Florence Marathon 27th November 2016

(Written 28/11/2016) I'm sat on the floor of a tiny tail-end area of Florence airport. It's 4 1/2 hours after our flight home was meant to take off. There's a pothole in the runway. No one is going anywhere at the moment and possibly not until tomorrow.  The only cafe in the area has sold out of all food so Mr B has valiantly gone to see if he can find some haute-airport cuisine elsewhere. By rights I should be tired and grumpy and getting angry at a strip of tarmac but right now I don't think anything could dampen my spirits. 

I had a range of goals in my head going into Florence:
A+ = 2:55:xx Top 10 and have fun (added the day before after looking at past results and chatting to Ben FP) 
A = 2:55:xx and have fun
C = A PB and have fun
D = Sub three hours and have fun
E = Try hard, keep it honest and know you gave it your best + and try (!) to have fun
F = Finish and have a blast

You'll notice the 'have fun bit' in there. I'm aware that elite runners probably wouldn't expect to run their best and have fun. They would be squeezing every last drop out of their performance. But, I'm not elite and it was my choice to do this many races because I love it.  I'd been feeling pretty tired in my last track sessions and was slightly concerned that I'd bitten off more than I could chew and that the build up of fatigue would come back to kick me, so it seemed important to make this point to myself before the race. I even felt out of breath and achey walking over the bridge to the expo! 

Aside from all that, I was properly excited about getting to go to Florence with Mr B and have another adventure as well as getting to churn up the pavement for some decent miles in a race and a new place. Scroll to the end if you just want the splits and not the ramblings. You can see a video here.

The conditions couldn't have been better - 10 degrees, clear, no wind and gradually getting warmer towards the end.

--------Pizza break----- and soon after (23:30), a plane home. Hurrah!-----

With a typically Italian approach to timing, the deadline for getting into your pens before the start varied from 8:00-8:20 depending on who you spoke to (race started at 8:30). I was in the 3:00:00-2:45:00 pen and then the elites were up ahead. It was hassle-free finding the pen and plenty of space for us all. I think you could have turned up at 8:29! I've noticed since running abroad that you don't get banter in starting pens outside of the UK - even amongst locals. I don't know why. I love having random chats with other runners at the start. You hear a bit about them and why they are running and invariably end up bumping into each other at some point in the race. Just before the starting gun fired a gent in front of me took off his poncho to reveal a Clapham Chasers vest so the poor guy got the brunt of my need to talk. We joked about how we were convinced that the reported 'flat and fast' course was a big conspiracy as we couldn't see how that many turns, bridges and cobbles could possibly give the desired result.

Confusingly there was a 3:15 pacer in our pen and they were stood in front of the 3 hr pacer. There was also another 3 hr pacer right at the front of the pen. All of them went out way too fast. So much for my plan to stand in front of the three hour pack and keep them behind me. I was aiming to go out at 6'40/mi (2:55)  and see how long I could hold it. You don't know if you don't try.

The gun went off and, as suspected, the start was pretty congested. There were a few grumpy men with sharp elbows but after one block it eased out and we started to get some space. Glancing at my watch the pace was slower than I'd planned but one advantage of running so many races is that I know the first mile is always either too fast because you're excited or too slow because it's busy. No point panicking. 

Many of the streets are not technically cobbled but neither are they smooth tarmac so it's a different but not unpleasant surface to run on. The big bonus is that unlike British cities, there are very few speed bumps or other street furniture. This make it much easier to move around the pack. 

The splits were firing off mile by mile on my watch and looking faster than I intended. I kept thinking I should hold it back a bit so that I didn't regret it later but then the next one would come and it would be the same again. We ran out to Parco della Cascine and what a change of feeling to the centre of Florence. From tight bustling streets and imposing architecture to wide tree line roads and open park. Marathons are such a great way to see places. We came across the first music point and although I'd had the odd moment of realising that I had to keep this going for an awful lot longer, I was generally happy and it was nice to get a beats-based-boost, even if it was one of the Iglesias crooners (Enrique/Julio I didn't really care). 

The route doubles back on itself a lot at this stage which is a real plus point as you get  (and can give) great support to runners coming the other way. By 10k in there were few ladies around me  so I was getting noticed and receiving shouts from women coming the other way. A guy running near me turned and said 'I stay near you, you get all the cheers' ! We did infact end up sticking together for a lot of the race and though we didn't talk any more there were several nods and grins exchanged as we to-d and fro-d over the next miles.

Soon after this I bumped into another Full Potential runner who was looking strong and was way ahead of his sub-three target. We chatted a bit and then he very politely asked me if I minded him putting his headphones back in. What a gent. Soon after he went on his way. I wasn't about to chase after him and I didn't want to mess his race up either. 

I took my first gel at the 10k marker and saw that I was ahead of my planned time. It still felt fine though - even at Berlin I was thinking ahead of time about the gel but this one just snuck up on me. I was rather surprised at my time and as I spotted Mr B we both knew that this could be foolhardy...but I shouted 'I think it's on!'  and ran past hoping against hope that I wasn't being a total idiot. 

We left the park, dipped down through an underpass and up again and back towards the centre. Over a bridge to the other side of Florence and up towards Santo Spirito and Palazzo Pitti. the road was less even here and it was the first time I really felt the effort of keeping stable. A slight uphill away from the centre and then a tight turn via some damp sponges and back down towards the Ponte Vecchio. The crowds were incredible at this point, they could have held their own against the London Marathon crowds easily. Mr B was all over the cheering duties and saw me several more times. At half way I saw the time - 1:26:30 he looked at me in a 'Gill, what?!' way. I shouted back something like 'I know but it feels ok right now!' and again I ran past hoping against hope that I wasn't being a total idiot. This was the last time I'd see him until we came back past the finish line and into the final 5k.

From now on the route went out towards a less populated area toward the Asics Stadium. Ben FP had warned me that this was where you have to put the work in as it's not as pretty, there's less support and it's when the miles are starting to rack up. He was waiting at 27 and 33k. The last time he'd seen me at a race it was the home straight of London marathon and I looked like I was wading through treacle so it was a good incentive not to be rubbish! The race reached the stadium and it was starting to get a little warm by now. It was a nice touch to give as a partial lap of the athletics track before spitting us back out onto the roads again - a welcome relief for the feet, though you felt it again when you hit the tarmac again in this more residential area. I was determined by now that I wouldn't let more people overtake me than I was able to overtake. I'm not sure if I managed it but I think I might have done. As we came back towards BenFP's second point there was a bridge where the road crosses over where we'd run on the way out. It's a pretty steep uphill but the down on the other side was lovely and with Ben standing at the bottom I managed to shout at him and hopefully not look utterly incompetent thanks to the helpful gradient. Ben yelled that there was a lady up ahead that I should chase down, I should also lift my knees (ha - don't look at the race pictures ben) and 'you better enjoy this last 8k because you're not running for 2 weeks'. Appealing to my competitive spirit, my pride and my love of running more even when I shouldn't....am I that easy to read?! Clearly I am and it worked because the mile split after this point is faster than any around it.

I was glad to be heading back into the town and after taking my final, caffeinated gel, sure enough I saw the lady ahead. I tried to keep squeezing closer and as she went for a gel and some water I figured that as long as I could keep my pace up she'd naturally slow down. Then I just had to keep the lead. I knew I was in the top 10 and still on pace so this was not the time to give in and, weirdly, I was still having fun!

 

Back into the town the route actually goes past the finish line before sending you over the Ponte Vecchio. Despite the smile on my face my legs were obviously starting to get tired and the cobbled street really made my knees and ankles work. I was still looking around though and there was none of the mental fatigue that I'd felt at the end of Garda or even Berlin. Perhaps because it was my last for a while or perhaps because I was stronger. Either way this was the strongest I'd felt at this point in a race. Seeing Steve a couple of times on the way through his excitement was infectious. A lady from AR also shouted at me as I crossed the final bridge back towards the finish, past icecream shops which were calling out to me with the promise of post-race reward.

Up ahead I saw the gent from Full Potential, we said a quick hello and I carried on glad to know he was going to smash his 3hr target. 1k left and Mr B caught me again, 'go for it - a 4min kilometer and you've got 2:53...go on...fly!'. I can't express how much difference those 11 (yes 11) times that Mr B saw me made to the race in terms of enjoyment and, no doubt, time. I tried to fly and turn up the speed but after a couple of moments trying I felt ill so I couldn't keep it up. I was determined though that I was going to try to finish strong as soon as I saw the finishing point. We rounded a corner, a blue arch in sight but not the finish line, another turn, not the finishing line, but the crowds were great and Mr B again in his yellow hat was shouting and running through the crowds along side. I turned it up a little and then as I went round the final corner and saw the blue mat and the red arch I gave it what I had. I even managed to overtake someone on that final stretch and it actually does look in the video like maybe I was trying. I mean it's not exactly light speed but it's better than before.

Crossed the line in 2:53:22 chip time, 7th female, 1st brit, 1st non-elite and had the most fun I've had in a race since my first ever London. A-goal and then some. I have no idea how that happened but it did. Now if someone can just make sure I never start an ill-thought-through hashtag again, that would be great, thanks. #3in3under

Now, if I can just get Mr B to hand over the gelato...

 

Other info in case you care:

We had chosen Florence because Full Potential had a big group going so I could get advice, join them for their shakeout run and have the new and exciting benefit of having my coach at the race. There was the added bonus that members of the AR Collective and BBC Running Club were taking part too.  It's easy to fly to Pisa and get the train across. The race is well organised and not too expensive in the scheme of race entries. The city is beautiful and it's a nice time of year to visit. I'd recommend it.
Kit:
Adidas Adios Adizero Boost 2 trainers, Asics Marathon socks, Nike Rival (now 'flex') shorts (with gels stuffed in waistband and pocket), Runderwear briefs, Adidas Climacool AR Collective vest, New Balance tonic crop bra, Epson Runsense watch

Pre race food:
Sat lunch = random panini from cafe (no coffee as avoiding caffeine until tomorrow boo!) + apple
Sat night = Ravioli bolognese with the AR crew and a My Protein chocolate flapjack because I was still hungry.
Sunday 7am = mug full of Aldi tropical muesli (has nuts and dried fruit but not as many seeds as my normal muesli) with hot water and 1/4 cup of milk heated in the microwave. I bring the mueli with me just because I know it's hard to get abroad but the water milk thing was just bad organisation. 1/2 cup of coffee 

Fuelling: 10k, 20k, 28k My protein gels + 33k Gu caffeinated gel + sips of water at every station

Splits (HR data distinctly suspect): 

DistanceCumulative timeAv PaceHR
1.00 mile0:06'54"6'53" /mile95 bpm
2.00 mile0:13'08"6'13" /mile- bpm
3.00 mile0:19'41"6'31" /mile- bpm
4.00 mile0:26'21"6'39" /mile131 bpm
5.00 mile0:32'58"6'35" /mile132 bpm
6.00 mile0:39'29"6'29" /mile132 bpm
7.00 mile0:46'05"6'34" /mile- bpm
8.00 mile0:52'38"6'32" /mile159 bpm
9.00 mile0:59'16"6'35" /mile133 bpm
10.00 mile1:05'57"6'40" /mile137 bpm
11.00 mile1:12'32"6'32" /mile168 bpm
12.00 mile1:19'06"6'32" /mile139 bpm
13.00 mile1:25'45"6'37" /mile148 bpm
14.00 mile1:32'30"6'43" /mile- bpm
15.00 mile1:39'02"6'29" /mile189 bpm
16.00 mile1:45'41"6'37" /mile198 bpm
17.00 mile1:52'19"6'37" /mile196 bpm
18.00 mile1:58'53"6'32" /mile206 bpm
19.00 mile2:05'25"6'31" /mile200 bpm
20.00 mile2:12'13"6'45" /mile- bpm
21.00 mile2:18'50"6'34" /mile164 bpm
22.00 mile2:25'16"6'24" /mile153 bpm
23.00 mile2:32'15"6'56" /mile175 bpm
24.00 mile2:39'30"7'14" /mile179 bpm
25.00 mile2:46'13"6'40" /mile186 bpm
26.00 mile2:53'15"7'01" /mile180 bpm
26.03 mile2:53'25"4'49" /mile- bpm

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