a guest post & photos by Annika Blyckertz
My friend Annika is a salon owner in her mid-thirties from Gävle, Sweden – married with a 15 year old son. She’s a casual runner who ran the Rome marathon in 2014. UPDATE: For all the most up to date information about the 2017 Rome Marathon taking place on Sunday, 2 April please go to http://www.maratonadiroma.it The site comes in various languages: English, Spanish, French and German.
I came to Rome on Friday and the marathon is on Sunday. Coming from Sweden, it was quick and easy for me to jump over to Rome for a few days and I had already been to Rome before. However, if you are coming from very far away and/or have never been to Rome and plan on incorporating some sight seeing into your time here, I would highly recommend giving yourself much more time than just a long weekend.
One or two days before the marathon you have to pick up your race packet at The Marathon Village which is at a place called the Palazzo dei Congressi. By public transit you take the blue line metro/Line B to the EUR Fermi stop. It was my first time on the Rome metro and I was traveling alone, but it was very easy and even though you have to walk a few blocks from the station once you arrive it’s easy to find – just follow the crowd!
Saturday the day before the marathon is best spent eating and SLOWLY and MODERATELY strolling around. You will want well rested legs on Marathon Day, and you need to eat more than usual, but still easily digested food. I went to a local restaurant near The Beehive for dinner the night before. I had some amazing pasta alla gricia – a Roman pasta dish, usually rigatoni or spaghetti, made with guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino romano and pepper – which turned out to be perfect fuel. An early night and as much sleep as possible is definitely recommended.
I stayed at The Beehive which was an excellent decision thanks to it being so close to Termini (among all of the other reasons). Marathon start time was at 9:00am, but you have to get there earlier around 8:00am to leave your bag and anything else you don’t want to run with. I left The Beehive at around 7.30am. From there it’s a short walk to Termini to take the metro to the Colosseum – again follow the crowds.
Everyone is obligated to bring their race packet that you must pick up at the Marathon Village. For Rome’s marathon, you’re given a backpack which is the only bag you are allowed to drop off in the start area and of course all the runners wear running clothes and various cover-ups some of which are pretty hilarious. I have never seen so many people dressed in garbage bags before. The metro was free for runners that day, and there are lots of people – literally thousands. It’s a special feeling to be part of an international community consisting of total strangers, but everybody is so friendly and helpful and there is this immediate feeling of belonging. It is difficult to explain until you experience it yourself.
On the metro I was a bit confused about where to get off because I had read something about one of the exits being closed off, but all I had to do was stand there and look confused for some of the other runners to say that no, we were to stay on the train for another two stops. We were all going to the same place, all having the same goal. There’s no competition, only friendliness and community.
Bags are dropped off at several trucks parked in a long row, it’s easy to find once you get into the start area, but depending on your bib number you may have to walk quite far from the drop off truck to the start line, so get there early to give yourself enough time. This is where the garbage bags I thought were so funny come in handy; put one of them on top of your running outfit and it will keep you surprisingly warm – and dry, if it is raining. It is also recommended to wear an old sweater that you can simply discard when you get too warm – it is important to stay warm until you start running!
Drink water, eat a banana, slowly walk towards the starting line. There are toilets close to the start, they were in multiple rows which weren’t easily seen so there were many of us waiting in line for the first row while there were many empty booths in the rows behind!
Once all of that is done you need to get to your corral, then wait to hear The Final Countdown (yay Sweden!) and then the gun goes off and everybody starts clapping. The tears…
After that, you’re in it for the long haul. You really have no choice, but to follow the mass of people as they proceed towards the starting line and before you know it you will have crossed it. Crazy feeling. Tears again. When you have crossed that line there’s no going back, you just have to keep going until you reach the finish line 42,195 meters later. CRAZY. And hilarious. God I laughed. Then I stopped after ten meters because I realized that I had forgotten to start my music. Then after another 100m to take the sweater off. More laughter. I think was laughing for the first 10k.
You’ll find lots and lots of supporters and people watching and cheering at the start, but pretty soon you go into more residential areas and the crowds thin out. You run through areas not often seen by tourists, which is great! For example, on past trips to Rome I had never seen the pyramid of Rome (Pyramid of Cestius). I remember the course as being relatively flat – surprisingly so for a city built on seven hills, but I can’t remember any super steep hills and the roads you run on are generally well maintained (much better than in Florence’s marathon, but that’s another post!).
Quite a large part of the course is on cobblestones, which as you can imagine is tough on the legs, but then again those are the parts where you get to see famous monuments and you will also have a larger audience cheering you on which makes up for it. Running up towards St Peter’s basilica is spectacular – more tears!
There are lots of spectators all the way in the center (here are some tips for spectators here and I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to have people cheering you on and clapping even if you know they’re really there to see somebody else. So if you were one of those spectators in 2014 – thank you! At Piazza Navona I found my good friend, Nicki, who was there to see me, or rather she found me. Tears again. I was so crazy tired at that point (36 km in or so), but having her support really made all the difference.
Keep going, run through the pain, don’t forget to drink at the stations and those wet sponges are fantastic to clear your mind. Look up and see the Spanish Steps when you run by because I didn’t!
Before you know it, you can see the Colosseum in the distance, and the end is near, and you sprint the best you can, there’s no point in saving any energy by then, just run. Run run run, and cross that finish line, raise your hands if you still have any juice in you (I only had enough to get them halfway up), then go ahead and collapse once you have your medal.
After you have collapsed and gotten back up on your feet, hobble on as best you can. It’s amazing how you can run for hours and hours and then once you stop running you can’t even walk. There are refreshments and massage tents (I hid in one when the sky burst open) that you pass on your way back to the truck where you left your bag. Once there, put on some cover-ups and if possible at least change your shirt. Nobody cares if you strip down to your underwear in the middle of the crowd, promise. My friend, Nicki and I went straight to the metro after that. Warning: you have to go down a few stairs to get to the metro and it’s not pretty.
Back to your accommodation, shower (BEST SHOWER IN THE WORLD), get dressed, collapse on the bed for ten minutes until your stomach demands that you get food. Eat, drink, then be asleep like a baby by 9:00pm.
It was my first marathon so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I have run in the Stockholm and Florence marathons since then and I must say that Rome will always be special. I thought it was very well organized (yes, Stockholm was better but not as much as many might think) and so much fun, definitely one of the best days in my life despite all the pain – lots of blisters, ouch! The course was great; some boring passages but all marathons have those. Extra bonus for being a 1 lap course (Stockholm is 2 laps) with lots and lots to see along the way thanks to beautiful Rome being Rome.