Friday, November 2, 2012

Venice marathon 2012

I might have gotten a bit carried away when I signed up for Venice after the Berlin, Siberian Ice and Paris marathons all within 8 months. For a person that only started running year and a half ago, I could not believe my motivation and energy and I wanted to take advantage of it it as much as I could. 
Gondolas in front of the Venice casino

I picked Venice because it meant summer training, flat course, beautiful city, small race of around 8000 people. I still had the images of hot sunny days from my last visit. 
All good, only I didn’t have time to train. Work, family, travel, investing lots of time in paragliding, relocation to Cyprus. I simply didn’t have the 6 hours a week. I would miss a week here and there, then run 3 times the next, then miss a week, then go for a 20K, then again miss a week... But I signed up, not going to back out of course. 
So here I was at the start line, October 28, 2012 in the village of Stra just outside of Venice. Blistering rain storm, strong head winds and around 9 C, weather was so miserable that on any given Sunday I will just glance outside and doubtlessly decide to stay in with a cup of tea and the latest downloads of the Daily Show. 
But I was to run 42,2 km! My motivation was dropping by the minute while waiting for the bus to start line dressed in thin jacket and only knee-length running pants. The ratio man to women was again around 10 to 1 and everyone looked far more trained than at any other running event I have been to. It’s a small race and from I could see average age was higher and most runners were not first-timers. Nationality wise, probably more than 50% Italians understandably, and the rest French and small groups of all sorts of other Europeans, quite a few Americans. 
Finally we lined up, race started on time and here we go, running among beautiful old villas in small Italian villages where the rich Venetians had their summer houses. First 10 K went relatively easy with wind and rain not too bad. I was listening to music, feeling strong and having positive thoughts of all sorts. 
After that the weather nightmare unleashed. Suddenly the wind increased and heavy cold raindrops almost blinded me. I put on the sunglasses I optimistically have taken just to make sure I can see where I am going. Nose got stuffy and breathing became increasingly difficult. My hands which I forgot to cover on time got so cold and swollen that I couldn’t feel my fingers. Feet got wet with water pouring from those nice “breathing” technology holes so useful when sunny and such a mishap right there. Pure marathon joy. 
Finally there was the 21st K which is always psychologically a strong motivator for me as I am convincing myself that I am then “running back home”. It’s amazing what kind of bullshit your brain can produce and believe, isn’t it. 
I got freshen up with another running gel and I thought I just keep in going and see what happens. As already planned I decided to walk for a minute or so after each two km. 
I thought I already questioned my motivation enough, but at km 31... Ouch! There was the bridge from mainland to Venice old town. The weather was already bad enough, but there, with ocean on both sides, you can imagine the effect. I could barely make a step let alone run because the wind was beating me up from left and right in seriously angry swirls. In the same time it was so cold that I didn’t feel walking was an option because I would freeze. So I kept my lousy attempts to run with a pace that barely beats walking. Several times  the wind made me jump half a meter to the side, garbage flying everywhere, unforgettable images. Remember, I am there with no marathon training and as a matter of fact I hate cold. Hard not to wonder "Why on earth am I doing this?"
Finally there was a sign 38K. Thank you, God. The course moved between the buildings at the Venice port, it was a bit less windy and I could almost feel my fingers again. Finally we were in old Venice and I knew I was almost there. Km 41k, my energy risen and I pushed the last 1,2 km in great spirits despite the liters of water that were pouring down from my wet cloths. 
There is this feeling after finishing a marathon that no other endeavor ever brought me. It’s sense of accomplishment, joy, pain, relief, feeling of victory. I absolutely love it.
On the way home I was thinking as I was shivering my way trough Piazza San Marco that at any other marathon when I see people giving up I feel it’s a pity. But that day, anyone that had given up I would have absolutely understand. I still don’t know why I kept on going. Stubbornness I guess. I just visualized the end and I planned what I will do after and did not leave room for not finishing. In my mind I had finished, therefore my body had to comply. 
Another great thing about finishing is that urgent need to fill your body in with pretty much everything and the guiltless gorging that follows. Banana, apple, chocolate, pizza, pasta, salad, chicken, water, water, water, wine, water...I took a long bath and slept nice and deep. 
Now I am officially taking a break from running for a while. I will not run another marathon for at least a year or maybe more. I want to give my legs a rest and I want to focus on some other parts of my body. Good thing I still have few years to go to complete my goal of 10 marathons before turning 40 and am already ahead of schedule. 
view from the hallway of hotel Casa Dolce Venezia, great hotel in 12 century palazzo
Otherwise hard to say anything about Venice that hasn’t been already said. Venice is a living museum: old, gracious and magnificent, but also overrun by tourism and therefore lacking on service, food and bringing down the overall experience. I think the only place where you can actually have bad Italian food is Venice. There are pretty much no Italian people working in the restaurants and there are barely Italian people eating in them. I had good food only one evening, simple pasta in what was recommended to me as the best restaurant in town, Do Forni. It was really good, with a price to match the silver platters and the good service. During the day millions of MB of photos are taken at any given minute. You have to keep on leaning left and right to avoid appearing in someone’s shot. 
Venice floods October 2012
But having said all that. I arrived at sunset and as I took the Vaporetto (water bus) I was in absolute awe while looking around. There is image after image of pure beauty. Wherever you look it’s just amazingly beautiful. Ignore the cameras and the tourist, and you enter another world.I experienced one of the regular floods that happen this time of the year. Dutifully prepared the hotel handed over huge rainboots, without which I would be walking in 40 sm of water just to walk trough the lobby. But for some reason, maybe because it happens often over there, it was rather amusing. 
I woke up early to catch the train to Milan and as we were crossing the canals I felt the magic. There were almost no people around, slightly lit, the water translucently green, few boats crossing the canals, newspaper delivery boys running around, few locals going to work. The facades of the buildings looked almost surreal. I got this shivering feeling thinking about eternity. Venice is pure time traveling experience. It’s one of the landmarks of human civilization and what a great chance to be able to see it. I felt the world will be so much sadder, uglier place without its Venice. 
The train just stopped in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliette, how could you not love Italy?

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