The day did not start great: waking up to a weather forecast that has stayed consistent for a week and shows that you will get completely soaked from 8am on, including thunderstorms, is never great at marathon day. Well, I sent up one of those desperate “God, pleeease!?” prayers (if someone can change the weather last minute, it must be him) and got up, still not sure how to get to the shuttle buses that would bring us 30 kilometres out to the start. These busses left at the other end of Venice, Google Maps said one hour to walk. When I chose my accommodation the main criteria was close to the finish, but who could have guessed that finish line and shuttle busses are at the opposite sides of Venice? I bumped into runners the night before and they said just to follow other runners, I would be fine. But I wasn’t. The other runners caught a water-bus along the Canal Grande and I followed them. It took the water-bus 15 minutes for five stops, at least 10 more to go to Piazzale Roma, from where we still had to walk at least 10 minutes to catch the shuttle busses. Against the trend I decided to leave the water-bus and walk the rest. I already missed a marathon start this year and did not intent to repeat that experience. It turned out walking was definitely fast enough, so I caught my shuttle bus together with a countless number of other runners. The bus was so packed that my suddenly inappropriate layers of jacket, jumper and running shirt immediately caused me breaking out in sweats. But there was no space to take the jacket or jumper off, the journey took at least half an hour and by the end I was so sweaty like having been half into the actual race. Anyway, I made it to the start area, a little bit too early for my taste, but better then too late. The looming thunderstorm made me nervous. While I was waiting I was getting cold, the first rain drops came down and I just did not like the scenario that was starting to play out. But against all odds the weather kept up. And I started running in dry conditions. And everything hurt. The kind of “hurt” where you think it is just not your day. Great. At kilometre 15 I had enough. But no options, but to continue. And suddenly there was a shift. Rather than focusing on everything else and that a sub 3:30 is so not going to happen, I focussed somehow on the basics: regular, calm but deep breathing, posture, the road ahead of me. And I found my zone and things got better and even enjoyable. And then came the bit that was almost a spiritual experience. After kilometre 31 the route was leading to a straight line, vanishing into a fixed point and then nothing. Of course this was the bridge leading to Venice. But you could not see Venice, only sense it. The general visibility was good but not clear, and at some point you saw Venice slowly taking shape and materialising at the misty horizon. The feeling was magical and the pull this caused was unprecedented, especially at this point of a marathon, where the going gets tough. This wasn’t tough, it was something else. At that point I realised that it still had not rained and the sky did not look like it would any time soon. Had God really listened to my winging this morning? I felt much loved. The slow appearance of this seemingly floating city, surrounded by water and shrouded in clouds suddenly awoke thoughts of a New Jerusalem descending from the sky. A goosebump moment – with a harsh wake-up in a worldly reality. Once we entered Venice, the route led us through a grey and dirty port/industrial area, which was definitely an anti-climax and it gave you goosebumps for the wrong reason. Once pushed through (two kilometres that felt so much longer than the five before) you had the final four left, leading through all the good Venice stuff that you signed up for:
Seaside to your right, Basilika Santa Maria to your left, running across the Canal Grande on a temporary bridge especially for us, running towards and into the Piazza San Marco with the 41k marker placed directly in front of the glorious Basilika.
The last four kilometres of a marathon had never felt any better. It was absolute amazing, almost divine. What a glorious finish to what started out to be a running disaster in making. I am feeling very thankful.