Italy had been basking in a late autumn so the thought of having a break, seeing one of Europe’s finest (twin) city’s and taking part in the 25th anniversary running of the marathon seemed like a great idea to Murdo Macleod. It had also been recommended by some of the 100 marathon club he’d met at the Callanish marathon earlier in the year.
“I’ve put together some notes about this year’s race in case anyone is interested or possibly taking part in the future. There is a well established website at Firenze Marathon, with comprehensive English sections, so I paid my €60 and I was in, or at least so I thought. This included a €5 deposit for the timing chip and as it turned out a long sleeved T-shirt and an Asics jacket as well.There are direct flights from Edinburgh to Pisa with Ryanair, takes about 2.40, and Nicola and I flew out on the evening of Thursday 27th November, returning on Thursday 4th December.
Flight was uneventful, got in around 1030, travelled by taxi the 10 minutes to our hotel near the railway station in the centre of Pisa. Woke up the next day to heavy rain and cold winds, with a forecast that it would continue into the following week, peaking on Sunday!
Pisa is a small town, easily visited in a day. The leaning tower is in a square with the other major attractions. Despite myself, I was impressed by the tower, the lean is actually more pronounced than I’d thought and the stabilisation engineering is also very impressive. Struggled to the top up the 300 or so steps in the lashing rain to get some photos before heading back to the station and getting the train to Florence. This takes just over an hour, is very cheap (about €8 first class, €5 second, though I couldn’t tell the difference) and runs hourly. We were booked into the hotel by teatime and took a walk to the Piazza Santa Croce where they were setting up the finish arena for Sunday.
Went to the expo on Saturday morning. It was held at the new athletic stadium “Luigi Ridolfi”. There was a bus service but we walked, arrived around 1200 which was the busiest time but there were no queues worth talking about. You’re meant to get a confirmation email after you register online but although my name was shown on the starting list, I never got an email. I eventually rang the organisers a week before leaving who were very relaxed and reassuring about the whole thing (very Italian!) but I was a bit apprehensive nevertheless. You also had to produce a medical certificate signed by a doctor saying you were fit to run. This seems to be a particular French and Italian requirement but my doctor had no problem signing the downloadable form although I know some ERNs had problems getting their Paris half marathon forms completed earlier in the year. Anyway, on arrival, I was sent to the “Trouble Desk” where they printed my confirmation, took my med-certificate and I collected my starting number and clothes drop-bag. The timing chip was different in that it was about the size of a camera battery and stapled in a plastic bag to the back of your number. Seemed to work okay. You then had to go through the expo to the far end to collect your goody bag (and come all the way back to get out!). The expo was much bigger than I’d expected, more in line with London/Berlin than Amsterdam or Vienna. Good selection of clothes, shoes, HRMs etc but I wasn’t tempted. The goody bag included an orange long sleeved tech-top (run like a DJ?) and a good quality Asics jacket as well as the usual bars, yoghurts, leaflets etc. Lots of other events were promoting their races so I’ve got a bit of literature if anyone is interested. It was raining on and off all day from now on.
Sunday morning broke with heavy clouds and some equally heavy showers. There is an admin area near the finish complete with portaloos, changing marquees and bag-drop areas. You could also have your own drinks transported to each refreshment points (every 5km). There was a bus relay from this admin area starting at 0700 to 0900 up to the start point (or you could walk on a designated route) which was just over 1 km away on top of the hill at Piazzale Michelangiolo which overlooks Florence. There is a bronze copy of Michelangiolo’s David at the start area and there were gates for different finishing times but no-one really took any notice, mostly huddling together out of the by now lashing rain and cold. Our hotel was placed between the start and finish so it was a short, if steep walk up to the start area planned for a 0920 off. The goody bag included a pink plastic rain cover/bag which was complete with hood- excellent. The start area looked like a collection of cold, wet pink condoms but they were life savers.
By the start the rain was at its worst and off we went into the storm. The first km is slightly uphill and the next 3kms are downhill and it’s pan-flat thereafter apart from one short bridge at 24kms. The start was by far the slowest bit with people sticking together while they warmed up. Most wore their condoms for a distance (4kms for me) but the slippery road strewn with condoms and other clothes made everyone wary of falling. Once you’re on the flat there is a mixture of tarmac roads with some slabbed and/or cobbled areas although these didn’t have any real effect apart from at the very end. You go past most of the main sights in Florence; the Piazza Pitti, Arno river, the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzo della Repubblica and at 30km you ran out into the Parco della Cascine before turning at 34 km back in the park by the riverside before running through the Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Duoma and turning into and finishing in the impressive Piazza Sante Croce. There were refreshment points at every 5kms with loos, water, salts (isotonic drinks I think) and hot sweet tea (brilliant!). There were sponges at every 5kms starting at 7.5kms which I find really useful for keeping your eyes clear. Would have been really necessary if the weather was hot. Fruit and gels were also at these points after the halfway point. Good enthusiastic marshals and surprisingly supportive crowds given the weather. Roads were fine, some sharp turns, slabs and narrow areas but it’s an old city and they added to the character. The sights were awesome and, even with the dark weather, were inspiring. The rain stopped from about the 30km point (in the park) although it then felt colder. The park and riverside was understandably the quietest area and I’ve seen some criticism of this but I enjoyed it. Also, as it was the 25th anniversary, there was a special medal which incorporated a replica of the Florence “florin” historical gold coin first minted in 1252. As I crossed the line I got interviewed by the announcer although it may have also been on telly as they had a camera. Fame at last – a bright red sweaty bearded jock probably did stand out from the athletes’.
I hope this marathon appeals to you and that the above has whetted your appetite. The rain this year added to the adventure but the main highlights were the city, hosts and other runners – very friendly. Not a big marathon with 9,000 runners signing up from over 60 nations (foreigners were 40% of the total). There were 7,203 finishers, don’t know how many dropped out on route. Finished comfortably on 4.02 (same time as Vienna in spring) although (again) the last few km’s were a plod due to lack of training but the support helped. However, the first 5kms downhill were the slowest!This was my fourth marathon this year and they’ve all been highlights although very different events. This is a great marathon and Florence is well worth a visit at any time. Highly recommended.”