By Gabs Arpaia
Wow! what a fantastic experience, it was probably one of the most physically demanding challenges I have ever undertaken, running in 20+ degree temperatures on a spectacular 42.195km course around the cobbled streets of Rome.
Arriving in Rome on Thursday morning, the weather was fair and mild, perfect for running but waking up on the Sunday morning at 7am (yawn! – one hour less sleep) and walking down to the start, there was not a cloud in sight. The streets had been cordoned off, the sun was rising, the scenery around the Colosseum was stunning, the atmosphere tranquil at this stage but the reality of what I was about to do had not sunk in (too busy taking photos).
An hour before the start, I and the other 13,000 runners (record entry) were moved into our designated waiting area. It was only now the feeling of fear, anticipation, nervousness and excitement began to strike home, it was time to focus, concentrate and prepare (did I look good, were my shoelaces tight enough, where could I go to the toilet and was I getting a suntan). I also spared a thought for many of you, I too could have been at the Sandy Industrial estate preparing for the 10-mile race, but no, on second thoughts I had made the right choice.
At 09:05, the race started, I crossed the start line just after 2 minutes (could not believe it) and it was along the via dei Fori Imperali (6 lane Roman road) towards the impressive Vittorio Emanuele II (commonly known as the wedding cake for it's shape and white colour). The crowds were out, the sun was out and this was it, onward we go pass Circo Massimo (scene for the Roman Chariot racing). At 4km, I saw a sight I recognised, a fellow Bedford Harrier vest, it was Nora Haggart. We ran together for a while (and for those that know me, conversation was kept to a minimum, hard to believe but true), the course took us up and alongside the river Tiber. Then over the river heading towards the Vatican City, (this was truly a memorable moment, crowds were vast and extremely supportive with an amazing and inspiring view).
Whilst running together, we came across the first of many refreshment stations and to say it was chaotic would be an understatement. The tables were laid out on one side of the road, personal bottles, followed by water, then Gatorade, then more water and would you believe a picnic table of oranges, apples, pears, sugar and biscuits, the only thing missing was a bit of pizza and an expresso coffee. As you can image, runners were criss-crossing to pick up drinks and moving back to the other side of the road. To make matters worse, the helpers were pouring the drinks into cups rather than handing out bottles, poor helpers could not keep up with demand (job for the Harriers?). Anyway, by the second station I had devised a plan to run round the back of the tables and take a bottle from the pack.
At 10km, I said goodbye to Nora and wished her luck for the rest of the race, as I went in search of the light blue balloon, 8-minute pacesetters. The course meanders around the Vatican area, back towards the river and up towards the Olympic stadium, again another wonderful arena nestled amongst trees and parks. This part of the race was the furthest away from the finish at 20km as the route started to head back into Rome City centre.
The heat was starting to take its toll; many people were already either walking or had completely stopped. I was feeling okay at this stage but knew I had not even reached half way (God help me). I recalled a few words of advice Steve Gaunt had said a few months previous, always run to the conditions and never underestimate the marathon distance, so with this in mind, it was head down, steady, focus and count the km markers down.
Arriving back in the centre was a tremendous boost despite the fact the race was back on cobbled streets, the crowds were out (some 52,000 lining the streets) with some magnificent sites being passed - the Trevi fountain, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona and the Spanish steps. Seeing my family at the 30km, a quick photo was truly inspirational and provided sufficient motivation to keep going. I had no idea of my time at this stage (did not want to know but just get to the finish) other than I knew I was running well.
On passing the Circo Massimo for the second time at the 35km, running towards the Basilica San Paolo but seeing runners for the first time running in the opposite direction, my heart did sink a little. I thought I was running away from the finish and had no idea how far the church was. It was at this point I started to feel twinges in my right knee and a slight strain in my left calf, was this the onset of cramp? The efforts of the previous 2 ½ days were probably taking their toll, basically I had spent these walking and viewing the sites of Rome with my family, no time to rest my legs.
Reaching the Basilica and heading towards the finishing line, the 40km marker was passed, fantastic, I knew I was going to make it but I just could not raise my pace, I felt I could have walked quicker. Then finally, the approach to the Colosseum was reached along the tree lined avenue Via di S.Gregorio, the finish line was in site, sprint (well more like jog) passed a Spaniard and a couple of Venetian Athletic Club Members, I was home, in 3hrs 42mins 4 seconds.
For the record, the clock times and position were published the next day in the Corriere dello Sport newspaper and the Bedford Harriers running:
Gabs Arpaia 03:42:04 – 2738 out of 8390 male finishers
Nora Haggart 04:01:55 – 303 out of 1546 female finishers
Suet Lua 04:29:40 – 693
With the official chip times being published on the marathon website -
Gabs Arpaia: 03:40:04
Nora Haggart: 03:54:15
Suet Lua: 04:26:39
Paul Hudson: 07:15:44
Total number Finishing 10,034 Race Record
1st Male David Kipkorir (Kenyan) – 02:08:38 (Years best time)
1st Female Tetyana Hladyr (Ukraine) - 02:25:44 (Course Record)
This was a personal best marathon time on a much tougher course and in testing conditions beating my previous London Marathon by 46 minutes, which I run before becoming a Harrier
Finally, a big thank-you to Steve Crane and the Saturday morning gang in particular, Lawrence and Pete (who have been with me from the start of these sessions over a year ago). More recently thanks to Steve & Viv and the group for my rapid improvement and progression over the past few months.
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