24 hours earlier I’d looked at the weather forecast and thought it must have been a typo. 30mph wind? Surely it was a mistake. But we’d been unable to leave the hotel all morning because the acqua alta had flooded the streets with a foot of water. My winter kit had been left back home in London – I’d have to improvise. So I put the race t-shirt I’d picked up at the expo and my club vest on top, pulled up my compression socks as far towards my shorts as they’d go and wrapped myself in a couple of bin liners as I waited for the start.
For the first few hundred meters of the race we picked our way through the clothes and plastic sacks that had been discarded by the runners in front of us. But my bin bag wasn’t going anywhere. It was already raining and an icy wind blew into our faces so I ran with my arms tucked inside the bin bag for the first 10km, rustling as I went.
Despite the weather I came up to half way in 1:55 – bang on the pace I was aiming for. Rationally I knew I’d have to slow down at some point but I wanted the race to be over as soon as possible and that meant moving my legs faster.
The route followed a river for most of the first half weaving through villages where bands and locals were out on the street offering their support. On a nicer day it would have been great race. But not today.
At 30km we headed into San Giuliano park where I’d picked up my race bib at the expo two days before. I’d met three runners on the bus to the expo who shared the same home town of Peterborough, with me. Venice would be their first marathon. I thought of the three of them and wondered if they’d ever do another marathon again after this. It wasn’t how any of us would have wanted the race to go.
Out of the park we reached the causeway that connected Venice to the mainland. We could see the island ahead of us and I smiled for the first time all race. But it wouldn’t last long. Now exposed from all sides to the elements the wind blew runners about like rag dolls and whipped up discarded water bottles from the drink station and threw them at us.
People were walking all around me but I carried on running, desperate to make it to the other side of the lagoon and the island where I hoped there’s be some respite from the wind. But the causeway was more than a mile long and the island wasn’t getting any closer.
Finally we reached the other side. I wanted the race to be over already and with just three miles left I picked up the pace. But as soon as I started to accelerate my right calf started to cramp. Not now! I slowed down and it subsided.
There were 14 bridges to negotiate between here and the finish and it should have been the most spectacular part of the race, but with the ramps over the canals slippery from the rain and the route narrowing, there was little time to look around at the sights if you wanted to stay on two feet. I was half way up the specially erected bridge over the Grand Canal before I even noticed it and had just enough time to glance around before my left calf began cramping.
There was less than a mile to go, I knew I could finish in less than four hours if I could just keep running. As I crested the final bridge I could see the finish line ahead. With everything I had left I sprinted towards the line, both calves now cramping. I finished in 3:56:08 and did the running man on the finish line for my niece.
My clothes were soaking, my arms and upper body were shaking uncontrollably from the cold and my fingers could barely stop my watch. It was the most painful thing I’d ever done but, after a hot shower and a large beer I’d realise I hadn’t had a bad race.