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Rome Marathon 2011 Race Report

About 1/2 a day's laundry.The race course. Chad runs in the cold. Is strong man. Argh.Marathon StartRunning by Trevirandom rome marathon 1

  • Race date: 20 March 2011
  • Chad's Bib Number: 12775
  • Final Chip Time: 4:11:05
  • Total attendance: 12,596 marathoners, 80,000 fun runners (a 4k that starts after the marathon)
  • Race course (in google maps) (kmz for google earth)

"Your load of polyester stuff is ready to be hung to dry", Tanya told me around supper time on a Saturday in early March. "Would you like to put in the next load of polyester stuff you have sealed in that plastic bag?"

Laundry has played a big role in my life in the past bunch of months. Running in the winter in Saskatchewan results in the production of an enormous quantity of performance fabric that needs to be laundered. Without delay. For fear that it will escape its plastic confines and murder the entire household with toxic fumes.

I started training for Maratona di Roma 17 in about October of 2010 so I've seen a lot. I've been frostbitten, hypothermic, injured, massaged, physiotherapized, counselled, and scolded. I performed first aid at a car collision I came across while running, ran on a treadmill for three hours and forty five minutes, got thrown out of a gym for inappropriate footwear, and purchased ridiculously expensive socks.

But I also raised over $6,500 to provide services for people battling Leukemia & Lymphoma. This is the real reason I did this enormous thing - I wanted to help, and I like to think that while my contribution was small it was present. I did something.

This is the story of the last segment of my marathon journey - the execution. You can listen to the other parts of my journey on my podcast at http://candotri.com .

While training, I had a few rules that I tried very hard to keep in mind:

  • Always take a warm neoprene mask when running outside.
  • Launder clothes as fast as possible.
  • Visualize visualize visualize.
  • Trust the coach. Do not defy the coach for spite.

Summary of Weeks Leading Up To The Race

  • Longest run: 3:45
  • Location of longest run: treadmill. That's right, 3:45 on the treadmill. I'm still stunned.
  • Longest run at race pace: 2:15. That's right, just over half of the target time.
  • Most typical training week: 10 hours running, 4 hours on the bike
  • Injuries: none! (YAY!)
  • Soreness: under control. present but not overwhelming
  • Attitude: a little overwhelmed, a little scared, but optimistic

Week Of Departure

I was nervous. Yes I was. I get nervous before trips because I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I prefer that things go well. To help with this, I think WAY ahead and build checklists and follow them through.

  • Packing checklist
  • Carry-on checklist
  • Night-before-race checklist
  • Race-day checklist

The intersting checklist for this trip was the stuff that I chose to carry onto the plane. I'm flying on a Thursday and the race is on Sunday. If my luggage is lost, I have very little time to replace critical items like bandaids, spandex shorts, and hydration belts. But most critically - I can't really replace my running shoes. Did you notice rule #1 (above)?

Because of this I *assumed* that my luggage would be lost and carried everything I needed to run my race onto the plane. This included, but was not limited to: Team In Training singlet, shorts, Nathan Trailmix Hydration Belt, Clif Shot Bloks, Chad's Homemade Energy Gel(tm), podcasting gear, Garmin heart rate monitor, Garmin Forerunner 305, backup Garmin Forerunner 305, Skins compression calf sleeves, Smart Wool socks, Mizuno Wave Inspire 6 running shoes, Garmin Foot Pod, sunglasses, Garmin charger, little Canon camera, throwaway fleece top, throwaway sweatpants, wide-mouth juice bottle, Nathan 10 oz water bottles (2), caffeine tablets, Nuun Lemon Lime tablets, vaseline, bandaids, and an Italian phrasebook.

Add onto that a book, a Mac, an iPhone, two GSM phones, and assorted traveller junk. Now, I've traveled quite a lot for work and for play and I have a pretty firm idea of what the difference is between travelling light and heavy. And this was heavy. Whew.

My friend Jason dropped me off at the John G. Diefenbaker airport on Thursday morning and off I went.

The Flight and Arrival

We met up with Kelsey and other TNT people in Toronto and forged ahead to Rome after a brief but thorough dispute with Lufthansa regarding my seat on the plane. A van was waiting in Rome and whisked us off to the hotel to drop off stuff. By the way, my luggage was not lost so I had additional running shoes and a bunch more running stuff. It was at this point that I was again very pleased that this was a running race and not a triathlon.

Neighborhood around termini.Race potato pizza.All of the Team in Training people and the Team Diabetes people were staying in the same hotel - Star Hotels Metropol in the Termini neighborhood of Rome. This meant large collections of purple (TNT Colours) and black (with EXPLOSIONS(tm)) jerseys floating around at all times.

This felt really good because you knew that the people around you were like you in several ways:

  • For many of them, it was their first marathon.
  • For first-time marathoners, there's a ton of nerves and excitement.
  • They believe strongly in a cause.
  • They've been fundraising for that cause for months.
  • They're FIT people! They've been working their bodies and minds for one goal for a long long time.

We relaxed on Friday night and enjoyed the strange sensation of jet lag. Beer helped.

TNT in front of Vittorio Emanuele Monument, Roma.That's the start/finish line in the background.

Saturday morning a group of TNT people went for an urban Roman run. It took longer than we expected (1:20) but the sights were just too great to resist. It was slow with many stops at lights and things so I wasn't worried about getting tired out.

I took it easy for the rest of the day. I kept moving by walking about but I avoided stairs and any sudden sprinting for buses or purse snatchers.

Team In Training held an 'Inspiration Dinner' for us in the hotel. They cheered us into a room and told us stories of cancer survival and cancer defeat, and descriptions of the people dear to the hearts of TNT runners. They had fundraising awards and told us that the 102 runners from Canada (including 20 from the Prairies) raised $637,000 for the LLS.

TNT Inspiration MeetingWe then had a pasta dinner and shared our excitement. After dinner I went out with a couple of teammates. I think that the fist-time marathoners were both excited and preoccupied with the unknowns that laid ahead of them. That was certainly the case for me and it wasn't long before I went back to my room to lay out my stuff.

I always prepare the night before so that I don't forget anything in the case that I sleep in or something. It's always a really good idea to carefully read over the race rules and directions to athletes in case there's something weird. In this case, I was confused about what to do with the chip.

They attached a timing chip to the race bib. I've never run a race where the chip wasn't attached to my shoe so I read the instructions and it indeed said 'Keep the chip on the bib'.

I checked the weather forcast - partly cloudy with a high of 18C.

Race Day

TNT SaskatoonI woke up from a broken sleep and checked the weather. It was currently 8C with a 5km/h wind and a forecasted high of 15C with a 10km/h wind. Absolutely ideal running conditions.

Remember the 'NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY' mantra? That includes breakfast. I normally eat steel cut oats at home - 2 hours before a run. You need to practice this so that you know, consistently, how your body reacts to food so that you can avoid embarassing and uncomfortable... incidents in a race or long run.

Steel cut oats weren't possible in Rome because I had neither a stove nor an hour for it to cook. I planned for this, though, and a couple of weeks prior to race day I switched to instant oatmeal. I could make the oatmeal in my room with the kettle. Problem solved! Of course I skipped over the hotel breakfast of bacon, cylindrical meats, cheesy-eggs, and bran muffins. Can you imagine the result of eating that before a marathon?

Because there was a long time before the race started I skipped my morning routine of large amounts of coffee and replaced it with caffeine tablets. Of course I tested that at home before race day and I found that it reduced the need to seek a bathroom before and during my runs. It ended up that this was an extremely wise decision as you'll see below.

I donned all of my stuff, checked my checklists, reviewed the race rules, and headed down to the lobby. TNT and Team Diabetes walked the kilometre from the hotel to the Colosseum. We chanted and walked off a bit of the nervous energy we all had. The walk took about 1/2 hour.


Bathrooms and baggage.Fitwalking? COME ON! About 1k to the finish. Under the orange thing, around Colleoseo and then finish! Going toward corrals Surly baggage handlers.

Once we got there we checked our bags. Part of my race kit included a Maratona di Roma backpack and it was expected that you would use this as your checked baggage. The race organizers provided an additional race bib that you placed in a clear pocket on the front of the bag and there were trucks with number ranges that told you where you should go. It was a very efficient system and had I known a bit more about this before race day I wouldn't have been as concerned about it. The trucks looked secure but the baggage people were surly (see photo).

After checking bags we used the facilities and then basically milled around and soaked it up. Eventually we headed to the coralling area at about 8am.

The problem with deciding when to depart the milling area for the corraling area is a problem of timing. If you take your time (the way we did), you end up far back from the starting line - in our case it ended up being three minutes from when the gun went off to when we crossed the strting line. The advantage here is that you don't have to stand in a large pack of people with no access to bathrooms or room to stretch and walk around. If you go early you can move up in the queue but, well, you have to stand there for longer.

Once we got there I found that people were really rude. They'd push up from behind us and somehow expect that they could move forward. The result was a gradual 'compressing' of the corraled people. Spirits were high but the Canadians were frowning considerably. For reference, it was really hard to find the space to bend over to tie your shoes.

It ends up that I was right in front of the Colosseum's subway station when the gun went off.

The Race Start

Looking backwards from my start position.Looking forward from my start position. Notice that the pacers are bearing baloons. Notice the Colloseo metro station on the rig

With about five minutes to go, the runners around me started to shed their throwaway clothing. Mental note: do not be between the runners and the nearest open area on the other side of the fence. Sweaters were flying and I have to admit (don't tell anybody) that I hit a guy with my sweater. Oops. They're hard to throw!

Scattered throughout the race field were the pace setters. I've always trained with a GPS so I had no need for them, and sometimes the group of people hovering near the pacers is irritating. Here, the pacers were identified with baloons with times written on them.

My target time was four hours and, given my position in the corrals, the pink balloons were barely visible through the carnage up ahead. I don't think they will play a role for me in today's race. Or will they?

The Race

After the gun went off, it took me about three minutes to cross the start line. The density of people was uncomfortable for me because in North America we have a much different idea of personal space compared to people in other parts of the world.

Things started to spread out a bit after 5k. The course widened and narrowed from time to time and the density of people changed accordingly. It was very hard to maintain a constant pace because you had to pass people and this always took some dodging and bouncing.

I wish I could provide a kilometre by kilometre account of my hopes and feelings but to be honest it's all a blur. Here are random recollections of what I experienced:

chad rome marathon 1The carnage around a sponge station. rome cobblestones1918 .JPG
  • Just after crossing the start line there was profuse urination by both men and women. They went to the fences on the side of the course and peed away. This phenomenon was repeated during the entire race. What really surprised me was the open urination by the women - often they didn't even seek shelter. Later I heard that this was because the portable bathrooms on the course were really that bad.
  • During the race I looked ahead and looked for people I recognized. I was really surprised that I saw the same people all of the time. Apparently I passed them and then they passed me and then I passed them.
  • I focused on fueling every 45 minutes. I carried a small gel flask - you can see it clipped on my left side.
  • I took my podcasting recorder and tried to record but it was too hard.
  • I took a small camera and tried to take pictures but again it was too hard to take many.
  • I used my Nathan Trail Mix hydration belt with two 10oz bottles of Nuun. I drank that occasionally and water the rest of the time.
  • Water stations: In the earlier kilometres, I rushed through water stations. The poor water pourers were really behind and you had to search for a glass containing water. In later kilometres, I was in less of a hurry - sometimes I walked. I drank a little at each station I passsed. Sometimes I was thirsty and other times I just appreciated a break in pace. I bet I was over hydrated.
  • I heard prayers coming out of St. Peter's Basilica as we ran by.
  • Much of the course was not in the heart of Rome but along the Tiber River and in normal European-looking neighbourhoods with apartments and dumpsters and cars. I put a course map kml at the top of this report for you to check out.
  • Spectators constantly jumped onto the course trying to cross the street. I felt bad that they were a bit trapped but dodging them was really hard sometimes.
  • Sponge stations were placed along the course. They were welcome and the cold water felt really good. I wore compression calf sleeves and arm sleeves - these stayed wet for a while after the sponges and provided welcome cooling. I highly recommend them.
  • I was constantly looking on the side of the course for Team In Training or Canadian cheering sections. They really really really helped when I saw them - I'd yell out "Go Team" and they'd cheer really hard. I saw cheering sections for many countries and I could tell that they really helped the athletes.
  • During the early parts of the race, I was constantly coming across Team In Training people or Team Diabetes people. It felt really good to come up and ask them how things were going and to chat a little bit. It passed the time and made me feel like I was part of a team. The conversations were short but thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Cobblestones are super dangerous. It's not what you would think - when dry they were fine. But in and around water stations they were very very slippery. They also served solid food at later stations - cookies, bananas, oranges. Do you know how slippery a banana peel is on a cobblestone? I just hoped that I wouldn't be involved in some comic-book style slip-and-fall on a banana peel.
  • SALT - When training I've sweated **buckets** of sweat but never have I experienced being caked in salt. I take pride that through diet I've eliminated being caked in salt after sweating. But during this race I was *covered* in salt. Does anybody have an opinion? Could it be that I was eating very salty food (pizza pizza pizza) in the days leading up to the race?

The Finish

These are the official race videos. Aren't they totally awesome? Look for the two guys in purple. Chad is the guy wearing the purple singlet with the tattoo arm covers. Arms raised in victory.

Chad minutes after finishing. Carnage around the finishing line.

I finished strong. I had a great last 15k through the Heart of Rome. The people were cheering wildly and whenever I could I egged them on by choosing someone in the crowd and yelling at them "Viva Canada!!!!!"

When I realized that I was going to come up just long of my four-hour goal I slowed down a bit and just enjoyed the scenery. As I passed the Vittorio Emanuele monument I spotted a TNT member (Hi Alan!) and slowed to chat. He wasn't feeling his best (neither was I, really) so I decided to stick with him and in the end we crossed the finish line together. Not Thelma & Louise together - just close in time.


Around Piazza del Popolo.Behind the Colosseum.In front of the Colosseum.Right near the finish line. The Arch of Constantine is in the background.

Thoughts on my performance and the finish

Pett. 12775 Tempo: 04:14:22 RealTime: 04:11:05

Controllo                        Tempo    Parziale  Pos. Maschile
Km 5 - Via Ostiense              00:33:24 00:33:24 8353°    7363°
Km 10 - Lungotevere Testaccio    01:00:53 00:27:28 7846°    7038°
Km 15 - Lungotevere Marzio       01:27:42 00:26:49 7464°    6754°
Km 21.097 - Lt. della Vittoria   02:01:42 00:34:00 7215°    6570°
Km 25 - Via del Foro Italico     02:23:30 00:21:47 7066°    6438°
Km 30 - Lt. G.A. Thaon di Revel  02:55:09 00:31:38 7190°    6545°
Km 35 - Largo di Torre Argentina 03:27:47 00:32:37 7326°    6641°
Km 40 - Via Petroselli           03:59:35 00:31:48 6962°    6293°
Arrivo                           04:14:22 00:14:47 6894°    6215

My target was 3:50. I trained for 3:50. All of my race pace work was done at 5:25 min/km (8:45 min/mile).

My final time here was 4:11:05. That was a pace of 5:56 min/km (9:34 min/mile). Let's also throw in the time 4:03:00 (I'll get to that in a minute). 4:03:00 would be 5:45 min/km (9:16 min/mile).

Here's what happened in my race. The night before the race I printed out one of those little ribbons that you put around your wrist that tells you what time you need to be at checkpoints along the race.

The first 10k I was a bit stressed about the density of people, the slowness of the start, and the conditions on the course (cobblestones, urine, etc). The splits show that I didn't really go out too fast as many people do.

The second 10k I was more focussed on work - steady as she goes.

The middle part of the course, say 20k of it, was not as glamorous as the pictures show. It was European city - apartments, dumpsters, cars, and sufferring. The crowds were thin and there were only your own thoughts and the smells of other runners to keep you occupied.

At 21.1K I nearly had a heart attack. Half way? You have *got* to be kidding. This was at the top of a hill, next to a freeway. Through the blinding toxic fumes from cars I started to really get discouraged. I was quite a bit behind and I had a lot of hard work ahead to get back on track.

At 25K I decided that I was too far off to make 4:00 and my race plan said that I should now focus on having a good time. I ran into one of the on-course TNT coaches and he kindly asked if I needed anything and how I was doing. This was really helpful but didn't change my mind. I took an additional shot of gel and the last of my caffeine pills and focused on my form.

At about 32K I started to feel stronger and I started to pick up the pace and when I check the watch I thought "I can still make 4 hours!". I went hard and passed a *ton* of people. We were back in the city and the crowds were deafening in their cheering and I could feel inspiration and power.

At 39K, however, I realized that I was going to come in at about 4:03. Again, I decided to focus on finishing strong and having a good time.

At that point I ran into Alan at the Emmanual Vitorrio monument and we stuck together until the end. After a brief walk at 41K (we were pacing ourselves, we ran around Colosseum and finished the race.

After the race

rome marathon medalsmedal and bib

After the finish, the race volunteers were really efficient at steering you here or there to complete necessary tasks - pick up bag of junk, pick up medal, get foil hypothermia tent, bag pickup. Team In Training had a tent where they took care of anything that TNT people needed. There were lots of smiles, some limping, and a definite craving for salt. They had potato chips there and I'll be a lucky man if I ever taste something that good again. Best food I've ever had.

After details were complete, we walked through to where Via Del Fiori meets Piazza Venezia at the Emmanual Vittorio monument. There was a stage with dancing and a lot of milling about. We bumped into our friend Alessandro and he suggested getting into the queue to have the race medals engraved.

This was a service that was offered to athletes who booked ahead of time and consisted of a tent with about 1.4 million people clustered on each end. The people in the tent handled themselves with an attitude that I found typical amongst many Italian shopkeepers - they were boisterous and treated their customers with contempt. The race officials later apologized on their website and said that people whose medals were seized and not returned by the engravers would be posted to them.

Post-Race Supper

Team In Training arranged for a victory supper at a nearby restaurant. Everybody told war stories and limped back for seconds of lasagne and funny pastas.

Days After

1951 .JPG In front of Pantheon. No beer here. Potato pizza and caffe latte.

The next day was Monday. I woke up and felt fine in bed but when I got out I was sore. Really sore. I was expecting something like this and my body didn't disappoint - I had sore hamstrings, quads, IT bands, and knees that knew they were oversused. My core, pelvic floor, and hip flexors were definitely overused but one area escaped soreness - lower legs and feet. No problems there!

I went out exploring Rome with two fellow runners - Lindsay from Saskatoon Team Training and her local friend Alessandro. We were in no position to wait in long queues and each of us quickly found that stairs were going to be a challenge so subway escalators were a definite advantage.

I wasn't a sad soreness. Do you know what I mean? Soreness that comes from a workout that was overdone or ill planned feels like it has no merit but soreness that comes from a race feels like it has honour and dignity.

The soreness was shared with many people throughout Rome that day. Some of them you could identify as marathoners by the presence of the blue race t-shirt or blue Maratona di Roma 2011 backpack. Others you could identify by the slight stoop and hesitation as they looked up a flight of stairs and then climbed them, one at a time, slightly sideways.

More than once I tapped a runner on the shoulder, held up my finger and whispered 'Maratona!'. This was always returned with a grin and an upstood finger and, sometimes accompanied with a grimace the words 'Si si. Maratona!'.

The Flight Home

We left early in the morning on Tuesday.

At the Rome airport, I remembered that I failed, in all of the excitement, to have a focaccia primavera and espresso. Thank you, Autogrill, for helping me fix that. I grabbed a lukewarm Coke Light (thank you Europe!) and off I went.

Connections via Frankfurt and Toronto were uneventful and I got home at about 11:30pm Tuesday night in Saskatoon. I was very sore during and after the flights but as I said earlier, I was sore with honour and I was ok with things.

Final Thoughts

This was a long journey. I experienced the lows of injury and doubt and the highs of a job well done. I've done things I never dreamed I could do and I feel like some of the limits I placed on myself have been removed.

I was able to raise money so that the experience wasn't just about me. This also meant that I was part of a team of people with like goals and that ended up being really, really important throughout the entire experience. I highly recommend doing the same if this is your first race.

My next endurance race will be the Great White North Triathlon - a 1/2 Ironman. This might take up to seven hours to complete. If you told me two years ago that I'd consider training for something like that I'd have thought you were crazy but now, well I don't know. I'm redefining normal on a daily basis and I'm looking foreward, not back.

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