Milan Marathon by Linda Barton 12-2-2007
Getting to the airport was uncharacteristically simple this time. Usually, I end up with an insane taxi driver or forget my passport or…. But I got there with plenty of time to spare which turned into even more time to spare. The difficulties began AT the airport this time instead of while getting there. I was flying MyAir to Milan. As I was sitting in the boarding area, the pilot came in and began speaking to everyone who flocked around him to hear his announcement. Unfortunately for me, he was speaking Italian, but I found someone to tell me what was going on. There was a spontaneous strike with the airline workers in Italy, so our flight was delayed by 3 hours.
It was no big deal, I read my book and relaxed. When we did fly, it was uneventful, but it got me to Milan later than I’d wanted and right during rush hour traffic. By the time I got to my hotel, it was near dinner time and very dark outside. The possibility of hitting a few sights was gone. Frustrated and disappointed, I decided to treat myself with room service complete with my first hydration tool—Italian beer. Not bad, light but with plenty of taste to let me know I was drinking a beer. The bread was lacking. For some reason I’ve always believed Italians pride themselves on their bread, but this second visit of mine to Italy gave me the same overly crusty, almost stale bread rolls. Oh well, the pasta made up for it. I had basic pasta with pomodoro sauce and all I can say was it tasted bright and was perfectly satisfying.
The next day brought more problems. It started off well with a good workout, decent breakfast and better bread. I decided to try to walk to Piazza Duomo where the expo was held. The front desk gave me a map, looked at me like I was crazy and I set off. I did okay for a while, but veered off a bit and kept getting turned around. After walking for over an hour, I decided to take the front desk’s advice and grab the metro. I arrived at Duomo 5 minutes later.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find the expo. The map and directions given on the marathon website simply said to pick up the packet at the “marathon village” located in Piazza Duomo. I thought perhaps they should’ve been a bit more specific until I walked up the stairs. First my eyes were hit with the incredible spectacle that is Duomo Cathedral. It is indeed incredible. I can’t come up with a better word. I finished walking up the stairs and when I finally tore my eyes away and glanced back down to earth, there right in front of me was the marathon village. Impossible not to find. Finally, something easy.
Or not. It was packed in there with bodies bouncing off each other and Italian being rapidly and loudly spoken everywhere and music blaring even louder over that. I found the line for packet pick up and waited patiently to get up to the desk. After being knocked about a number of times, I made it and handed the girl some identification only to learn my name wasn’t on the list. She told me to go to “control where they have the computers.” So I did and was again jostled around, but I managed to get up there where she told me I should’ve printed out my email confirmation. I knew that. I’ve done this enough times, you’d think by now I’d learn to do just that.
So back to my hotel I went on the metro to print my form and then back to the expo. All told it took about an hour, but when I was done I got my bib number, race chip and goody bag. Of the European (and Asian) marathons I’ve done on this tour, Milan wins the prizes for best shirt and goodies—nice gym bag, food, lotions, etc. I was pleased and still had plenty of time to see Duomo and wander around for awhile.
By the time I got back to my hotel I was too tired to try to find food and plus I was feeling spoiled from the night before so I opted for room service again. This time the man on the phone who I came to know as Carlos recognized my voice so we had a pleasant chat about my stay and he ended up serving me that night and wished me luck the next day. I hydrated liberally with two glasses of Italian wine which Carlos assured me was good for the stomach. After the Athens debacle, I was inclined to believe him—or maybe I just wanted to drink some wine.
One thing I’ve loved about European marathons is you get to use public transportation for free as long as your number is visible. In Athens this was good for almost a week and saved me a fair bit of coin. As I walked through one of the gates the morning of the race, the guard tried to stop me, but when I showed him my number adhered to my drop bag he waved me on. There were plenty of other runners on the platform and then on the trams so I was confident I was going the right way and as long as I followed the crowd I would get to the start line.
And I did. The start line and gathering area were at the Milan Castle. I was a little excited because I was only in Milan for one more day meaning my chances for sight seeing were limited and here I was at a touristy spot. I was taking pictures while walking towards the drop bag area and I’m pretty sure some people were chuckling at me for being a dorky tourist, but what did I care? I already know I’m a dork, so what if others think so and hey, I was walking through a castle.
The race started at 9:20, an odd time. Why not 9:00? Why not 9:30? Anyway, runners were grouped up by best finish time. I hung to the back of my group feeling somewhat nervous. Since Athens, I hadn’t done a single long run. I’ve been fighting off an injury with my left foot, so any mileage I do has been slow-going. I was confident I could finish the race, but I wasn’t sure of the quality of my running. Both Bryce and Jess Mullen have been kind enough to listen to my whining and both had reassured me I was being silly. Athens was only a month ago and although as of this last year, that’s a long time for me to go between races, that really is not that long of a time so I needed to suck it up and remember who I am and what I do. Still….
The race started and for at least the first 10K, I was planning to give Milan another prize for most beautiful course. We ran down streets flanked by breath-taking (or was that because I was running?) architecture. The only problem was that the much of the road was cobblestone so it was hard to look up at the sights when I needed to watch the road to prevent twisting an ankle. The aid stations were plentiful and provided solid foods which always make me so much happier than downing energy gels or drinks. For the first half of the race, I was very happy with how my body felt and how the race was going.
The spectators were terrific, yelling: “Bravi! Bravi! Bravissima!” and “Bella Donna” although I got that particular call from some of the runners too. If it’s possible to blush while running, I’m pretty sure I did.
The people in their cars were another story. There had been announcements in the metro stations warning people of the upcoming marathon and that it would probably cause traffic and delays. However, people who drive didn’t hear these announcements. Also, I hadn’t noticed any marathon signs throughout the city, so I’m not sure how aware people were there was going to be a race that day. So it shouldn’t have been too surprising to see such long lines of cars going up and down the streets around the course. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cars trying to get through while I was running a race. There were plenty of police trying to direct traffic, but since so many people were running (about 4500), very few, if any cars could get through any given intersection. People were livid! Down one block the sounds of so many horns blaring was almost deafening. People were yelling and shaking their fists at the runners going by. In a couple of intersections, we had to dodge cars that were desperately trying to get through even though police officers were standing right in front of them with their hands on the cars’ hoods. I made eye contact with one woman and she started screaming something at me, her face turning red with anger. It was madness! But amusing and helped me take my mind off my feet which during the second half of the race started failing me.
The sights had dwindled. I decided to relinquish the “most beautiful course” award because for the middle 30K, there wasn’t much to look at. It was like running through any town, nothing remarkable. So the prize goes back to Munich. Congratulations, Munich! But now my feet were bored too and decided to make things more interesting for me by shooting as much pain as they could through my heels. Oh, not good, not good. By this time, spectators were yelling something that sounded a lot like “die, die, die” which I most certainly felt like doing. My good spirits were swiftly soaring away. So the next encounter I had was less than pretty.
I appreciated the “bella donna” cheers. It’s nice to think that even after I’ve run 20 miles and am in pain I might still look good. But when a spectator popped out of the crowd and grabbed my ass, I lost it. He didn’t just smack my ass, he grabbed it. He grabbed it so hard he lifted me off the ground. Expletives poured out of my mouth. I turned around and with every intention of kicking his ass I walked back to him. Seeing my fury, his triumphant smile melted from his face and as I was about to punch him in his fat gut he turned giving me only the chance to lay one into his arm. I turned back around and continued on. The person I ended up running next to gave me a smile as he shook his head and said, “That man, he was a crazy man.”
My feet hurt, I’d had three pit stops that took too long and my spirits were wanting making the last miles a trial. I hovered around the 4:15 pace maker who was very emphatically encouraging his group of runners on. I hoped his enthusiasm would hearten my efforts. I pulled ahead of them at the last aid station where I had some warm tea in an attempt to reinvigorate. The last mile or so was psychologically difficult because first there were more cobblestones to navigate with tired feet and then there were several huge balloon arches making you think it’s the finish line when it isn’t quite yet. It was mind over body (well, mind over feet, my body felt fine) and I finished. My European (and Asian) marathon tour has come to an end. It was a good run (pun fully intended) and after a few more trips around Turkey and one to Austria, I’ll be looking forward to coming home. I’ll see many of you at Mary’s Last Chance!