It was mid-October 2008 when I recieved the postcard bearing the image of a woman running in Venice, Italy with the words Maratona di Venezia displayed prominently. All that was written on the back was “Let’s do this!”. The sender? My best friend Linda. A wave of excitement washed over me as I picked up the phone and called her. No answer. No matter. “I just got your postcard. Yeah! Let’s do it!” I shouted down the line to her answering machine.
I set out on my run immediately doubling my mileage from 5 Km to 10 Km. I know what your thinking. “Isn’t a marathon 42.2 Km?”. Yes it is and I had a lot of training to do if I was going to run it in just 1 short year. First I had to train for and complete my first ever half-marathon.
I returned home from this run to find a message from Linda. “I guess you didn’t see the winky face I drew on the postcard. I was just joking, but yeah let’s do it!” she said. When we finally spoke we came up with what was in our minds a cunning plan, but in reality a hairbrained one. We would begin training in January for a 1/2 in May and then get down to the nitty gritty of marathon training for the Venice race in October. Training for the most part would be done on our own save for a few long runs, as we live a couple of hours apart.
All was going swimingly until I was attacked by a dog and consequently fell backwards into a deep ditch while out on my training run mere weeks before the race. My knee, ribs and elbow were injured (the extent of which would only become apparent in the months & years to follow) and I was thrown into a panic as to whether I’d even be able to run in the marathon. I was devastated. After months of training, preparation and planning was it all going to be for nought? In the words of an old gentleman I used to know I felt “like a run-over tomcat”.
I was prescribed some pretty heavy narcotics, anti-inflammatories (both oral & topical), and was given a cortisone injection in my knee. As ordered by my doctor I did not run until 4 days before the race and then it was only a short one.
My husband and I had arrived in Italy on Wednesday and had been staying a short ways away in the Veneto with family. I traveled down to Venice on Friday, checked into our apartment but not before trekking clear across the city from the train station. Of course there was a 24 hour transit strike in effect. When I met Linda off her plane it was clear that she had a bad case of jetlag after her gruelling trip from Vancouver. Although we’d come from Vancouver as well, our flight was straight forward, hers was not. A good night’s rest would have helped immensely but sleep eluded her both that night and the eve before the race.
An bleary-eyed, jetlaged Linda and I boarded one of the special vaporetti (water buses) at 5 a.m. and felt as though were in a dream as the sky turned orange and the sun rose over the water surrounding this most beautiful city. It ferried us to the parking lot where we boarded one of the shuttle-buses that then took us 30km away to Villa Pisani in Stra. The 16th century villa set along the Brenta canal was the start of the marathon and we would run back to and through Venice.
Linda and I had made plans to each run our own races and meet after the finish line. We separated almost immediatly but met up in the bathroom line some 10 kms in, after which we ran together for while before going our separate ways once more.
It was a gloriously sunny autumn day and people were out in full force supporting the runners as we came through their communities. “Vai Michelle vai!” (vai = go) I heard many times as I ran by. (Our names were printed on our bibs) Children held out their hands for high-5s and bands played along the way. It was hard not to get swept up in the excitement and I often found myself running too fast and had to slow down, I needed to stay on pace or I wouldn’t make it.
As anticipated the last 7 km really tested me. A nearly 4 Km long causeway, the Ponte della Liberta, stretched out in front of me seemingly infinite. I ran and ran but the view of Venice itself did not appear to grow any closer. I eventually reached the aid table and as I drank my drink I felt as though my feet were stuck to fly paper. Many people had been before me and spilled the sugary drink onto the pavement where it had formed a sticky film.
When I finally reached Venice itself there were 14 bridges to cross including a temporary pontoon bridge which had been erected over the Grand Canal. Just when I felt I couldn’t continue, I heard the commentators over the loudspeakers cheering people acrosse the finish line. A burst of energy carried me the rest of the way. I scanned the crowd for my husband but didn’t see him when I crossed the finish line with a time of 5hrs 11mins. We later learned that my husband had gotten lost, was given wrong directions, and hadn’t gotten there soon enough to see me but he did get a photo of Linda.
I was overcome with emotion, overwhelmed that I had made it. I greeted Linda as she crossed the line and we rode the wave of our runner’s high. To this day we sometimes feel it was all a dream, two silly friends running a marathon on a whim.