And so to Rome! We flew out on the Friday and headed straight to the Expo to avoid the day-before madness of the Saturday. Number duly collected, race T shirt personalised, we headed back to Colosseo station purely so I could grin widely and not quite hold in the tears at the magnificence of the ancient centre of this amazing city. There were changes (apparently the forum is only SPQR these days in exchange for 12 euro) and I was banned from gelato til Sunday afternoon (when I planned to eat a bowl of it the size of my head), but it was still the same beautiful, vibrant place where I felt so at home all those years ago. I decided I couldn’t have chosen a better location for my first marathon.
On Saturday we met up with two club mates (one who was running and the other who had come to support him) for dinner and made arrangements of where to meet the next morning. My Maratona buddy had known I was running Rome for a while, since I really didn’t want to freak him out just before the race if he saw us at the start and thought we had just stalked him there or something. His one-woman cheer squad hadn’t known until Saturday dinnertime but couldn’t have been more cool about my having kept it to myself, or more helpful with last minute tips and reducing the nerves by keeping us laughing. It was fantastic to have their company the night before and for race weekend to be a bit more of an Eagles road trip than I’d thought it would be. Just another example of how brilliant being part of a running club is.
Race day went by in a blur. The small number of loos at the start compared to the amount of people running meant that you just about had time to get there, queue for a wee, put your bag in the trucks and get over to the pens. This helped with any race day nerves, because there just wasn’t time to think about it. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the pen before heading off were easily the most nerve wracking of the entire day. Random thoughts came out of nowhere. There were so many people, bin liners and bottles around on the floor. What if I fell? What if I couldn’t keep up? The pacers didn’t seem to be in the right place, but never mind that because sticking to a pacer wasn’t part of the plan anyway. It was really warm. This was going to take me nearly 5 hours…I would never make this!
But then, to the sound of loud dance music and an unseen announcer shouting ‘Rome is at your feet!’, we were off! The first few miles were exhilarating, trying not to slip on the cobbles, listening to the cheers of the crowd, getting swept up with large groups of locals who screamed for joy whenever we went through an underpass – we were at 10k before I knew it. At this point a lot of people started to walk, and despite revising my pace early on to adjust for the hot weather I was already leaving people behind which gave me a bit of a boost. The second 10k was much tougher. The time was still going quickly but I just couldn’t hit my stride.
The sight of our impromptu cheer squad at 8 miles – one of them madly waving a cowbell whilst screaming ‘Go Eagles’ at top volume – was very welcome. Then at 10.8 miles a commotion caused by locals rushing across the route distracted me, I lost my footing on the cobbles and stumbled to the ground. I was scooped up by some kind Italians and sped off out of embarrassment. Oh God, I had fallen during the marathon. And right in front of the Vatican as well! I tried to be philosophical about it. Oh well, if the Pope saw me maybe he would think I was just genuflecting. At least I hadn’t actually been in front of a Swiss Guard – although they might have been grateful for not looking like the biggest idiots in the immediate vicinity for once. I’m so used to falling when I run (or just in life generally being a clumsy bugger with virtually no depth perception) that really it wouldn’t have been me running this damn marathon if I hadn’t gone over at some point, surely? But I admit it did knock my confidence. A mile or so later I realised I definitely needed to stop and use a loo. Despite the lack of loos at the start there were an abundance of them out on the route, and I managed to find a completely queue-less one to avoid wasting too much time.
At this point I had to give myself a bit of a talking to. I wasn’t able to keep to my planned pace, I’d needed to stop to use the loo for the first time in any race, and I’d bloody fallen over. After a stern ‘get your sh*t together’ self-talk and half a mile with no further incident I picked up a bit. I might not have been covering myself in glory here but I had no intention of letting this race defeat me.
The miles between half way and about 20 miles are not well supported in Rome. It turns out those are the miles that support would be very welcome. There was a stretch around 18 miles where we were running up a hill which was sheltered from the wind and had no trees or buildings to offer any shade, and this was definitely the hardest part. Lots of people around me started walking. It took every ounce of determination I had not to join them and to just keep running.
And then suddenly we were past 20 miles. For a moment I felt amazing, we were nearly there! But no, hang on, there was another 10k to go…! Those last 6 miles are where the Rome marathon comes into its own. You head back into the city and suddenly you’re ticking sights off at every turn; Piazza Navona, the Area Sacra with its stray cats, the Vittorio Emanuelle monument, Via del Corso, Piazza del Popolo.
Piazza del Popolo marks 39k – just 3 and a bit to go! Cruelly just after 23 miles the route goes within sight of the finish line, but at Piazza del Popolo you really are nearly there! Somehow, from somewhere, with the final music act of the route’s choice of ‘Killing in the Name’ spurring me on, I flew through the Piazza Venezia towards the honour guard of Centurions waiting to welcome me over the finish line. And I could see the clock – I had made it in under 5 hours. Overwhelmed, I staggered to claim my medal, vaguely registering that it isn’t a pretty sight trying to cry when there is no water or breath left in your body. A few metres more and there were Mr Duff and our friends waiting for me, cheering and waving. I had completed the 2016 Maratona di Roma in 4:55. I couldn’t quite believe I had done this. Me, a sort-of runner who had never kept enough motivation to keep running after an event before. I had just completed an actual marathon, and in a respectable time.
You know what this meant. I was officially a Proper Runner.
Tired, happy, with sore feet, we headed off for a Team Eagles lunch. And yes, it did involve a bowl of gelato the size of my head.
I have to give the biggest thanks to my amazing coach, who not only looked after me brilliantly and dug some potential out of me that I didn’t really think was there, but kept my dirty little Italian secret the whole time. Hours listening to my whittering over lots of cups of tea, almost constant support on messenger, only ever the best of advice, and just one threat to get the Riot Act out; I honestly don’t know how this awesome chap has time to do everything he packs into his busy days but I am very grateful that he managed to find time to coach me. I wouldn’t have done it without him. Thank you!