Thank Goodness For Balloons – My First Marathon, Venice 2013

‘This could go several ways, all of them ugly’

So recalls Mark Rowlands (Running With The Pack) his last thoughts immediately prior to the gun on the starting line of his Miami Marathon 2011. In all my research into the philosophy of running I have not been able to find more apt, nor profound, words to describe what was going through my mind as I stood on the line of the 2013 Venice Marathon – the 28th – but crucially, my first. That and ‘my God I can’t believe I need to pee again.’

It Might Not Be Pretty, But...

It Might Not Be Pretty, But…

Right, now please stop reading (well actually please read until the end of this paragraph then stop).

Go online, find a Marathon near you on dates that are suitable (probably not prior to April 2014), sign up and start training; go for your very first training run right now, then please come back and do carry on reading until the end; trust me. Enjoy.

Back? Hmm, well I suspect the fewest of you took my advice – if any did, I’d hand on heart argue you’re more than half way to completing YOUR first Marathon; the signing up and putting on the shoes for the first run is maybe the biggest achievement of all. I signed up in a moment of madness, boredom and depression in Venice last February, but once that date was in my mind and despite more than a few moments of doubt, I knew there was no backing out. For those who have chosen to read on rather than run, I’ve got a few more paragraphs to convince you…

‘The person who starts the Marathon is not the person who finishes the Marathon’ – anonymous

Running and indeed finishing the 26.2 miles or rather 42.195 kms that make up the Marathon is without doubt the single biggest sporting achievement of my life, indeed perhaps not only sporting. But now having completed and knowing the training I put into it, I would argue anyone can do it. Yes, you really can and what’s more if you set your mind right (for goodness me is it a mental thing) then I equally firmly believe you’ll enjoy it, nay love it.

As I stood relieving myself for the umpteenth time that morning – this time against a wall of an ancient Villa – the starting line a mere two hundred yards behind my exposed behind, I could at least if not enjoy it, see the funny side. The American lady who throughout my training speaks to me through my Iphone (appropriately named ‘map my walk app’) and reminds me I ought to be running faster will no doubt go nuts on her next scheduled 8 minute up-date if the steaming stream (it was very cold) does not cease soon. As such, running and doing up my pants at the same time was to be another first of that day.

Absolute Pure Enjoyment - Entering Venice

Absolute Pure Enjoyment – Entering Venice

‘I just don’t want to be last’, I remember saying to my Marathon running expert father (best time of 2 hours 30 minutes – NOT in any danger from either of his offspring) prior to leaving. ‘You won’t be last’, he replied; ‘even if you walk, you won’t be last’. I had precious few aspirations standing in the pink corral (the area for those without previous times or expecting to complete in more than 5 hours) other than that. True a couple of months ago, when one day in training, going all guns blazing I ran the distance of a half-Marathon in 1 hour 45 minutes, I had harboured dreams of finishing in a time close to four hours. Since then I’d literally trained four times and the fears of Rowland; ‘there is always someone slower than you, but they might not have shown up today’, were very much in my head.

If you want to run, run a mile. But if you want to experience another life run Marathon – Emil Zatopek

Then it began and after my enforced break just across the starting line – at which point I’d arrived a full four minutes behind the runners in ‘corral whatever the colour’ – there was no stopping. Three hours, forty-nine minutes and thirty-three seconds later it was over. What happened in that time is a blur. I’ll never be able to describe it accurately, nor indeed I fear properly recall all the sensations. But it was fun. Boy was it fun. 8000 or so of us shared this experience running along the Brenta Canal eventually finishing up after a lap of St Mark’s Square in the Giardini of Venice, yet our individual ways of living those two hours and thirteen minutes or seven hours could not have been more different.

8206 - New Favourite Number...

8206 – New Favourite Number…

Three things saved me that day. Well, if you add luck and inexperience (my mind had no idea what my body was in for) then five. Music; the play list in my iPhone was essential. When I occasionally turned it off and heard only the thud, thud, thud of hundreds of feet, I fled right back into a world of music, I doubt I could have finished without it. The crowd; I had no idea how much a crowd helps. I must have given high fives to close to a hundred children (indeed also some adults) who would lean into the road, arms stretched to touch even us mortals battling with beating four hours. Balloons; whomever came up with the idea of attaching different coloured balloons runners, writing a finishing time on them and instructing them to run at that pace – is probably more singlehandedly responsible for my completing Venice Marathon than anyone else. What a help these pacemakers were.

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go – T.S Eliot

We run for different reasons. With more than 8000 runners lining up that day in Venice, it’s fair to say there were more than 8000 reasons for doing so. Mark Rowlands talks of the intrinsic value of running, the beauty contained in doing it just for its own sake. A reason for running we are born with, but lose as we grown up and forget how to ‘play’. When the run began and after 13 or so miles when I believe (who can be sure?) that I did indeed find his ‘heartbeat’ of the run, I have little doubt it is the closest I’ve ever felt to pure enjoyment of running, the most incredible feeling.

But I also found myself outside the Villa Pisani at 7.30 am on a cold October morning in a vest and shorts, because I wanted to be changed. My very being here at this event was to show I had changed in the first place and its hopeful completion a step in that to continued change. It was a risk. It was my 18th run since I started training.

My Kingdom For a Horse?

My Kingdom For a Horse?

Had I dropped out, I am not sure what effect it would have had on me, psychologically. Rowlands wonders whether the Marathon changes us and if so how? A fellow pink corral runner whom I befriended prior to the gun going off, told me; ‘afterwards, wait at least a week before you sign up for another’. I lasted 6 days. Paris 2014, 6th April, I’ll be there ready (?) to go through it all again.

Pheidippides the Athenian herald who legend has it gave birth to this madness in 490 BC by running and announcing the Greek victory over the Persians, at the battle of Marathon and in doing so collapsed and died (his final words ‘joy we win’), had more purpose than most in running (it is hard not to wonder whether they were out of horses). I have signed up again and fear this will not be the last, but if this first occasion was for me, next time I’ll be running also with others in mind…

I don’t know whether running has (or even can) make me a ‘better person’. I guess if so, we should all be forced to run 42 kms right now. I know it made me a happier person.

Tired, But So Happy...

Tired, But So Happy…

I know it made me feel better about myself and I know it can inspire others to do so too. I hope this experience makes even just one person sign up for a Marathon as I truly promise it will change your life, for those who decide to wait for another lifetime, please I ask only that you help change the lives of others and make a small donation to my reason for running next time ‘Tommy’s Charity’… click here to help – THANKS

‘You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming’ Frank Shorter 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist

~ by 2ndcupoftea on November 8, 2013.

10 Responses to “Thank Goodness For Balloons – My First Marathon, Venice 2013”

  1. Way to go Thomas! We’re proud of you! Now, on to the Ironman! (Just kidding!) I just signed up for Ironman Florida for November 1, 2014 and my husband did as well (he did the Ironman this year in Florida on November 2, but had a hamstring pull 4 weeks ago, so couldn’t do the run). So, because we always must do better, we are both on to the next event! Meanwhile back to you, wonderful job, glad you did so well (and had such fun) and don’t kidd yourself, I think you have a 3 hour marathon in you! Tamara Nelsen, Illinois

    • Dear Tamara – great to hear from you and THANKS for your comments. Very impressive on the Ironman. I’m such a rubbish swimmer I fear it would never be for me, but am thinking in the direction of longer runs – at least one Ultra at some stage. For now I think there is quite a bit of work to make that 3 hour mark 😉 Watch this space I guess… many many hugs and thanks again for SUCH a great trip. T

  2. Great job Thomas! Anyone that trains for a marathon and gets through it is awesome. I am a walker, along the Jersey Shore, but this year has been difficult as our local boardwalks were destroyed in Hurricaine Sandy. They are almost completed and as soon as the Spring arrives again, I will be back there. In the meantime, I will be buying us bicycles within the next few weeks and we will start cycling throughout the neighborhood.
    Keep up the good work and we look forward to hearing about the Paris marathon! Stay well.
    Mariann & Bert

    • Dear Mariann and Bert, thanks so much for commenting. Walking, cycling, running, they all count and are all neglected by far too many people. My lack of training for the Marathon was to an extent made up for the miles I walk every day in my job as you know. Send some photos from the Jersey Shore – would be great to see a different side of it… Hugs T

  3. It’s fascinating that you could have experienced so much fun and fulfilment. As your father I experienced a different pathway to the marathon. I was an enthusiastic orienteer in Denmark when in 1971 the Danish Athletics Federation employed the great New Zealand coach, Arthur Lydiard, to train Danish runners preparing for the Munich Olympics. His philosophy was simple: run every day and run marathons. So after several weeks training Arthur entered us for a marathon in North Germany. I survived and have run a few more since then. One thing I will always remember was one of my training partners always said before a 25 km training run, “Remember the first step is the hardest!”

    I am so pleased that you have found your own route to the marathon. Even though I have reservations about your training; certainly Arthur would have done! Good luck with the next lap.

    • Thanks Dad. Takes a Marathon to get you to finally comment on my blog eh? 😉 I couldn’t agree more on the first step thing. Actually that is about the only part of this effort I do recall – after that it is really a blur. Will try to prepare a little more thoroughly for Paris, so as not to have to rely on Iphones, the crowd and balloons. Hope to see you at the finish line… Love T

  4. Well done!! I am very proud of you, Thomas. Glad that Venice’s marathon was your first. Consider coming over here to run the Classic Marathon on the original route of Pheidippides–this year’s is on Sunday and I will be out cheering the brave souls on.

    • Ciao Anna, thanks! I have most certainly thought about that. Turns out there is an even longer run in Greece when he ran something like 152 miles to ask for help before the battle. I am seriously tempted to try that. Maybe 2015? Great to hear you’re out cheering – I now know what a difference it makes.

  5. Great Job Thomas!!!!!! Your time was very impressive! Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Bob, thanks for your kind words. I really do feel I was lucky with that time. Oh well, they all count…

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