Il Crampo di Tutti Crampi
By Giovanni Dodds
Some of you may think it's pretty easy getting Anstr to print one of your reports. Not so. There is the background check, loyalty oath, the humiliating questions, etc. I wasn't looking forward to this again, especially when my subject was a road marathon. Here's how our conversation went (best as I can remember):
G: Anstr, I know you've won the award for best web site in the country a number of times, but I've noticed that you don't have a report on a road marathon.
So, here goes.
I had been thinking about running the Venice marathon for about three years. When I actually signed up (several weeks before the race), I would imagine what it would be like running into Venice, crossing the Grand Canal and running past St. Mark's Square. What I did not imagine was sitting on my butt about 200 yards from the finish while someone from the crowd lifted up my leg to stretch out my hamstring. But let's back up a bit.
Getting there. After injuring my left calf in the Blue Marsh Lake Marathon on September 23rd, I stopped running for awhile. It was during this time that I signed up for the Venice marathon. I started running again on October 10th - 2 miles. I kept that up for about a week and then ran an 8 and a 13. I was now a week out, and it was time to taper. I ran a 6 and 2 4s in the next several days and then left for Venice. This is not exactly the recommended training program for a marathon, but it would have to do.
It took me awhile to find an affordable plane ticket. After much searching, I tentatively reserved a seat. When I called the next day to buy the ticket, I was informed that the airline had filed for bankruptcy and had ceased flight operations. This trip was not looking good. About a day later, I was able to find a reasonable ticket. I was set.
Pre-race stuff. I have a high school classmate who is stationed in Verona, Italy, about an hour and a half from Venice. He picked me and my sister (she came along as we were going to stay in Italy for several days after the marathon) up at the airport on Friday about noon, and we went to the expo for packet pick-up in Mestre, the city on the mainland. I had a pretty bad cold for over two weeks prior to the race. On the night before the race, I took some Nyquil and an antihistamine. The race was on Sunday, starting at 9:20 a.m. The marathon is a point-to-point course. My friend drove me to the start, and we would link up in Venice in the early afternoon (hopefully).
Pancakes. This was the first of my marathons (and ultras) that I did not eat pancakes at least one of the two days before the race. But I didn't title this paragraph "Pancakes" just to tell you that. What is really important is that this course was described on the official web site as "flat as a pancake." That is one of my main criteria in selecting a road marathon. I have run several in what I will call the "Pancake Series." These include Blue Angel (Pensacola, FL) and Kiawah Island (SC). There are little footbridges that cross the small canals, but these are negligible.
My strategy. My ultimate goal was to finish. I figured I could run a 10-minute pace and finish in 4 hours and 20 minutes. Actually, I thought I could do better than that if my left calf held up. It hadn't bothered me since I started running again, but it's not like I had done a lot of running either. I would be satisfied with a 10-minute pace.
Think metric? This course was marked in kilometers (Km) not miles. This does affect your planning somewhat. I usually drink a lot of water and drink at even-numbered miles. Water stops here were every 5 Km, so I would already be drinking fewer times. That meant I had to drink more water. This is already important to prevent cramping late in the race, which is a problem I have had in previous marathons (and which I can remember very well, such as Boston I, Shamrock, and Marine Corps II, to mention a few). As it turned out, water was served not in cups; instead, they gave you bottled water. So, you could just grab it and take it with you and drink quite a bit.
Making the conversion from metric to miles got harder the longer I ran. Kilometers meant little to me, so I had to convert them to miles as best I could. I remember at 40 Km trying to figure out how many miles I had left. I knew I had 2 Km left, but what did that mean to me? I knew that 10K was 6.2 miles. So 2 Km would be how many miles? I could not do the math for the life of me. I just knew I was real close.
Red Zone. This is what I call the distance from mile 20 to the finish. This is where things can get tough. Fatigue, cramps, whatever. I was hoping my left calf would hold up as far as mile 20; if something happened after that, I could just walk.
The race. Went very well. Temp was about 50 at the start, and it was sunny. I was planning on one hour for every 10K at the worst; my first 10K was about 49 minutes. The second 10 Km was faster. At the half, I thought for a nanosecond that I just might be able to finish in 3:30. It took me a while to figure out just when I would be in the Red Zone. I finally figured it to be about 32 Km. I felt fine at that point. There is a long causeway from the mainland to Venice itself. This was around 37-39Km, and I still felt pretty good, although I think I was slowing down just a tad.
They built a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal (my guess is that we are over 40 Km at this point). As I came across the bridge and was nearing the far side, I noticed my sister taking a picture of me. I raised my hand to wave and my left hamstring cramped up at that exact time. Lesson learned: no more waving. I immediately became a walker as my sister shouted out, "Wuss." It took me three stretching sessions to get my hamstring calmed down and start running again. The first picture is me running across the bridge, and the second is about 15 seconds later as I'm looking for a place to stretch my leg.
Once I got running again, I continued down the waterfront, crossing over the little bridges spanning the small side canals. I also passed by St. Mark's Square. Then, my hamstring cramped again. I started to put my foot on a lamppost to stretch it out when a man came out of the crowd, looked at me and said, "Crampo?" I nodded, and he pointed to the ground, indicating for me to sit down. Which I did. He picked up my foot and put it on his thigh and stretched out my leg. He then pointed to my other leg, and I nodded again. Once he finished, I got up, gave him a thumbs up and went on my way.
By this time, I just wanted the race to be over. I didn't care about the scenic waterfront. The little bridges I had been running over were cute, but I had had enough of them by now. There were the cheering crowds, but frankly, I wished they would just be quiet. I was just waiting for my hamstring to go again at any second, and I wasn't relishing the thought. I knew the finish line had to be close, but I couldn't see it. And that's when I said to myself, "Where is the f------ finish?" Sometimes, you get an attitude very late in the race. Well, the finish wasn't that far. My final time was 3:35, much better than expected and deserved (given my rigorous pre-race training regimen.)
Verona. Some of you may remember that Verona is where the play Romeo and Juliet took place. There is even a place in town that has the famous balcony as well as a statue of Juliet. Tradition is that you are to rub her left breast. [Editor's Note: Looks like the left breast to me, but I am sure Giovanni here is more of an expert than I.] You'll notice the effect this has had on the statue over the years in the photo on the left. I'm not sure the second photo shows the correct way to rub her breast, but I think it will work. [Photographs courtesy Philip Greenspun]
Well, that's about it. This is a fast course, and if you're looking for a PR, this is a good one. Not all roads lead to Rome. Some go to Venice. Ciao.