And that was it. All those months, weeks, days and hours of angst and it’s all over.
We did it. We ran the Rome Marathon.
Last year, before I was able to run a full 3 km, I sat in front of the TV, watching the Rome Marathon being televised – or what they were able to televise, as they had lost the signal – and said ‘Let’s run the marathon in Rome next year.’
The runners struggled through pouring rain that year and I figured there was no way it would rain again this year – what are the chances of the same race being rained out two years in succession?. But rain it did. After two days of glorious weather, the rain came down on race day, gently and steadily, from early this morning, and kept going for hours.
We were anxious as only two first time marathon runners could be. Breakfast was a silent affair, and leaving the hotel a slow process with numerous delays. As we stepped outside into the cold, wet, gloomy day, the first umbrella and poncho vendors accosted us. ‘No thank you,’ we said, optimistic that it was just a passing shower. I don’t know how much they wanted for their plastic ponchos at Termini, but I’m certain it was less than the €5 we ended up paying – each – at the Colusseum. By then we were cold and soaked through and the poncho served only to keep the wind off us but Firstborn Daughter insists that it was the best money she’s ever spent.
She appeared to be stricken with terror and was dragging her feet. I kept wanting her to pick up the pace so that we could drop our bags off and get to the corrals at the start. She vehemently denied being a foot dragger, though, and said she just couldn’t see the sense in rushing for a race that was starting in an hour. i kept quiet. it was for the best, I thought. No point in stating the obvious – you know, like saying that mostly you want to rush because you don’t know what delays lie ahead and you might want to queue for a toilet before the race gets underway. There was a delay getting into the corrall and we did want to use the toilet but it was too late for any of that kind of thing. I looked at the queues at the portaloos, thought I would be so much more comfortable if I could use one before the race, but I’ve missed a start gun before and it’s no fun stepping out of a toilet and seeing the last runners disappearing into the distance.
We squashed into D group’s corral and were quite surprised and pleased to see that it was quite a large group. We had thought that this was where they shoved the unfit and infirm – okay, it is, actually – and that we would be the last stragglers having been shoved in there and .
And then the start gun went. Firstborn Daughter and I said our goodbyes, and wished each other well. ‘See you at the end, Mom,’ she said. And that was the last time I saw her until the race was over.
I peeled the giant plastic poncho off and bundled the uncooperative, wet, flapping thing into the pocket of my long-sleeved top, which I had taken off and tied around my waist. It was cold! And wet. I was wearing sleeves and gloves, which would have to do me for the next few hours. And, by the way, I didn’t get the memo that all runners in Europe wear black. So I got some rather bemused stares as I came past in my blue, turquoise, pink and black tie-dye pattern running capris, blue top and purple long-sleeved top tied around my waist.
I had thought that if I tucked in behind the 5-hour pacemaker and just stayed there for as long as I could, I should be relatively okay. But I couldn’t find the guys with the violet balloons. The guys with the red balloons were right in front of me, though, so I fell in behind them. So much noisee! Oh my word! So many men speaking ForrIn – i.e. any language I don’t understand – and calling to each other across my head.
At some point a charming Italian told me that I was a beautiful woman. Drenched and running a race, I clearly was not the picture of beauty. But I graciously took the compliment. If he said the same to every other woman he ran alongside, then great for him and even better for the women. I would take this bit of joy – and it buoyed me along for the next 10 km.
The rain was coming down and I was cold and soaked. There were puddles everywhere and, as much as I tried to sidestep them, there was so much elbowing and shoving, that I couldn’t help but step in some of them. Each time I ran through a puddle, the icy water would slosh about in my shoes for a while and freeze my feet. I swear I could feel my toes turning into prunes.
But I was feeling good – really good. I was relaxed. I could feel my shoulders were relaxed, my back straight, my head up, and even my hands weren’t tense. and I was smiling! I stayed with the 4:45 bus for a bit, until I lost them at a water station – I wasn’t as quick on the draw as they were. Those guys grabbed water, with much shouting, cajoling and encouraging, so fast and were off again before I had even managed to push through the crowd and get to the table.
I had secretly hoped, all along, that I could magically pull a 4;45 out of my minimal training and zero experience. Yes, I was doing this for fun, but how much fun would it be to have 4:45 written behind your name? Or anything between 4:45 and 4;59. But they were off and I had to push on at my own pace.
I stopped for a picnic at the 15 km mark: water mixed with some Gatorade, a biscuit or two and a piece of banana. I was stuffed! With the food heavy in my gut and the full cup of liquid shlooping about inside of me, I set off again at the same pace, still feeling good. Still on top of the world and high on the idea that I was in Rome, running my first marathon.
I reached 21 km when the official clock read 2h30, which meant I had run the first half in about 2h26, which I think is my fastest time for a half marathon. A little voice at the back of my head tried to warn me about starting too fast, about keeping some energy for the end. I told it to mind its own business. I was going to run until I couldn’t run anymore, even if that mean crawling across the finish line. I’ve seen it done, and it makes for a great story!
Just after the 21 km mark my knees and hips made their displeasure known and demanded a reassessment of the situation. It must have been a combination of the cobblestones, the wet and the cold, because I was in agony. No man! This isn’t fair! I was going so well, and the rest of me was still feeling so good – I was full of energy and my head was in a great space – why would my knees decide to pack up today of all days, and so early on? And my hips? I’ve never had problems with my hips.
I tried to text Significant Other for some support. I wanted to tell him that I had already finished half the race, that I was very cold and wet and sore. I think I must have lost the most time trying to write that text and I don’t know if it was even intelligible in the end, because my fingers were so cold and numb and the cell phone screen so wet, that I just couldn’t string the letters together to make words.
But I carried on. Passed 25 km, banked 30 km – kaching! – and called the 35 km mark to come to me. It felt as if I was swallowing the route in 5 km bites – and washing it down with diluted Gatorade and pieces of banana. I’ve never seen water stations like these – big trays laden with biscuits and sliced apples, pears, bananas and oranges at almost every station, along with water at the one end – either bottled, if you wanted, or poured in cups – and Gatorade at the other. And those guys worked. They just kept pouring so that there was always a supply of filled cups. I never had to wait for water to be poured.
By now my joints were really sore and the pain was causing me to tighten my neck and shoulders. I had to take walk breaks, or limp breaks, rather, to ease my knees, and it really pissed me off, especially when someone I had just run past came walking past me again. I took two painkillers that I had in my belt and hoped for the best. It eased things slightly, I think, but not enough. I was sore and it was slowing me down.
Average stops when it starts to hurt, I told myself. Well, dammit, I’m at the tail-end of the race. I am bloody average! Shees!
At 25 km I stopped to use the toilet and text Firstborn Daughter. I had last seen her near the start and was getting a bit worried about her. I had thought that she would have caiught up with me by now. The Europeans, it seems, don’t know about queues and taking turns. I stood with about five other people waiting to use one of the only two portaloos at the 25 km mark (toilets were very few and far between). One woman pushed through from behind and said she needed the toilet and went straight in. Then a man came from nowhere and pushed in, without even acknowledging the people waiting. When the third person went in, it became clear that I could while away a whole day at this not-so-scenic spot at 25 km. The bladder would have to cope. I was pushing on. Not very comfortably, I might add.
At some point, I don’t know where in the race, the route took us around a bend and then right there, was the most amazing sight: there, just beyond the wet cobblestones and struggling runners, rose the majestic blue-green dome of the Vatican. I had to stop for a picture. I didn’t want to muck about too long but I had to have a picture. The Fitbelt, such a great idea at the expo, was an annoyance now. I couldn’t get my frozen fingers into the openings – couldn’t even find the openings, in fact – and so I fumbled and struggled to get the phone out. Then I discovered that every single app, or so it seemed, had been activated while the phone was rubbing my body while it sat in the belt. Then I could ‘t clear the apps and find the camera icon because the screen was too wet to function. I don’t know what I was muttering to myself as I jogged along, trying to keep moving, trying to look at the scene in front of me, trying not to trip over a cobble stone, and trying to sort out this phone all at the same time, but it did cause someone to laugh and look back at me as he ran by.
But I got my one picture of the marathon. One great memory of the route. Getting the phone back into the Fitbelt was too much of a mission, and I ran the rest of the way with the thing in my hand.
But the 35 km mark came, and then the 37. At some point it dawned on me that a sub-five hour really was within my reach. But I knew my aching knees and hip were going to slow me down. ‘Don’t make that your focus,’ I told myself. I knew if I made that the point of the race at his late stage, I would be gutted if I missed it, and I wanted to end this race on a high, no matter what the finish time ended up being.
I passed the 37 km mark. Only 5 km to go! It was going to happen: in just over half an hour I was going to cross the finish line. I will have run my first marathon. I kept waiting for the crash. that feeling of ‘please dial the number written on the back of my bib and ask my Significant Other to fetch me.’ But the crash never came.
Over cobblestones, in rain and in agony, I was running through the crowd-lined streets of Rome towards the Colosseum. Grey-haired gents in big coats and flatcaps were clapping their hands and waving to me, calling ‘Senora! Senora!’ I smiled and grinned and laughed and waved back at them. I was a rock star! I was pure awesomeness! I have run a marathon! Helll, yeah!
And there it was: the finish line! I wanted to cry. I had a sob stuck in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. The lovely ginger-haired woman who gave me my medal hugged me tight and said well done. She wrapped me in a shiny, crinkly, noisy space blanket, patted my back and sent me on my way. And there I was, standing at the other side of the finish line, wet, cold and wanting to cry, looking at this surreal sight of thousands of people wrapped in silver space blankets, milling about. There was no one who saw me come in. No one to say well done. well, no one I knew, at any rate. But the Significant other was texting me from the other end of the world, asking ‘What did you do? How did it go? How do you feel? What was it like? How is Firstborn Daughter doing? all in separate rapid-fire texts.
‘I feel great!’ I said. ‘I want to do it again!’
‘well done,’ he said. ‘Brilliant run.’
I had done it. About a year ago I couldn’t run 5 kays. Today I ran a marathon. I finished in 5:4:31, official time. Who would have known it could be possible? The pale, skinny girl who avoided sport all through school, and who was never encouraged to test herself physically, ran a marathon.
Firstborn Daughter came in about 45 minutes later. She came walking towards me just as I had had enough of sitting on the cold, wet pavement wearing cold, wet clothes. I had my shoes off and one sock on as she came walking slowly towards me, wrapped in a silver space blanket and clutching her medal. Her eyes were big and dark. She was holding back tears and smiling and saying something I couldn’t hear. ‘I ran marathon,’ she was saying incredulously, barely audibly. ‘I ran a marathon.’
It had been a big day for the mom and the Firstborn Daughter.
Tomorrow we will have cake for breakfast.