Ok people, the following is the first hand account of our Ferrara Marathon experience from the perspective of my girlfriend Nikki. We ran this race together from start to finish. I was water boy and man servant extraordinaire and she was a first time marathon trooper. She is a great writer and definitely captured the essence of this race. This is actually an excerpt from her journal that she graciously let me share with you all. I hope you enjoy.
Time: 3:30:10. Despite the unexpected cultural differences one finds in a race abroad, the Ferrara Italy marathon was a unique mixture of exotic people, languages, sights, and experiences to take in and digest.
I went into this race thinking I knew exactly what to expect. I even thought it was going to be relatively easy (why I would think running a marathon would be easy at this point in time is beyond me), however, based off of some successful training runs, I thought I would feel strong the whole time. My ideal goal was to run a 3:20, a time that my previous runs told me I could potentially reach.
The race turned out to have some elements to it that proved very interesting to a naive traveler from the U.S. For example, I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to start the race with an official number. All racers supposedly should have received some important paperwork to bring to the race signed via email, as well as a warning that a medical sheet signed by a doctor would need to be in order to qualify to run. Luckily, my boyfriend Chase, who always seems to be on top of everything, figured out a way to magically create a “doctor’s note” stating that I was fit to run (full details as to how he did this will not be disclosed). When we showed up to the race though, after walking through a town of cobblestone streets, statues, decadent churches, and a grand castle with a moat surrounding it’s base, we figured out that the Ferrara registration tent did indeed have a computer (even if ancient) and I could be looked up in the system. I received my race number thanks to an Italian lady that happened to speak English and then I moved on to packet pickup. Packet pickup included the best shwag bag I have ever obtained for doing a race (U.S. race directors take note). The hefty bag contained a bag of local Ferrara Italian coffee (already a good enough excuse to run the race), a full bottle of yogurt and milk body wash, sponges, a litro of 100% tropicale juice, a can of peaches, a can of corn, 4 cloves of garlic, and last but not least a tube of Garlic Puree in vegetable oil form for “your daily squeeze”. All in all, an awesome gift bag that represents the spectrum of this quirky Italian country.
Within no time, runners began warming up down the little roads of Ferrara that lead to the start line under the blow up archway. Once the races were about to start, both the half marathon and full marathon runners lined up together. It was a swarm of people crowded into a gated chute. Happy Italian chatter could be heard, verifying the laid back, easygoing stereotypes of unconcerned Italians ready to be a part of a festive party instead of a long running race. The gun went off and everyone started cramming through the arch and over the timing mat to kick off the start of the event to come. Each person a number in the crowd, one against 873, or 2,000 if you include the half marathoners. The weather was pleasantly cool at first but it wasn’t long before I started feeling the heat of the sun and silently cursing the “lazy Italian” start time of 9:30 –an unheard of start time in the states.
The first few miles “clicked off” as Chase puts it, consistent, strong, feeling good. The roads were long and straight, taking us through flat, dry lands, orchards, vineyards, and small towns like little Francolini where the elderly poked their heads out of their windows or doorways and waved at us, cheering “Ale ale! Bravo!” Some of the people racing with us would try to strike up running conversation only to be met with my one trusty Italian phrase “non parlo Italiano” meaning I don’t speak Italian. There was one runner in particular that we ran a good chunk of the way with who was dressed as an Indiano Americano- complete with full head feathers, a leather fringed skirt, war paint, and smiley faces on his calves. I named him chief smile calves. He ran creepily close behind us for a few miles, breathing hard down our necks failing to capture the spirit of the quiet Native Americans who influenced his way of dress. There were others along the way that would yell “brava bellissima!” (good job beautiful) to me when I looked like I needed encouragement. One thing that took me by surprise during the race was the lack of normal water at aid stations. In its place was sparkling, bubbly, carbonated mineral water. It was hard to get down at first. I am not sure how or if it affected my race performance, all I know is that I did have some stomach type issues later in the race. Another difference of this race from American races: there were no porta potties or bathrooms of any kind to be found anywhere along the entire course. Lets just say that for someone having stomach type issues, this was a desperately unfortunate drawback to the event. Men flanked the roadsides to pee in front of anyone and everyone. Some struck poses (not that I was looking). Apparently it’s common for women to drop down along the side of the road to do their business too. Such an open life the Italians lead. But for me this was a problem…twice.
I don’t know each mile split we hit along the middle or end of the race. I got to the point where I didn’t want to know. I knew I had slowed down a lot and that the few mandatory stops along the way didn’t help our pace. Chase, who had decided to run the full race with me (although later we found out that he could have won the whole thing) was a complete life saver. He carried my Gu’s and water, would pick up sponges to water me down with, and spoke motivating words to me when I was in my not-so-good feeling places. In the three and a half hours of running and pavement and sun I was convinced that I could not have done it without him. As my mental strength faltered and started to fail he was there to pick me up. And for that I am so grateful.
In the last 5-6 miles we started picking up the pace. We caught and passed a lot of the runners that had gotten away from us earlier -including some intense looking women who looked strong the whole way up until the last few miles (miss red shirt and purple shirt in particular). Chase called it “passing the carnage of a marathon” when everyone is hurting and their faith in themselves and their bodies is starting to fade. We finally made it to less than a mile to go, after I kept yelling (or maybe exhaustedly begging more like it) at Chase to tell me when we hit every mile so I could grab onto anything I could to keep me going. There was a massive straight away leading up to what looked like the finishing arch- a kind of finish most runners dread to have in a race. It took forever to reach this arch and once we did there was a sudden heart sinking realization that this was not the finish. The finish was in fact another good straightaway away. Stab me in the heart and twist the knife! But of course we did make it across that finish line. After 26.2 miles, a marathon complete. We were interviewed in Italian about our names and ages and then I slowly sank down to the pavement, a tired, achy, sunburnt, chaffed, smelly marathoner. Proud, in a very un-glamorous runner’s way.
The vibe after the race was buzzing, the camaraderie of runners coming together after a race to compare stories was contagious. I saw runners I recognized from out on the course and we all, in broken Italian on my part and English on theirs, congratulated each other. It turned out, that out of 186 ladies I was 1st in my age group and 18th woman overall, behind a mixture of Italians, Austrians, Croatians, and Slovenians- ethnicities I don’t usually get to associate my name with. This marathon was such a unique experience. The varying languages and cultures and social norms and scenery made it truly incredible, as well as getting to run it with the best supporter I could ask for. I am blessed to have had this opportunity to race abroad, and though tough and unpredictable, it’s an experience I’d encourage every running enthusiast to try if given the chance.