Tyne Bridge Harriers‘ very own Tony ‘TC’ Carter was the first Brit to cross the line at the Venice City Marathon at the weekend. He reports back from his ‘Epic Win’ at the VCM
I applied to go to Austria as an English classroom assistant once again, and for some unknown reason I had decided that I wanted to do a marathon in autumn as well, and whatever region I was placed I would do one closest to where I was. I was eventually placed in Styria hoping to go to Graz, but instead was placed in a town in the middle of the mountains called Judenburg at 737 metres above sea level.
The marathon I chose to do was the “Venice City Marathon.” There was also a marathon in Graz a few weeks earlier, but for someone who loves Venice it was a no-brainer, plus I would also have over 730 metres difference between where I live and the marathon course.
The Venice marathon, which usually takes place on one of the last Sundays in October, is described as “flat and fast” with a few inclines and declines, starting in a place called Stra and finishing in the south eastern part of Venice, following a small canal through many small towns before reaching Mestre, the last town on mainland Italy before Venice, and then across the bridge connecting the mainland with the Queen of the Adriatic. I challenged myself to go for a pace of 6 minute miles, or at the slowest 6 minutes and 6 seconds to still get sub 2hrs 40, and prepared for myself as much as possible, and I labelled each section so I would know what to expect from each and plan accordingly on how I would be at that point.
This trip was simply a “business trip”, just to go to Venice for the marathon. I also planned to go on one of my famous food binges the night before, so I know Venice is famous for its seafood, but I think I took it to mean something completely else. The hostel I stayed in didn’t have breakfast but I did prepare by bringing some pasta and energy drinks, but that did the job anyway.
We left Venice as to go to the start as the sun was rising and got to Stra with one and a half hours to spare, making final preparations, listening to some battle music and focusing on my plan to run the whole thing at 6 minute/miles. Once the baggage left we had to get to our pens with at least 5 people checking before we got to where we were so there was no chance of starting where we shouldn’t be. The start time was slowly approaching as helicopters from the national sport channel Rai Sport 1 circled above us and the pros jogged to the start from the other side of the river. Admittedly, I had a few doubts whether I could do the pace I wanted to do as I felt a bit heavy in the legs. And so, after the Italian national anthem and a bit of war music from the famous composer Wagner, we were off.
Part 1: la prima mezza, quasi (the first half, kinda)
Looking at the course map, there was nothing much special about the course until 11 miles. The course followed a canal for most of the time going through small Italian towns. There were km markers that also had the nearest mile as well, but as I was wearing a GPS watch it didn’t bother me much, in fact, I knew I had to run 3.45 splits per kilometre for 6 minute miles. The corwds were good and numerous throughout the whole of the race, and were shouting things like “bravi ragazzi!”, “forza!” and (citation needed) “vai!” There were also some “allez” as well, which is weird for being in Italy and not in France. I ran quite comfortably at target pace, and after about 5kms I formed a “grupetto”, a small group with a few other runners, although it eventually whittled down to me, a Frenchman and an Italian. Together, we took over many runners who tried and failed to stick with us and continued for some time.
For anyone who may know my running style, I tend to throw the plan out of the window. This marathon was no exception as well. At 9 miles I thought I would try and quicken the pace, even the Frenchman said something about the pace after 10 miles.
Part 2: Chemical Plant Zone.
If you recognised where I got the name for this part, then you’ve probably played as many computer games as I have. This is the shortest part of the race when I divided the race map, but perhaps one of the most important as well. The Frenchman couldn’t keep up, and the Italian and I were going from strength to strength, especially with a group of five runners ahead to chase down. I went through the half marathon point in 1 hour 18 minutes 37 seconds and the pace was coming down to 5.55 per mile.
Part 3: Mestre, the Highway to Hell.
I didn’t actually had the above name in mind only calling it after the town of Mestre, but a couple of kms into this part one of the 26 bands along the route started playing this song, although me and the Italian were by now like bats out of hell. No sooner did we caught the five runners up and left them in our tracks. There was a part of the course that went under the train station where I lost my GPS signal so tracking times with exact distances was a bit difficult henceforth, but I kept the time running so I could keep the mile splits once it got back on track. There were a lot of twists and turns through the shopping centre in Mestre that were slightly annoying, but the crowds were out in force and me and the Italian were a force to reckon with running almost at 5.40 per mile as we were overtaking a couple more people, some with great ease.
Part 4: Park Run
This part that was in fact quite like Park Run, 5kms long and goes around the Parco San Guliano near Mestre for the most part, minus the fact that you don’t do 27kms before Park Run. It would also be, as the Italians would call it, an apertivo for the end of the race with some slight inclines. I still felt good on the inclines and managed to gain ground on the Italian as well as catching some more people up. However, on the final incline going to the final road leading to Venice my pace got slower. I knew that thing marathon runners sometimes get was coming.
Part 5: Ponte della Libertà Or “freedom bridge” in English.
At 33kms into the race I knew this was going to be hard physically, but especially mentally, and the part
I feared most about the race. The best way to describe this part is to imagine doing the Newcastle Park Run (or any for that matter), but completely straight with nothing but water around you. You get the picture. The first minute or so wasn’t bad, until I saw the endless lampposts going on forever and Venice in the background and I felt a slight head wind. This wasn’t going to be easy. What’s more is that I knew that “it” was coming and the spectators have almost completely disappeared. The surprising thing was that traffic was open on the other side of the road so the passing cars were a bit of a distraction, luckily though I was running with the Italian runner again and we each spurred each other on, now running between 6 and 6.06 min/mile. I Still hadn’t hit “it” yet but I was tiring quickly. Surprisingly, this part wasn’t that all bad, much better than expected, especially if you put your head down (as in keep running and don’t look up) and you have someone to run with.
Part 6: Venezia
Venice! Grazie a Dio! The last few miles! But they were definitely the hardest. I was losing pace and the “bravi” was becoming “bravo” (Italian grammar 101: plural “bravi” as I was running with others, “bravo” was used as I was now by myself). At approximately 24 miles I finally hit “it”, that dreaded “wall”, and was going slower at around 6.20 pace. I refused to go down without a fight, but I knew as well that there were still the bridges. Venice has 355 bridges, and I was about to cross 13 of them that had ramps for the runners, as well as the 356th bridge and the 14th in the Venice part of the marathon, one that is constructed across the Grand Canal with barrages specifically for the marathon.
The first few bridges were ones I’ve crossed before but forgot how steep they were and basically killed me. So much for that fight I had and lost 10 seconds very quickly. One encouraging thing was I had someone shout “Bravo, Newcastle man!”, which was absolutely great to hear. After crossing the Grand Canal, the course takes you around one of my favourite places in the world, St Mark’s Square, where as the only runner I felt I had the centre of the square to myself with spectators watching from the outside. Well, I kinda had to share the centre of the square with the pigeons, but you get what I mean anyway.
The last kilometre and there were still the other number bridges. And they saved the best to last. They were also just far enough apart from each other that you would lose the momentum from descending the last bridge and had nothing to pull yourself up the next which killed you even more, making me run at almost 7 minutes for a mile. Into the finish and I tried to motivate the crowd like DD would, but I had to settle with applauding the crowd than putting my vest over my head.
And so I finished with a time of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 32 seconds with two legs like concrete and a PB by 10 minutes and 50 seconds. TBH once again got some media coverage this time on (what I assumed to be) Italian national TV as I looked into the camera and said with whatever energy I had left “ciao Italia e grazie Venezia!” Talking to the Italian who I ran most of the race with, he said he had ran over 2hrs 36mins and “c’è la mia prima e ultima”, but I also imagine there’s a lot of us who say that their first marathon is also their last only to do another one in the future.
Looking back on all the training, I’m glad it all came together, and was pleased that I had nothing to worry about from my pre-race nerves. If I had kept my original pace up, I don’t know if I would have had the legs to get around much quicker, but I do believe that I could have gone under 2 hours and 37 minutes if there weren’t any bridges to cross. I worked out that my average pace was 6 minutes and half a second, which I can’t really complain about as I was planning to run 6 minutes and 6 seconds per mile at the slowest and there were some tough parts.
If anyone wants to do a marathon, the Venice marathon is one I would recommend.