But this is Rome!! Before I retired, back when I was traveling to Italy for business, my Italian business colleagues knew that I ran marathons and would ask me why I didn't do the Rome Marathon on one of my visits. I had a million excuses why not, but none of them were really valid back then. Secretly, though, I always thought, "Some day I will do Rome." It was on my super-secret pie-in-the-sky bucket list as opposed to my realistic bucket list. I held little hope that I'd ever actually do it, especially once I'd retired, was no longer traveling to Italy for business, and was no longer running the full marathon distance. And let's not forget that I was getting older, too.
Queue the Twilight Zone music here:
Last Spring a gal I'd met through our running club mentioned that she'd like to do this race but didn't want to go to Rome alone. I dusted off that super-secret bucket list and took a hard look at it. Could I do it? Probably. But I'd want to do at least one marathon in the interim to make sure. So I agreed to do it with her, and we made our travel plans and got ourselves registered for the race. I felt that if I had to renege on the race for some reason, I would still have a great time in Rome. I suggested the hotel, since I'd been there before, and we each booked our rooms. The first part of the puzzle fell into place.
Now I had nine months to get mentally and physically prepared to do this. This entailed finding a full marathon close to home with a generous time limit. Easy to do, since winter is our race season in Texas. Then looking at it a little more closely I realized I could do another full marathon a week later and qualify for Marathon Maniacs - sort of an added bonus. I had half marathons scheduled for November and December and knew that I could add mileage to the back ends of these races as part of my training. So that part of the puzzle was solved, as well.
All I needed was to psyche myself up mentally to do this.
Now here I am in Rome and today is that day....the day that I'll fulfill that secret bucket list dream of doing Rome Marathon!
It was easy to wake up and start getting ready. The race started at 7:35 AM for the wheelchair participants, and I estimated it would be close to 8 AM by the time my corral crossed the start line. I didn't leave the hotel until 7:30. It was a long but scenic walk to get down to the Arch of Constantine the back way in order to enter the corral area. I got there in plenty of time, even found a bank of porta-potties with no lines, so that little bit of "nervous energy" business was taken care of.
|Mythical tower of Babel|
Then our corral was released across the start line and off we went! The route took us up to Piazza Venetia and then around the front side of the Vittorio Emanuelle II monument to Via Teatro di Marcello and toward the Circus Maximus. It was along here that an Italian woman close to my age caught up with me. We stayed together from that point on. It was nice having the company, even though she barely spoke English and I don't speak Italian. But I learned that she was from Milan and that this was her first marathon.
We were way back in the pack and she was worried that we wouldn't finish before the cut-off time. I reassured her that we were good with our time and pace. As we continued on, we began to pass slower participants which I think eased her mind somewhat. At one point we caught up with a couple of British guys and we all stayed together for the next few miles. We added another Italian woman to our little group and we all found it moralizing and encouraging to be together.
The marathon route showcased many historic and important sites throughout the city. At mile 2 we went right past the Pyramid of Cestius, built sometime around 18-12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius. Near mile 4 we ran past the beautiful Basilica San Paolo di Fuori le mura which is one of the four major Papal basilicas in Rome. It was built by Roman Emperor Constantine over the burial place of Saint Paul.
At mile 5 we crossed over the Tiber River the first of several times. We crossed back over the river at mile 6.5. We ran the next few miles along the beautiful tree-lined Tiber and then ran by the historic Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island), an island in the middle of the river on which numerous temples have been built over the centuries and then a hospital in the 1500's which still functions as such today. On one of my business trips to Rome I made a sales call with our Roman distributor on this hospital.
|Running north and west past Isola Tiberinal at mile 8. Data from my Garmin GPS watch|
It was somewhere along here that my Italian running mate's family were standing, cameras ready, to cheer her on. She briefly introduced me to her husband, her sister and I don't remember who all else, but that was fun, and I felt privileged to be a part of her big milestone.
|The route as it ran past the Vatican and St. Peter's. Data from my Garmin GPS watch|
We continued along the east bank of the river until mile 10, then ran across the Ponte Cavour, ran behind Castel San Angelo, and then entered the Vatican City area just briefly as we ran past the northeast corner of Vatican Square, Piazza San Pietro at mile 11. For a brief period before crossing that bridge, we could see the runners who were well ahead of us running along the parallel street in the other direction. At the time, I didn't have any sense of how far ahead of us they were, but now looking at the map, I can see that these were the very fleetest of the field, running through mile 23 and very close to the finish line.
The next few miles all looked the same, as we zig-zagged through tree-shaded mixed business/urban residential areas with their elegant town homes and shops and restaurants. Our little group began to come up upon water stations that were closed down and street sweepers that were kicking up dust and debris into our faces. At a couple of these stations we had to scrounge to find unopened bottles of water and sport drink. No more volunteers handing out cups. At this point, once we found unopened full bottles, we held onto them.
|Somewhere along the route.|
At mile 16 we crossed the Tiber River one last time and continued north along the east bank. It was here that our little group began to fall apart, as the others were starting to slow down and fall off the back. I pulled away and soon caught up with the 7:30 pace group, which is the last and slowest pace group and would signal the cut-off time at the finish line. This was disheartening because it explained a lot of things, including why the water stations up to that point were shutting down.
Where was this pace group in the start corrals?? My Italian race mate asked me that same question in the early miles. Neither of us had seen the pacer in the corral even though both of us had hoped to attach ourselves to either the 7:00 or 7:30 pacers at the start. In the U.S., the slowest pace group always positions itself at the very back of the corrals so that they're not in the way of the faster runners.
I began to realize that the race time limit for this Rome race was set to begin as soon as the first runners in the last corral passed the start line, and not as soon as the last runner passed the start line which is how it's determined in U.S. races. So, based on the fact that it took me 16 miles to catch up with this pace group, they apparently were positioned at the very front of the corral up with the faster runners at the start line. Lesson learned. I was just thankful that I'd caught up with and passed them, because this meant that future water stations along the course would still be open and that I would finish well ahead of the course cut off time. I actually finished a full half hour ahead of this pace group.
|The route as it took us up the hill to Villa Glori at mile 18. Data from my Garmin GPS watch|
I admit that my step became lighter and livelier once I passed this pacer. At mile 17 the course began a long uphill toward Villa Glori, which is a park sitting up high and overlooking the Tiber River. I began to pass others who were struggling up this hill. The course then started a downhill descent toward the river and followed it going south, past the Mausoleum of Augustus and toward Piazza Navona.
|Running through Piazza Navona. Data from my Garmin GPS watch|
The tourist crowds were growing more dense as I neared this piazza at mile 23. They were confined to the sidewalks by barricades but the congestion was pushing many pedestrians out onto the race route, which made it interesting. It was fun to run along the western side of this piazza after having visited here as a tourist just a couple of days earlier. Many of the tourists were standing along the barricades and cheering, calling out our names as they read them on our bibs and cheering, "Brava" as I passed by.
Once through the piazza, the course took me down to Corso Vittorio Emanelle and east, past Piazza Venetia and the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument where I turned left up Via Del Corso to Piazza del Popolo. Along this street the crowds of tourists were massive, with many of them totally ignoring the barricades along the sides and strolling along the middle of the street or leisurely crossing the street in front of us. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the marathon was still underway. But the continued cheering by some of the crowd more than made up for this. Many tourists did indeed realize that we were still underway in the marathon, knew we had just covered 24 miles and needed that energy.
|Running through Piazza del Popolo. Data from my Garmin GPS watch|
As I made the giant loop around the monument in the Piazza del Popolo, I knew that I was nearly finished. Just little more than one more mile to go. I was no longer passing other participants at this point, but instead was holding my own within a small, loosely spaced group of men. My Italian friend and the two Brit guys were well behind me by this point but I was confident that they'd finish with or ahead of the last pacer and the cut-off time which, in checking the results afterward, they did.
I fought my way through the crowds on the street as I headed back toward Piazza Espagna. The "method to their madness" of sending us through these high-tourist-density areas in the last three miles was actually brilliant. Their energy and the cheering, hearing my name being shouted out and all the "bravas" really kept me going through these last three difficult miles.
|Race route through Piazza Spagna and under the Quirinale gardens.|
Data from my Garmin GPS watch
More cheering tourists, more "bravas" and then I was on the home stretch. Down Via dei Due Marcelli, through a tunnel that passed under Giardini del Quirinale, then right onto Via Nazionale. From here I could just begin to hear the amplified announcer and music at the finish line. I was just 1/2 mile away. Just a couple of zig zags down the cobbled hill and then the Piazza Venetia opened up in front of me and I could see the finish line.
I'm a finisher!
|Finisher medal at the finish line|
My finisher medal:
The race route was fabulous! It took us past and through so many significant landmarks in Rome.
|Marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch|
I walked down to the end of the barricaded corral area and exited out at the foot of the Coliseum. Here I sat down on the low wall that ran alongside the sidewalk and just soaked in the fact that I'd done it. I'd finished the Rome Marathon! And here I am, in Rome, sitting at the base of the Coliseum, next to the Palatine, adjacent to the Arch of Constantine, with a Rome Marathon finisher medal around my neck.
That fellow runner who originally convinced me to do this ended up going her own way, but it didn't matter...this was a personal "journey" anyway, and I relished every moment of it.
I barely remember the walk back to the hotel. I remember letting the crowds push me along the barricaded sidewalk as we squeezed alongside the finish line area. I remember looking out across the finish line itself, seeing the men dressed as Roman gladiators, lined up to greet the last remaining finishers. I remember little else beyond that until I was actually walking up those spiral marble steps at the hotel, getting my room key from the reception desk, and then crawling onto the bed in my room.
Knowing how I'd feel once I made it back to the room, I made sure that I had a bottle of recovery sport drink, some fresh fruit and protein bars ready and waiting for me. As I lay on the bed nibbling and sipping and posting my medal photo on Facebook, I reflected on what brought me here to do this race and was feeling deeply grateful for the opportunity to experience this event.
Eventually, I moved toward the bathroom to take a shower. Tired but hungry, I knew I needed to get out and find some dinner before I crashed for the night. The hotel restaurant was my best bet, right next door, and I knew I could find a good choice on the menu. So a nice glass of red wine, a delicious dinner of millefoglie di Chianina (grilled and sliced Chianina beef cooked perfectly rare over thinly sliced grilled potatoes), and an espresso with a bite-sized dessert tray to finish it off. Oh, my! did this hit the spot! I debated whether or not to get that second glass of wine.
Rome Marathon is done and in the books!
Now to just relax, recover, eat great food, drink great Italian wines, and do some low-key, easy pace Roman discovery the next few days.