s all.
So to the morning of the race. After an early coffee, we walked the short distance to the buses waiting outside the Mestre Railway Station. It’s not that long on the bus, about 20 mins. Once you get there, there is limited facilities. Rap up warm and pack everything you are going to need pre-race as well as post-race. The back drop is an old country estate about 20k outside Mestre.
After an over enthusiastic Italian MC, and the Italian national anthem being played we were off. The handy thing about this race is that there were plenty of pacers. 3 per goal time. They are nuts!!!!. The first 10k you pass through small villages and totally pan flat. Holland has steeper slopes. Be careful and learn from my mistake. The pacers go out hard and for a good reason. The last 12k kills you. All to get some time in the bank.
Once you pass the villages you come into the most picturesque part of the run. About 5 mile of industrial estates, topped off by a chemical plant. Pass this, and you are now entering Mestre and half way. At this point I knew sub 3 wasn’t on. Fuel was low and the energy drink the run provides was not doing the trick. Hang in there and enjoy it approach was now adopted.
On the entry to Mestre there are long never ending roads until you reach the town centre where it gets a little twisty. The support in this area is something to be experienced. Blows the hell out of London in that regard. The Italians embrace the run with complete vigour. There was even a dodgy looking fella on the mic in the town square which was a complete looky likey from happy days. Yes I am old enough to know what that is.
On exiting Mestre via the underpass beneath the railway station you encounter the first hill. Which as a coincidence, was when it became less about time more about survival for me. The engine and tank was drained and the reserves were on empty. Well I say hill, the underpass on chilly road is steeper. That’s about it for gradients.
As clearly stolen from an excellent blog about the race by Tony Carter (TBH fame and yes rivalries aside, this was a real help on race day), you enter the ‘parkrun’ section. Same length, with a bit of an uphill stretch but nothing to raise any skirts about. By this point, the wheels had come off and the progress was tough. Time to zip up the man suit and get it over and done with.
Thus arrives the hardest bit of the run, the bridge of pain, torture and hell. This bridge is 2.5 miles long and brings you to the last 10k of the run. It is never ending. Just ask anyone who has done it. Run /walk strategy was adopted. Had nothing left. You can see Venice in the distance like a mirage in the desert. Not helped by the passing cars and trains on the other parts of the bridge. At least its flat.
Once that is done you have finally reach Venice. The home stretch and 5k to go. Crowds are fantastic here. They even erect a pontoon bridge for the runners and just for the runners. It’s only there on race day. Can’t remember much of this bit. A bit of a blur. More that I would like to completely forget about it. Saying that, the very last bit around St Marks Squares will stay with me for a very long time. Definitely one off the bucket list and must do. The noise and surroundings definitely make it. Now only 5 or so bridges to get over and its done. Oh by this point, I was done too. Legs and engine done in but least it was over. The feeling on the line was more relief mixed with dejection. It was weird to feel that way at the end of the marathon but that’s the way I felt. Almost failure. After months of training not to achieve my goal time is pretty soul destroying. The finishing area staff were great and could not be more helpful. I was in a bad way. Threw up twice. A word to the wise, use the other water bus stations rather than the one at the finish area. You get home quicker with less queues. After a cold beer and rest. The tea went down a treat. Italian of cause. When in Venice……
On reflection, marathons can be like that. You prepare for everything and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Things to look into are my fuelling for the race. Never get that drained when I do long runs in the UK. Don’t even take water and I am fine. Old school. Will have to find one of those things that is the devils work and try them to find which one works for me. Energy gels!!!! Usually upset my stomach but will have to try. On the race as a whole, would definitely recommend it. Organisation is first class. Great course and the locals coupled with the surroundings make this run a must do for any marathon runner. Would I do it again…..never say never!!!! Next stop Paris and hopefully I can dispel the demons.