Italian hospitality is renowned the world over. When I wrote the race directors to let them know I would be racing and wanted the opportunity to volunteer before the race, a member of the race organization, Alessia Andretto personally reached out and made me feel welcome and answered questions, but demurred my assistance as a volunteer. When I was at the expo, I could see why. It was a huge expo showcasing sponsors, products, other races, charity organization, and a new Italian Track and Field School based in Milan. They had a ton of volunteers and although lines for bibs were a little long, they moved very quickly. With my lack of Italian language, I probably would have been in the way.
The best thing Alessia told me about was a local running group Urban Runners Milano. I had asked because I like to meet all kinds of runners and do a shakeout run before the race. As it turns out, this is the group that also provides the pacers for the race. When I stopped by the pacer booth, they were very excited that I had come all the way from the states and they were grateful about my excitement for 5:30 and 6:00 pacers.
On race morning I thought I had plenty of time before the race, but there was a delay on my metro line and security at the entrance was very tight. After coming out of the metro and walking a couple of blocks, we were routed back down into the subway tunnels and as we came out, volunteers were checking bibs and bracelets. That took much more time than anticipated, plus there was a huge line at the post race bag drop off. However, I got to my starting corral with plenty of time to meet all the pacers from the later times and snag a start line photo!
Milan is a beautiful city and you get to see a wide sampling of it. Some locals complained that you don’t get to see enough of the historic buildings, but I was pretty happy with my view, even if there was more of the modern architecture on display.it is also a very flat course with a small bridge towards the beginning and a small dip under an overpass later on. Also right before 35K there’s a foot bridge. The incline on all these Allred pretty inconsequential.
There were quite a few differences from many of the big American city marathons I’ve run. There were not a lot of spectators. Certainly people had their own support teams on the sidelines (especially the charities) and one of the sponsors – Huawei, had cheer teams with signs every 10k or so, but the city as a whole didn’t seem to care too much for the marathon. It was not unusual for locals and tourists to burst across the street right in front of runners. In one section, I thought some company may have paid runway models to walk across the the street, the long legged, lovely ladies were so prevalent and dismissive of the runners barreling down the street towards them. Clearly the crosswalks are the runways of the city. Runners are also strangely silent. I know that I am loud and obnoxious even for an American, but the Italian runners’ silent pursuit of excellence was a little disquieting. However, their personal graciousness is apparent throughout the race. Even at the best of time I run and walk during the race. I have never had so many people grab me by the hand or tag me on the shoulder while I was walking, encouraging me to join them. I may not have understood all they said but their meanings were clear. “Run with me”, “Let’s go”, “You can do this” translated easily with their gestures.it seems this year they were trying out music along the route. The performers were really good but their selections were a little less than inspiring. I don’t think the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel is on anybody’s top 10 running playlist.
I did not have such a great race. Those who have been following me know I have had a less than stellar training cycle. I gained weight, missed milage targets, and suffered more than my usual aches and pains. I also got some blisters on my feet walking around the city in the days before. This seems like a small detail, but it snowballed. I went out too fast. My first hour was close to 5 1/2 miles when I had been training under 5. I lost the 5:30 pacers just after the 10K. On the plus side, the 6:00 pacers didn’t pass me until after the Half Marathon mark. By that point I was wiped and finished. My left leg had cramped up terrible at Mile 10 and it took about 15-20 minutes to unfreeze my leg (with some help from Hyland’s leg cramp tablets. Wow! They really worked and worked fast). During that time, my lower back started cramping and that never really went away. The only reason I didn’t quit at the next relay switch station was because I didn’t see where the dump bus was and was too ashamed to ask. I figured I could do another mile. Eventually the dump bus will pick me up. We’ll one mile led to 4 and once you hit 18 you are going to need to force me to quit. Then when I texted my host that I was going to be much later than expected he offered to walk back to me. Well now it was a challenge. However at 30K, the final pace van starts following me, literally on my heels. I just ignore him. When the road widens, he pulls up beside me and says “Bus” and points behind us. I say “Marathon Fin” and point ahead of me. He says a bunch of Italian I don’t understand. “Io capito” but I know what he means. But by this point we’re practically at Mile 20. He points at my bib. I start jogging. They will pry my race Bib from my cold dead hands is what I am thinking. My host finally catches up (back) to me. I tell him, if I stop now they’ll load me into the bus. So we keep moving. Enter the new love of my life, Grace. Grace catches up with us. She is the last of the relay and it’s her first race. She says “All the volunteers are gone.” I say, “That’s because they are closing the course.If you want to quit, the guys in the van behind us will take you to the finish line.” “I want to Finish!” She says. “THEN FOLLOW ME!”
We eventually crossed the finish line. They counted Grace’s time. My time is the same as the last person to cross but it’s other my name and I guarantee you there was nobody in front of me, so I’m thinking there might have been some chip screw up. Whether they count it or not, this was another race where I proved quitting is a choice. It was a choice I wanted to mentally make multiple times during this race, but my body wasn’t having any of it, so finally my mind got on board. I’m paying the price today. Both of my feet are shredded and bruised. Every muscle in my legs feels strained and my back doesn’t feel so great either. But that doesn’t compare to the sense of resilience and confidence that this finish gives me. I’m on my way to Florence.Look for photos on Facebook and Instagram.