Rome Marathon, Honestly

I'm of the mindset that when we speak and think about wonderful and beautiful things it helps to bring about more of it in life, so I've been conditioned to make the topic of my conversation and of my writing about all of the things that are positive. That is why among my unpublished drafts I have a blog titled, "The Wish that You Dream Will Come True." I can't remember what it was that I was thinking about at the time, but something magical without a doubt.

On the contrary, though, it's the sensational, negative headlines that capture our attention. It has to do with the way we've evolved to be alerted by danger. In the modern world, even when we are not in danger we're constantly inundated by terrible happenings that are completely outside our sphere of control. Reading about them evokes a reaction in us that is similar to what we would experience if we were in actual danger. 

It's for that reason that I put myself on a "low-information diet." I learned about the concept in The Compound Effect, Thinking Fast and Slow, and The 4-Hour Workweek, but it's also an idea brought to our attention by Eckhart Tolle and it's even in the Bible. I try to protect my mind from watching the news, which used to be such a guilty pleasure of mine. 

If you think about it, what a way is that to start your day, with your coffee and toast and a good dose of all of the atrocities happening in the world? So little airtime is dedicated to what is good

Yet while I don't find it advantageous to spend mental energy contemplating negative circumstances beyond my control, I do love sharing stories that have come complete. No story is honest or resonant that does not include hardship, struggle and pain. When I look back on my Rome Marathon experience now, for everything that was wonderful and beautiful about it, I cannot exclude how it actually felt to run the race.

The story of my Rome Marathon experience begins as I was preparing to run LA Marathon on March 17. I had signed up to run for the charity team. I was training and making fundraising efforts and then a potential job came up in Rome. 

I have a love affair with Italy, so getting that job, even though it was unlikely, became an obsession of mine. I heard about the opportunity a little late and there was already a crew in place, but I became so fixated on it that I held out hope thinking that maybe somebody would drop out. But while running in the mountains one morning and dreaming about Rome I realized that if I were to get that job, I wouldn't be able to run the LA Marathon. 

When I set my mind on something that I really want, I don't like to consider different possibilities, and the LA Marathon was the one thing that could have been a potential interference. How could I go on preparing and raising funds, when in my heart I really wanted to be in Rome? I decided to look up marathons in Rome, just in case, and wondered like a crazy lunatic if the Rome Marathon would happen around the same time (highly unlikely - since major cities usually only have one marathon a year). 

I learned The Rome Marathon was on the exact same day. I promised God that I would no longer fundraise for the LA Marathon and instead I would take down the donation link in good faith and make the remaining contributions myself. 

I went home and put up little sticky notes on my door that said "Roma - La Citta Eterna" and "Run Rome Marathon" with a drawing of the Colosseum. Yes, that is what you might consider manifestation, which I whole-heartedly believe in. I think it makes an enormous difference when you keep your mind focused on your goals, thus keeping your eyes open to opportunities that are inline with what you want. 

When you're fixated on something you start paying attention to different things, like being at a red light next to a DHL truck advertising shipments to Italy, or a sign displaying various Italian cuisines in the window at FedEx. Each night I like to read the Bible before I go to sleep and in those nights I arrived at the letters to  "Romans." All roads were leading to Rome, so I was surprised when I learned that I did not get the job. 

Should I just go, I wondered, alone? It hardly seemed like any fun, to travel to Italy and run a marathon by myself, but I had my hopes up and I couldn't imagine staying home and running the LA Marathon anymore. I thought about taking my little sister. Italy's always been something I wanted to share with her but after a full year of strikes and work stoppages in the film industry I hadn't been in the mood for travel. To be completely honest, I've spent the last year living in a state of fear and anxiety that I've never experienced in my adult life. 

But what an opportunity it would be to refresh and release that old, stagnant, fearful energy and take advantage of the time I had? The film industry would not be down forever and surely there would be plenty of time in my life to work. So I called my little sister and asked her if she would come to Rome with me in a few days, and it was not a hard sell. 

On the plane I imagined myself running through the cobblestone streets of the eternal city where I would surely channel the energy of the ancient Romans and never tire. The course sounded like something from a fairy tale; It would begin at the Colosseum and pass through the forums of the emperors, around the obelisks of ancient Egypt, the Pantheon, the Spanish steps and right down the Main Street leading to the St.Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. How could I feel anything but wonderment and awe and love on such a conquest? 

We flew in a couple of days before the marathon so that my body had just enough time to adjust. Luckily the best way to fuel your body in the days leading up to such an endurance run is with loads and loads of pasta - perfetto. We strolled pleasantly together around the city, eating pasta. 

The Race Expo the day before the marathon is always one of my favorite parts. It was held at the Palazzo Dei Congressi a little out of the city centre.  When we arrived there it was the first time I took in the scope of the event, there were thousands of people in line to pick up their bibs outside the building. It snaked across the Piazza up to the grand entrance. 

After an hour in line I picked up my bib and went upstairs to get the race backpack and t-shirt, which is something that I was eagerly anticipating. I was gutted to learn that they were all out of size smalls and any other size except for large. 

How it happened, when we all gave our sizes signing up, I am not sure. Luckily though when I opened up the t-shirt I saw that it was tiny! European sizes. Thank goodness because if I had received a small like I wanted it would have been a muscle shirt. 

I got my name printed on the back of the shirt and then we walked through all of the booths advertising other marathons in Italy. It was a wonderland. I saw Milan, Florence[!], and then Assisi[!!!], all coming up later that year. If work turns out to be more auspicious, then I will be running in Florence in November. The tagline is "Run With Art." I mean, รจ maraviglioso!

The evening went as you would want it to on the evening before the marathon. We had a nice early pasta dinner next to the Pantheon and got into bed by 9pm. The marathon had a relatively late start at 830 and there was no bussing or drop off situation. I had the unfortunate problem yet again about my music not syncing to my Apple Watch but I sadly decided to let it go. It would be another marathon with no music, just like my last one. 

On the beautiful morning of the race we stepped out from our little hotel in Monti that was tucked into one of the tiny backstreets and we made our way out into hundreds of runners descending the Via Nazionale. The temperature was perfect, around 18 degrees celsius, still fresh and crisp before the promising sun rose completely. I ate my breakfast along the way, a delicious piece of focaccia from L'Antico Forno Trevi (a lovely little bakery and salumeria) and then arrived at the Piazza Venezia. At the centre of the convergence I realized that it was going to be a nightmare. 

Italians wandering every which way, with one poor man on a microphone hidden somewhere beneath the hoards, trying to direct runners to the corrals. I found myself packed into a line that stretched back and forth and funneled some of us into a small corridor, where I thought everyone was headed, only to realize that the open road lead to the same destination. All of the other runners were just as thoroughly confused.

Inside the start area there were lines of toilets, but not nearly enough for 30,000 runners. I've talked about this before but I think it's one of the most critical aspects of the pre-marathon ritual. From my experience and from what I've heard, runners will continuously line up before the race to use the bathrooms, not wanting to risk having to go during their four hour run. I waited for half an hour and then made my way up to start. There was no toilet paper, but I expected as much, so I carried wipes. 

The start line was absolute mayhem. The corrals had been set up at the front - 3h30 - 3h40 - 3h50 all the way up to the 6h00 fit walkers, and there was no possible way for me to reach any of those corrals because everyone was packed so tightly. It was such a disaster that after trying and struggling to reach the front, many of the runners just stuck to the back all mixed in together with different paces. 

By the time I was able to cross the start it was about 20 minutes after the gun time. I weaved my way through and I would spend the entire marathon expending energy to try and get around people that were considerably slower than me. 

It was a real shame because it was annoying for everyone, fast runners and slow runners. Imagine getting stuck behind 10,000 slow walkers on the sidewalk for four hours. At the same time I was feeling badly for all of the runners that had been sticking to their desired pace but yet were constantly being passed by faster runners.  

I'm embarrassed to say that I spent the first 10km of the run with the same repetitive thoughts in my head about how much that sucked.

Eventually I realized how silly I was being, mulling over something that I couldn't control instead of taking in what I was doing. All of the breathtaking sights... I was living out my running dreams! It's remarkable when that shift happens, when you're able to bring the present moment into the forefront of your attention and you physically feel the lenses in your eyes switch. 

But it was not the only glitch in the run.  Refreshment stations, which marathoners typically rely on, were not adequately equipped. There wasn't water available at times when you should have been able to expect water.  I also dropped three out of four of my energy gels in the first kilometer (lol) and that was not good at all. Typically you want to run a marathon with whatever energy gel your body is used to, but in an emergency, on any marathon I'd ever run before, there would be stations stocked with them. 

Not in Italy, though. I kind of love them for this but instead of energy gels the fueling stations were divided to three sections, "Acqua," "Sali" for salts - like gatorade, and "Solidi." Yes, solid food for your run like cut up pieces of fruit including bits of apple, orange, banana, and raisins. I went with it because I had to and ate a couple of apple pieces. On a 42km run though, where you burn around 2000 calories, it was likely not enough. 

Then the worst part. As I hit the halfway point I had to go to the washroom very, very badly. The toilet situation was of course sparse.  I think that there were ten porta potties total on the entire course and each of them had small line ups. In my head I was honestly trying to get another Boston-qualifying time, and I knew that stopping to use the bathroom would ruin my chances. In hindsight, though, I don't know what's worse, running 20kms while having to use the restroom very badly, or stopping to go. 

The feeling in my stomach at times was so unbearable that I truly had to muster strength from God and, without risk of sounding dramatic, imagined myself as a gladiator. I called upon my usual running inspiration too, like from Camille Herron, who ran for a cool four days straight, or The Hardest Geezer, who is currently running the entire length of Africa, over a marathon distance a day.

I was in pain and I wasn't sure if I was okay. The way my body was feeling brought me back to the utterly terrible state I had put it in during the worst of my drunken teenage catastrophes. Feeling my body and remembering those times made me sad for what I put myself through as a teenager. I dedicated the run to those times I suffered. 

While in agony I ran with the rest of the runners along the Tiber and past marching bands and ecstatic cheering fans yelling FORZA FORZA FORZA, DAI DAI DAI! We ran up toward St.Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City through crowds of onlookers and then we crossed over the river and headed back toward the city centre. We saw everything. All of Rome in all of it's glory and I moaned in pain.

Thirty kilometers to thirty-one to thirty-two, with ten kilometers left. I was experiencing one of the hardest things I'd ever felt, and in that moment I knew that I would sign up for it again and again and again. I told myself that God loves work, because he knows how good it makes us feel. He knows there's nothing more satisfying than reaping the fruits of our labour, and nothing less satisfying, I think, then watching our lives pass us by without making great efforts toward our goals. 

I drew parallels between running the marathon, making it across the finish line, and the way that it would feel once I got to the other side of all of the industry strikes. At a time I gave up any hope of making my Boston-qualifying time of sub 3:30, but decided that it would be enough just to finish the race. I was low on strength, and I wouldn't have had any way to gauge my splits because my watch died halfway through. 

We re-entered the city from the North through Piazza del Popolo and then ran through Piazza Navona with its magnificent Bernini fountain, and down the cobblestone streets. I could hardly believe my eyes when I caught a glimpse of that gleaming white monument to Vittoriano, where all of us had lined up before the race that morning.  We didn't quite reach it though, and we diverted course again around the Circus Maximus. Finally we made it to the back of the Colosseum and by a miracle, my little sister Argyll called out to me. I don't know how she caught me amongst so many thousands of runners but she did. 

"Goooooo Scotia!" She yelled, catching my attention, and I was able to give her a smile and a wave. I was so, so, so, close. I rounded the Colosseum and there it was, the finish line. I threw my hands in the air as I crossed. I made it. I didn't know what was going to happen to me next but I made it across. 

I passed through the medals and a woman put one over my head and said, "Congratulations." They tended to speak to me in English as soon as they saw me. I kept walking and grabbed a little plastic bag with a water bottle, an apple, a banana, and biscotti. I downed the water bottle. I considered using the bathroom,  but instead entered it and promptly exited. I walked through the gate, away from the race, out of the sectioned off area, past all of the runners lying on the ground. In there all of us shared something. 

I made my way back to the hotel using the pathways built over the Trajan forum and took the long stairs up to Via Nazionale. I walked through the crowded backstreets, which were then being used as a main road since the marathon had diverted traffic. Just before I made it to the hotel, I bumped into little Argyll again. 

I told her I wasn't alright and she told me about how she never made it on her Colosseum tour that morning because she wasn't able to make it through the blocked off streets. I showered, and then we got up and went out for pizza. 

Each hour, as it comes, is but a testimony how fleeting, yet how secure, how certain, is the great whole. 

John Henry Newman, The Second Spring

Books: Meditations, The Obstacle is the Way


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