With my sixth marathon in the books (all in the last 12 months), I thought I'd start offering a quick recap of the races. I'll start with the one I just finished and if I make the time, will go back and try to provide recaps of the first five marathons. I often get asked which marathon I've liked best, but every race is different and unique and I've loved them all for different reasons (and yes I've hated them all for the running part!).
I've been eyeing the Venice Marathon for about a year now. After running the 2015 Marine Corp Marathon (my first marathon!) last October, I fell into a conversation with someone on the metro ride back to my office. He was in the US Army and while stationed in Europe, had run 20+ races there. I asked him which one was his favorite to which he replied emphatically, "Venice!" He left no doubt that of the 20+ marathons he had done in Europe, Venice was the one that took the cake. And with that, I decided if I was ever going to run a marathon in Europe, I might as well do the best one! For anyone who's ever been to Venice, you can imagine that it is a perfect setting for a gorgeous and scenic race, and HELLO!! carb loading in Italy?!! YES!!
Each Fall I travel to Europe to speak at a series of events CTA hosts to promote CES - the greatest tech event in the world. This year, we hosted CES Unveiled Prague on Thursday October 20th and CES Unveiled Paris on Tuesday October 25th. This meant I had the weekend between these two great events free....and I was in Europe! In the past I've used that weekend to explore a country I haven't visited yet. A few years back, I had an amazing weekend in Estonia. Having spent several years living and traveling in Europe, I've been lucky to have spent time throughout Europe and adjacent countries (hello Turkey!). It so happened that the Venice Marathon was scheduled for the very weekend I was going to be in Europe. But I remained undecided on what I wanted to do. Go to Latvia or Lithuania? What about Serbia or Ukraine? About a month ago I finally signed up for the Venice Marathon and began making travel arrangements.
I arrived in Prague on Wednesday morning. For my first five marathons I didn't do a lot of extra carb loading during the week ahead of the marathon. I would do some carb loading 48 hours before and then focus on proteins in the day before the race. A few articles I've read recently suggest adding extra carbs into your diet during the week prior to the race is the better way to carb load. As it turns out, Prague is the perfect place to carb load! I had delicious goulash with fresh breads and incredible roasted potatoes. I had superb meals at U Zlate Konvice (order the Grilled Knuckle of Pork) and Mlejnice (incredible potatoes!).
In the week before a marathon, I try to do a shakeout run of 4-8 miles each day. I'll typically taper the distance as I get closer to the race. Traveling threw that off a bit, but early Thursday morning I did squeeze a great run in through the old city and around Prague Castle. I also was able to do a fair amount of walking around the city on Wednesday and Friday morning. After a very successful CES Unveiled Thursday followed by dinner at the Ambassador's house (AMAZING house!), I caught a flight to Venice on Friday morning.
After figuring out my way to Venice from the airport (I opted for the 20 minute bus ride over a 90 minute boat ride), I walked the half mile or so to my hotel. I was staying at a hostel right on the Fodamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo and didn't realize until I checked in that the marathon would run right past where I was staying. It was nice to get to see some of the course in advance of running it. After checking in at my hotel, I had planned to go pick up my race bib and packet, but first...I'M IN ITALY!...to run a marathon!!! Time to carb load! I ate incredibly well over the entire weekend! I started with Pizza for lunch - eating outside at a little place along the Fodamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo. For dinner Friday night I ate at Trattoria San Basilio - a cute little place just down from my hotel. I had gone for a run around the city and was going there for dinner before going back to my hotel to shower. The owner of the restaurant saw me walking outside through the open door of the restaurant and called me in. He didn't speak English, and since I don't speak any Italian, I have no idea what he said. But he kept going on and on, mentioning the marathon, and giving me enthusiastic high-fives so I can only presume that he was being extremely supportive and kind....or perhaps he was calling me completely crazy for running a marathon!
One more quick trip recap and then I'll dive into the details of the actual marathon. On Saturday I woke up early because I wanted to see the sun rise around Venice. Venice gets completely overrun by tourists and early morning is the perfect time to explore. The shops are closed and the streets are empty. I posted photos of my morning on IG. I went back to my hotel around 9AM and had some breakfast. In the early afternoon I took a boat to Burano, an island about 4KM, and 45 minutes via boat, north of Venice. It is a small, gorgeous island with colorfully painted homes. After wandering the island and getting dessert in the most amazing little Italian bakery (yes, I went back for seconds!), I was planning to eat at Al Gatto Nero which gets incredible reviews. It was 6PM and the restaurant didn't open for dinner until 7:30PM. They also said they were completely booked for the night. In other circumstances I might have tried back at 7:30PM in hopes they could squeeze me in, but I didn't want to wait until 7:30PM to eat because I still had to take the ferry back to Venice and didn't want to get back too late. I ended up eating at Riva Rosa and had a truly incredible meal. The fish is caught daily in the waters off the island and tasted incredibly fresh! Normally I would have steak the night before a marathon, but when in Italy! I ended up walking 20 miles wandering around Venice and Burano. Now on with my thoughts about the marathon.
Overall Thoughts on the Race
This was my first European race so I can only compare it to the other US marathons I've run. Overall it was a good event. Some information I'm accustomed to seeing for US marathons was completely absent for this marathon. For example, I'm still not sure how many runners participated in the race. I heard from another runner it was around 7,000, but I haven't seen that noted anywhere. I really liked several things about how the race was organized and would love to see a US marathon incorporate some of those things. There were also several things lacking, that I would have liked to see. I make note of both below.
The crowd is incredible supportive and would deserve an A+. One of the better crowds I've seen. In each of the towns you run through, both sides of the street are crowded and people are cheering from open windows and balconies that overlook the course. However, the course includes the long bridge to Venice as well as some minor industrial areas outside of Venice and those sections are completely void of spectators.
Overall Course Support
Great support on the course. Signage was great everywhere. Every kilometer was marked. Roads were blocked and the course was well cordoned off in all the right places. I loved that every kilometer was well marked. It made it feel like it was going by so much faster. I wish US marathons would mark kilometers as well. Plus, it gave me mental math to do as I ran.
They had support every 5KMs. Water for the first two stations and then they added a sports drink and fruit in the following stations. They gave the water in full water bottles and not paper cups so that really threw me off at first and was something I had to get used to. They only had energy gels at one support stop (mile 20). I was expecting gels earlier. Along with the fruit at stops 15KM, 20KM, and 25KM, they did have these small bars, about the size of a hotel soap, that tasted like, and had the same consistency of, fruit roll-ups. With no gel, I grabbed those a couple of times I ran by a support table. I have no idea what was in them, but they did the metal trick (if not physical as well).
Good support at the finish line. They give you a single tied grocery bag that contained an apple, an orange, a banana, a water, a sports drink, a juice, and a beer. They had showers available - the first time I've seen that, but I didn't have time to check them out. They also had massages available - which were AMAZING!
Registration, Health Form, Website and Email Communication
I'm not one that pays a lot of attention to all of the emails I get from race organizers, to their chagrin I'm sure. I tend to wait until the days right before the race to get all of the details I might need. Since this was my first international race, I paid closer attention to everything in the weeks leading up to the race. I thought the pre-race communication was pretty good. It is a very international race that attracts runners throughout Europe and beyond. Emails would contain links to information available in several different languages.
The race was easy to register for. I was required to submit a health form which was new to me. I get the impression it is very common for European races, but I have never seen a similar requirement for US marathons. Luckily I had recently gotten my annual physical so I was able to simply email the form to my doctor and then upload it when she emailed it back. In subsequent emails I received from the race organizers, I was able to see they had all of the required paperwork on file through a red/yellow/green light system they used.
One thing the website lacks is a course map. In fact, I couldn't find a course map anywhere nor could I find an elevation profile. The website offers a written description of the course which isn't very helpful. I don't normally care about reviewing the course map in advance, but it would have been nice to see generally where I was going to run through the city.
The expo was held in a temporary structure erected in San Giuliano Park. It was not a big expo. There were roughly 75 exhibitors, though many were pretty small. The list of exhibitors included Garmin, Asics, Brooks, Yakult, some banks and insurance companies, and even one fresh produce/fruit vendor. There was maybe 15 or so other marathons exhibiting, many of which I had never even heard of. The only marathon from the US was the Los Angeles Marathon, which had one of the biggest exhibit booths of anyone at the Expo. They had with them the 2015 finisher's medal and it is HUGE! There is definitely a trend towards bigger metals. There were few free samples. I didn't linger long after picking up my packet. You were able to try on the shirt and then pick the size that fit. I appreciated that.
Still no course map! I figured there would be a course map somewhere in the expo. Nothing! It doesn't exist!
Transportation to the Start
Public buses took us from a staging area in a remote area of Venice (about a mile walk from my hotel) to the start. I caught one of the earlier buses and got to the start about two hours before the official start.
The race didn't start until 9:30AM which felt like a really late start. The San Francisco Marathon started at 5:30AM which I really liked because it meant I was done before 9:30AM. It was cold in the hours before the start so I warm clothes and for the first time checked a bag at the race. In the past I've always just brought what I needed or was going to discard along the course.
The race starts in Stra at the Villa Pisani. The grounds are open, which is awesome, and I spent most of my time before the race wandering around and loosing up my legs. They had big temporary tents with long benches. They also were serving warm tea. The corral organization was better than I've seen at other races. They had an entry for each corral. They also kept a lot of open space between the corrals so you could stay warm while you were waiting for the race to start. I really liked that. In other races, you are crammed in like cattle until the start.
Once the race started it felt like they let all of the corrals go at the same time. I would have liked to see them hold each corral for a minute or two to help spread out the racers a bit more. The first couple kilometers were crowded as a result.
My intent was to run this pretty casually and take lots of pictures along the way. In the end, I was a little more aggressive and set my Garmin for 3:30. I times for 3:20 and 3:40 on my wrist and figured I'd shoot for something between 3:30 and 3:40.
Course felt like it started a bit slow out of the gate because of the large number of people, but the first 5 miles are great. Really the first 12-15 miles are great. Course opened up after the first mile or so. Course is flat and wide and the road is completely closed. In the first two miles you hit the little town of Fiesso d'Artico. Everyone had come out to line the course and cheer us on. This is repeated throughout the first 15 miles as you work through Dolo, Mira, Oriago, and Malcontenta. The Naviglio Del Brenta (Brenta canal) is on your right at the start and follows the course for most of the first 12 miles. around mile 12 you hit a little industrial area, but move through it pretty quickly.
I'm feeling great for the first 12 miles. There aren't a lot of pictures to take so I just keep running and I'm on a 7:33 pace through the first 12 miles. I'm now starting to think I could run a PR (I know, mistake right?!).
I ran the first half in 1:40:11 - Garmin tells me I'm about 9 minutes ahead of time and tracking around a 3:20 pace - which would be about 5 minutes faster than my fastest marathon (Philly 2015). By now I'm really wondering if I could do it. I run miles 13-17 at a 7:32 pace.
Things start to slow here. Miles 19 and 20 are through a park and double back on themselves. WHY?!!! I hate when I can see the course 200 feet to my side, but have to run two miles of turns and twists to get there. I average 7:51 through these three miles. I pick up my only gel of the day.
"These miles suck!"
"I hate running!!!"
"I'm never doing this again!"
"I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS!!!! WHY CAN'T I FEEL MY LEGS??!!!!"
"If I was an ancient king, I would make prisoners run marathons as the most horrible form of punishment!"
Miles 21-24 are across the loooong bridge into Venice and through the port area where the cruise lines dock. It is an abyss! It is no man's land! it was horrible and it came at the worst time in a marathon. I averaged 8:49/mile for this section.
Finally into the main city of Venice! Water on my right! I'm on the Fodamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo! There's Trattoria San Basilio! There's my hotel! Why are my legs still not working?!!!.....OH NO, BRIDGES!!!!
The last two miles you cross 14 (!!!!) canal bridges! They place wooden ramps up and down both sides so you don't have to run stairs (COULD YOU EVEN IMAGINE TRYING TO RUN STAIRS AFTER 24 MILES!!!). But even with the ramps, its torture. After 24 miles, everything feels like a big hill.
The best part of the entire Venice marathon is running into San Marco square. Even though you double back on your self, running in and then back out of the square, there are so many people cheering for you that it makes up for it. With the barricades and throngs of people, its the first time I've felt like I was in a real race. The cheering is intense and awesome.
Throughout the race people were yelling what I thought sounded like, "david! david!" and I thought, "wow there are a lot of Davids in this race!" It was only after 3 hours that I realized they must be yelling something in Italian. The best I can figure out is, "va! va!" not "da!vid!," but I don't know for sure.
As I was running over one of the final bridges the Garmin 3:30 pace group caught up with me and passed me. I tried to stay with them, but fell back by a few steps. After coming over the last bridge, you have about 200 yards to the finish line. I picked-up my pace and tried to sprint (or what felt like a sprint in my mind) to the finish line - especially when I saw the clock ticking towards 3:30. I ran the last 2.2 miles in a 8:55/mile pace.
Overall, I'm happy with the race. I'm generally less concerned with my overall time and more interested in negative splits. I was bummed I didn't have negative splits, but generally happy with the time. I finished in 3:29:44. I banked about 9 minutes in the first half and gave most of it back in the second half, but generally happy with the run.
It was a good race in a great city. a great first international race. Now onto the New York City Marathon in two weeks.