Ah! Rome in March! It’s the perfect season really. Sunny but not scalding hot, food as good as ever, acceptable amounts of tourists in the streets, and the half-marathon with the most participants in Italy.
I had promised the Quiet Roman that I would come and run the Roma-Ostia half marathon if he came to Run in Lyon, which he did, so I had to keep my end of the bargain. I have to admit that I wasn’t very reluctant. In fact, I was so keen that I started a half marathon training plan back in November specifically for this event. That didn’t prevent me from not obtaining the required health certificate in time for the race, silly procrastinating me (procrastinators are the leaders of tomorrow, so beware). Luckily, my Quiet Roman is a very good friend and he managed to get me the appointments with the right people at the last minute.
Italy is a funny country. Quiet Roman called the laboratory to ask them when we could have the results for a urine test if we came on Saturday morning. They told him: “The results won’t be ready before Monday my good sir”, to which he replied “Oh, that won’t do”, which was enough to remind them that after all, they could have the results in 2 hours, without even a rush fee. So we went to the lab, gave them the sample and went off for an easy run in the most beautiful urban setting you can imagine: jogging past the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, trotting along the Circus Maximus and finishing at the Colosseum.
Italy is a funny country. While we were having breakfast, a guy was shouting a very repetitive tune down in the street. Apparently this guy follows a very old tradition of offering services like knife sharpening or oven repairing. That’s only the official version though, my Quiet Roman tells me that since no one needs these services anymore, this guy is more probably selling drugs and this tune is a hidden way of calling his customers. After breakfast, we picked up my results and went to Ostia to get my health certificate.
Italy is a funny country. The doctor I met at the health centre was a very laid back 50 year old, apparently cracking jokes in a thick Roman accent, making me regret having such a poor understanding of Italian. All I understood was that my resting heart rate of 49 convinced him that I was molto atletico, which was enough to get him to sign the bloody paper.
Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics are German, the lovers are French and it’s all organised by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all organised by the Italians.
Italy is a funny country. Some seafood and pasta later (yes, these are official time units there), we went picking up our bibs and we realised that the bloody stereotype was true. We were in heaven for lunch, but we now were in hell. On paper, everything was organised perfectly: there were several desks where you could show a proof of identity, give your health certificate in exchange of your bib and a colour coded bag. You would use the bag to store the stuff you wanted at the finish line and they would transport it for you. In reality, there were no indications and no orderly queue, you had to fight to reach a desk where the volunteer would tell you that you were at the wrong desk and you needed a stamp on a form before you could get your bib and bag, but if you’re foreign you have to go to a different desk. It felt like being in the “The place that sends you mad” in The twelve tasks of Asterix. We finally managed to get our bib, our bag and a fairly good Adidas running shirt. It was already the end of the day so we went carb-loading on Cacio e Pepe (pasta with Pecorino cheese and black pepper, it’s to die for) in a local trattoria, before going to bed.
Italy is a funny country. We arrived early morning at the starting line to drop off our bags in the lorries. Everything was looking suspiciously well organised. All the lorries were in line, with 2 volunteers in each lorry to put the bags inside. The number of your lorry was written on your bib and on the label on your bag. Mine was #6 and the Quiet Roman’s was #22, which was odd because we could only see lorries numbered from 1 to 21. WTF. The volunteers in lorry #21 informed us that there was no lorry #22 and we just had to put the bag in any lorry and remember the number. That’s absolutely normal…
The Quiet Roman and I emptied our bladders, went for a short warm up: a ten minute jog, side steps, high heels, skipping, and off to the starting line. There were several waves, but because we had never run a half marathon before, we had to start in the last wave. The Quiet Roman went for another piss just when our wave started moving toward the starting line so we lost each other. Just before the gun shot, we finally saw each other above a sea of people and raised our fists to encourage each other.
Pow! I think there was an actual gunshot because I can see the smoke. The beginning is easy and goes down for a while. The only annoying thing is that there are so many people that I get stalled all the time by a wall of runners, which is difficult to overtake. I basically spend my time shouting “scusi, scusi !” to other runners and I can’t find a pacemaker for the whole race. After 5 or 6 kilometres, I eat my energy gel. After 10 uneventful kilometres, I feel like I have just been warming up, even though there’s been quite a bit of climbing. There’s even more climbing between km 10 and 12, but I continue shouting “scusi, scusi !” to those who want to hear how bad is my Italian. I still feel good and I feel quite optimistic because I know that the rest of the race is going downhill and ends flat. I have a sip of water at each of the three stations and I feel pretty good until the 17th kilometre. Then it hits me. Why is it so freaking hard all of a sudden? I can’t even keep my pace and I stop saying “scusi, scusi !” to my brothers and sisters in pain. In hindsight, I should have planned for a second energy gel and it may have avoided me this wall. I carry on nonetheless, despite the painful legs. And why are my toes banging inside my shoes? They were so snugly confortable at the beginning of the race! When I finally see the 21st marker, my courage takes over my legs and they accelerate despite their complaints. I finally cross the line after 1 hour, 37 minutes and 57 seconds of joy and pain.
The end of the race is pretty well organised: we are immediately given a wind-stopper and a bag of food with some sort of Italian sponge cake, some compote, an apple, water, energy drink, and curiously: half a litre of milk… A few metres further, we receive our medal, then hot tea or ice cream (I took both). There’s also a tent for free massages where I decide to queue while waiting for my Quiet Roman. He was a bit slower than me because he couldn’t train as much (bad knee injury) but he quickly found me in the queue, stretching for a full 10 minutes. I’m happy I stretched so much, because the day after, I felt very little leg pain. On the flip side, I think I’ll lose a couple of toenails in the coming weeks… I can’t even follow my own piece of advice. Pathetic. Anyway, it was well worth it. I loved this race, the pine trees on the side of the road, the sunny weather, and the fact that the race had an actual destination rather than being a loop.
Needless to say, after a good shower, we went eating the best pizza in the world while bragging over our performances, not knowing that an hour before us, Solomon Kirwa Yego had crossed the line after 58 minutes and 44 seconds, just 30 seconds shy of the world record, and setting the 4th all time best for a half marathon!