Milan Race Report – La Dolce Vita!!
Friday 9th April. The 18.30 Ryanair 4538 took us from Liverpool airport over the Alps and down to the plains of Lombardy and Bergamo airport. An hour or so by bus to the city of Milano and we were in our home for 3 nights, the Ibis Centro Milano. We thought we would celebrate our arrival in Milan with some traditional Italian food, so Dave Goodall chose “McDonalds”, though they very sensibly served Peroni beer!! We sat outside in the mild Italian evening spring air and scoffed our burgers.
Saturday 10th April – As is now the norm with most major international races, all race participants have to register and pick up their race numbers the day before the race. Registration was at the beautiful Castello Sforzesco. Built as a fortress in the 14th century, it was converted into a Ducal residence in 1450 and later given to the city of Milan. It now houses a museum and library. Getting to the registration meant our first experience of Milan’s Metro. Initially confusing, we found it very easy and cheap to use and relied on it heavily during our time in Milan. The afternoon was spent at leisure, strolling the elegant streets of Milan with their expensive fashion shops and marvelling at the Duomo. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world by floor area and one of the largest places of worship on the planet. Originally started in 1386, it was only completed in 1805, on the insistence of Napoleon Bonaparte before he was crowned King of Italy. With 135 souring spires and over 3,000 statues, it is a magical and inspiring place and the main tourist site in Milan and is free to enter. It was a lovely sunny Lombardy day, with clear skies and 20C.
Later that afternoon, a few of us went to La Scala for some light opera before dinner (as one does – we’re not all Philistines I’ll have you know). In the evening we loaded up on Italian carbohydrates; pasta and pizza plus the odd beer. The restaurant was full of Italian runners. Tony tried to interview one of them for the website, but his and their complete lack of a common language somewhat hampered this!!
Sunday 11th April – Race day. Both the marathon and the half were due to start at 09.20 in Rho, a suburb to the west of Milan. Again the Metro proved invaluable. The weather forecast had rightly predicted that it would be cool and cloudy, but we had not planned for the strong wind. It was blowing a gale. This was a concern, as it saps your energy running in the wind for long periods. We took shelter in the lobby of the unusual and tilting NH Hotel, where hundreds of runners also had the same idea. Reception was packed, but it kept us warm and out of the wind. I think the hotel management were not best pleased by the invasion. As it transpired, the wind died down at the start and was not to trouble us again during the race. Then at 09.20 the gun went off. After hand shakes, kisses, hugs and good lucks all around between the Village Road Runners, we were off – all 5,000 of us. I just hope I did enough training – a bit bloody late now!!
During a marathon, it is nice to look around and enjoy the sights, but more importantly it passes the time and stops you thinking about the pain and fatigue to come. The early route took us through some light industrial areas, then into the Milan suburbs proper. We passed the San Siro football stadium to our left. Some love it as a cathedral of style and graceful Italian football. I thought it was a big dog pooh dollop of concrete and red oxide dullness. The ladies just hoped to catch a glimpse of Jose Morinio. We later passed a large horse racing stadium with a massive, Troy scale bronze horse at its entrance. The kilometres seemed to pass quickly now, as we ran along typically elegant Italian boulevards with shuttered windows. We could have been in Paris or Rome. It really felt very nice to be running in Milan.
At about 20km, as we approached the city centre, the marathon and half routes split, with the half then finishing at 21.1 km. The signs were only in Italian and it was not clear which way to go. I was running with Gary Jenkinson up to this point, and we were unsure what to do – we conferred and veered left. Fortunately I had remembered from La Scala the previous night, the words Mezza Soprano, which I assumed meant middle Soprano. We took Mezza as middle (like mezzanine) or half and went the other way. It was not very clear at all. Fortunately it was correct. See – culture does have its benefits. We found out later that everyone had had the same problem and that Barbara had in fact taken the wrong route, but still came third in her age group with a creditable half at 2:13. It was declared that she will henceforth and forever be known as Satnav or Garmin Barb!!. I had commented the day before, that the signs will probably direct us – tough guys, studs, proper men etc (marathon) one way; Nancy boys, Jessie’s, softies etc (half) the other way. Only joking chaps!!
The route then took us past our own half marathon point just on the 2 hour mark and onto the marble clad Duomo, bathed in bright sunlight. It looked incredible. We thought sub 4:15 was do-able. The route then did a long loop of the old town and some east suburbs, before heading back towards the Castello Sforzesco. I met Joe Delaney at about 35km. He was running well and happily listening to his MP3. We shook hands, gave each other an appreciative nod and wished each other well. Onwards.
As I passed the 39km (24 mile) point, the end felt near. I knew I would complete the run. With only 3km to go and with a time of 3:40 on my watch, I knew if I kept going, I would beat 4 hours. Normally from the 20 mile mark (sometimes 18), your energy reserves are severely depleted and you are running on will power alone. The fuel gauge is now on empty (some call it the wall, I call it knackered). It’s getting very tough now and you really do need the crowd support to spur you on. Unfortunately, there were very few spectators between 20 and 26 miles (possibly because the half had finished) and every second seemed to pass very slowly. The last 3km seemed to take forever. Then suddenly the finish line was in sight and I heard Lucia with her iconic cow bell and horn, which gave me a boost to drive to the line. A quick wave to Dave and Steve in the crowd on the finishing straight, and with tears in my eyes, I crossed the line. YES – JOB DONE. I don’t know why, but I always feel very emotional on finishing a marathon. It is a wonderful feeling to cross the finish line at the end of a marathon and sadly one that only a small percentage of mankind will ever experience. You feel blessed to have the health, energy and stamina to run this distance. Approaching 55 years of age, I had run 26 miles and 385 yards, non stop, in 3:57:48. I had planned to do under 4:15 and was well chuffed to get in under 4 hours. Not my best time, but one I’m very happy with.
Phil had run well and finished about 1.5 minutes ahead of me and was also pleased to beat 4 hours. Gary came in next at 4:10, with Joe and Alan just behind. Everyone had crossed the line safely and were all pleased with their times. Realistically in a marathon or half, the time is not important, it’s beating the distance and finishing that counts. Everyone is a winner.
After the finish line, I drank plenty of fluids and gorged on bananas. Then wrapped in the obligatory foil space-cloak, I met up with Dave, Steve, Gary, Phil and Lucia at the Castello fountains, as we had agreed. All the halfers had got back safely too. We swapped experiences of the race, finishing times and talked a lot about Gary’s severe “groin chaffing” (he did not show us fortunately, but photos may follow!!). We then gently hobbled our way to the Metro and back to the hotel for a soothing hot bath and a well earned glass of Italian red or two.
The race was flat and well organized (apart from the shambolic split point). Drink and food stations were at regular intervals and well manned. The sponge stations were very welcome. High fives to the volunteer marshals, who were everywhere along the route in their day-glow tops supporting and directing us. The weather had been kind to us.
In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant nearby, where we had average food and laughably awful service (I never got my main course). But I had a really nice time in the excellent company of my fellow Village Road Runners and that’s what really counts. After a few beers and some more red wine, I slept like a baby. No blisters or pain.
Monday 12th April. We all had a full day free to hobble around. Some did the city bus tour, Dave went by train to Bergamo and we walked miles again around the city. We visited the World Heritage Site church of Santa Maria Della Grazie, where Leonardo de Vinci’s 15th century mural of the Last Supper is housed. It is only very rarely on display due to its delicate nature, but not today. We revisited the Duomo and courageously spurning the lift, we climbed the stone steps to the roof top, for superb panoramic views of the Duomo spires with the city below – simply stunning. The steps down were a bit tough on the knees though. We then strolled slowly back to the hotel, via the large Giardini Publici park, with its planetarium and natural history museum, stopping off for a pleasantly long lunch. We all met in up reception, then back to the central station and onto the bus for Bergamo Airport. On route we could clearly see the snow topped peaks of the Dolomites rising up from the Lombardy plain in front of us. A very nice way to finish our time in Milano – ARRIVEDERCI MILANO.
The 22.05 Ryanair 4537 uneventfully dropped us back to Liverpool on time. On the flight back, I gallantly helped Dave devour a very large slab of Swiss chocolate – well we’ve earned it!!
Many thanks to Gary for organising the trip; to Tony for the website, video and photos; and to Phil, Joe, Alan, Dave, Alex, Steve, John, Sue, Tony, Sharon and Barb for their lovely company and making me laugh over a very enjoyable weekend.
Next job on my list: – I must do some training for the Edinburgh marathon in 6 weeks time. WHAT!! – Are we crazy – yes I think we must be?