Trek and Run were supported during this event by;
Photos by Laura Kimberley and Studio5
Part 1: By Dave Sherman
Before we get started with our reviews, here’s a video I filmed of the event to give you an idea of the course and atmosphere…
A journalist in Runners World recently described Rome as a ‘second tier’ Marathon which I found incredibly strange… Sure, Rome doesn’t have as big a field as London (around 12,000 last year compared to 38,000 in London and almost 50,000 in New York), but with a route which takes in huge portions of the old city passing within snot-rocket distance of amazing sights including the Colosseum and Vatican City, I’m perplexed how this event isn’t placed near the top of every runner’s bucket list?
The 2016 event attracted 16,764 entrants (13,881 of whom would actually take part and finish) – 13,374 male (79.5%) and 3,390 female (20.5%) with 9,251 Italians and 7,513 visitors representing 115 countries. Of those visitors, 1,010 of us were British, beaten only by the French (1,984 entrants) in terms of the most foreign entries, and with single entries coming from as far as Haiti, Dominican Republic and the Faroe Islands it was a truly world-wide field. The youngest entrant was born 9/2/1996 (making him 20 now) and the oldest born 21/2/1929 (making him 87!) and a cool 10,000 euro winners price also attracted a strong elite field including Ethiopia’s Tujuba Beyu Megersa and Kenya’s Amos Kipruto who, running his first ever marathon, would eventually go on to win the race in 2:08:12!
Sign-up was simple with an incredibly straightforward online entry procedure, although one thing which may confuse English entrants was a request for completion of a medical certificate – a European requirement I’d also experienced in Paris and had struggled with due to my local surgery’s reluctance to complete forms of this nature – however in Rome’s case if you’re affiliated with England Athletics through a local running club then a photo of your run license was acceptable in place of the certificate. The pre-race information was plentiful with regular newsletters – one of which contained information about the specially designed “WATER FLOWS AND THE WIND BLOWS” medal designed by Marco Pittacci, a 28-year old Roman graduate of design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, who was the winner of a contest to create the medal design celebrating this year’s Jubilee edition of the race. Normally I dislike seeing the medal before a race but I’ll admit, this was one serious piece of race-bling I couldn’t wait to get my hands on!
We arrived in Rome 4 days before the event, booked ourselves into a hotel about a 15 minute walk from the Colosseum (where the race start would be held) and spent the next 4 days exploring the city… Obviously this isn’t a travel guide so I won’t go too much into detail, but by simply walking around the city and only using the metro system once, we managed to see a huge number of sights including the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Vatican Museums and the Sistene Chapel. Visiting these sights before the event really peaked my excitement as I knew I’d be running through or past some of them on race day. Steve and I also went for a ‘leg-loosener’ jog the Friday morning before the event, and there aren’t many cities where a short 5 mile training run can involve running around 2,000 year old ancient monuments! It’s worth noting there was a huge police (polizia) and army presence throughout the town including some Carabinieri – the national military police of Italy – and many armed with rifles which was understandable given the current climate, but they faded into the background enough that I felt reassured and safe rather than uncomfortable.
Race pack collection was from Thurs to Sat between 10am – 8pm and as it was held at the Palazzo del Congressi which was located outside the central area, this meant braving Rome’s overcrowded, heavily grafittied metro system. While the 2 line system was nice and simple to understand compared to London’s network of coloured lines which regularly cause tourists a headache, our train carriage smelt of urine and the usual tube etiquette of ‘let others off the train before attempting to board’ was clearly ignored with one person actually leaping through the closing doors straight into other passengers! As you’ll see in our video, the expo took place over a number of rooms and despite large crowds, race pack collection was straightforward and we were given a good quality New Balance backpack (to be used in the bag drop and kept as a souvenir) and event t-shirt. The expo itself hosted a number of merchandise stalls, event organisers and sponsor stalls, and some of the elite athletes were hanging around the expo happy to pose for photos with visitors.
The big day arrived and as we left our hotel the weather was a cool 8° with cloudy skies (although this would soon rise to 17° with hardly a cloud in the sky by the end of the race!) and as we walked to the race village the crowds grew until we were eventually surrounded by excited runners speaking various languages. The baggage drop was quick and simple once you’d found your truck, but unfortunately as Steve was at truck number 2 and I was at truck number 18 we lost each other in the crowds at this point – my own fault for suggesting we meet by a couple of inflatables which turned out to be the entrance towards the start-line, and possibly the busiest part of the baggage area! Once through these a short walk past the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine took us to the starting pens and then on through the start-line, and as you can probably see from my reaction in the race video the buzz in the air as we passed through that start-line was absolutely incredible and continued through-out the rest of the route – so much so that post-race along with the expected muscle aches a marathon brings I also had a sore jaw from smiling so much!
The majority of the route passed alongside and through some absolutely amazing sights including Piazza di Spagna, Saint Peter’s Square, Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Navona (which incorporates the Pamphili Palace, Fountain of the Four Rivers, and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone) and the Piazza Venezia. The first and last 10km sections were focussed in the central part of town so as you’d expect the sights and support were concentrated much more in those areas, but despite this the middle 20km still offered beautiful sights and plenty of greenery making for a great route throughout. It’s also worth noting that while the crowds weren’t always very animated, in some areas spectators were screaming at the top of their lungs and quite a few times, more so in the early miles when people had more energy, my fellow runners were singing and shouting as they ran – loving the fact they were able to run in this beautiful city and experience this event! As expected the cobble-stone sections were tough underfoot and it felt like much further than the 7km promised in the pre-race information, but thanks to my super-cushioned shoes they were manageable.
There was non-stop music throughout the route including DJs, rock bands, brass bands – the only thing missing was a choir which surprised me in a city as religious as Rome! The music ranged from classic rock (surreal running through an ancient city hearing Pink Floyd’s ‘Another brick in the wall’) to 90s Dance Music, and gathered around each music station were loads of supporters enjoying the music and soaking up the atmosphere. The final stretch took us through Piazza Venezia towards and past the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (“National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II”) and it was an amazing way to finish such a great race with huge crowds lining the piazza cheering us on.
I crossed the finish line in 3h47m and while this wasn’t a personal best, I’d planned to use this race as a final ‘long slow run’ for a couple of other marathons I’d lined up with a target time of around 4 hours, so it was clear I’d been carried by the atmosphere! I remained in the finish area for a while performing some stretches and soaking up the amazing atmosphere as my fellow runners crossed the line and I was amazed that unlike at most races, no-one tried to move me on or rush me away – everyone was just relaxed and chilled and as long as you weren’t blocking the finish line they left you to finish your own post-race rituals. I eventually walked along the finish chute collecting a medal and goody bag on the way, and received a free massage from volunteers working in a specially set up area within the finish area. I then found Steve and we collected our bags from the baggage trucks, posed for a quick photo beside the Colosseum, and made our way to meet our friends and family – incredibly straightforward and easy!
As I write this article the London Marathon has just taken place and as with last year and every year before that, people have complained that the ballot is awkward and your odds of getting into the race are so low that it’s not even worth getting your hopes up of getting a place unless you can run ‘good for age’ fast or raise a small fortune for charity. My response to this is: Why let that hold you back from experiencing the awesomeness of a big city marathon?! By all means still enter the London ballot and keep your fingers crossed if you hope to one day run London but the fact is unless you’re incredibly fast or lucky in the ballot, London isn’t a runners race anymore and because of this you shouldn’t forget there are a number of other amazing big city marathons right on your doorstep! Rome is just a 2 hour flight away from London and we had such an amazing experience I know we’ll be back again and again. Molte grazie Roma!!
Part 2: By Steven Kimberley
So first of all, I want to make a point of outlining how significant a race this was to me. Marathona di Roma was the first ever race that I have ever done outside of the UK, and the sense of pride that I felt at putting on my race number, with the British flag printed next to my name, was one that I will not forget quickly.
I had spent the months leading up to marathon day worrying about anything to do with the change of country that may throw off my performance. Would it get too hot? How would I cope with the Italian road surfaces? How different would the organisation be? All of which, was time wasted. Probably the biggest lesson I have taken away from Rome with me, is that you just adapt and deal with things that you aren’t used to; in fact, you could even say that ‘when in Rome, you do as the Romans do’.
I had never been to Italy before, so was delighted to take the opportunity to take in as much of it as I could, seeing Rome and the first glimpses of preparations for the approaching Marathon. We kept a close eye over the next few days on weather forecasts, trying to mentally prepare for the possibility of more sun than we would have liked on race day.
Wanting to get a bit more of a feel for the city, and to help acclimatise, Dave and I went for an early morning, 5-mile jog around the city, covering some of the race locations (including the start and finish lines).
To be totally honest, I couldn’t believe that everyone we passed wasn’t out running. Rome has to be the most inspiring city that I have ever jogged through. The stunning scenery, steeped in romantic history, which catches your eyes at every turn without the overshadowing presence of skyscrapers, just gives the streets such an aesthetic and relaxing impression.
Aside from the slight increase in humidity, which had me sweating a fair bit more than usual, I found the only real difficulty was running over the cobblestones. We had checked the course description, so were well aware that around 7Km of the course was made up of cobblestoned road. Now it has been a while since I’ve stumbled around Covent Garden of an evening, but I still remember how painful my ankles felt the next day.
In fact, upon returning to the hotel, I was distraught to realise that I had a nasty pain in my right ankle (a direct result from a stumble on a cobblestone). What made things worse, was that over the next two days of sightseeing my ankle was only going to get worse. So each night (tip to anyone recovering from an ankle injury) I would wear a compression sock, wrap the ankle in a cold, wet towel and sleep with the foot up on a stack of pillows. This treatment actually worked remarkably well, so even though I was the most nervous I had ever been about a race the night before, I headed out on race day feeling surprisingly optimistic.
The Marathon Di Roma expo, where we collected our race numbers, bags and running shirts, was just a short train journey away from where we were staying, and wasn’t too difficult to find. There, we were lucky enough to bump into a few of the elite runners, as well as a few Roman centurions who were kind enough to let us take a few pictures with them.
The race bag that we received is by New Balance (the race sponsor) and is of great quality (In fact, after returning home I have used it occasionally and it is still in perfect condition).
The energy around the starting area was as vibrant as any marathon that I have ever been to. Feeling the positivity ebbing from every directing, Dave and I set off to drop off our bags and meet again by the main entrance. Unfortunately I waited amongst the crowds a bit too long for him and missed the wave, so ended up in the final wave. This last wave, which is intended for the slower runners, actually seemed to be made up of almost entirely disgruntled runner from other waves who had also missed the closing of their gates.
When we finally started the race, I was hoping to keep things steady and pace myself evenly, as I have done on previous marathons. I was completely unsure how long my ankle would hold up for, so a finish time of around 4.30 seemed like a reasonably attainable target for me, and when we finally got on our way it seemed pretty easy to keep an upbeat pace amongst the crowds and the occasionally brass or string band.
Now the thing that sets Marathon di Roma aside from any other race I have ever taken part in is the sheer grandeur of the landmarks that you run past. How can you describe passing the Arch of Constantine whilst the Colosseum stands before you, illuminated in the morning glow, steeped in history and there as you run by.
Lost amongst the scenery, I found that I was overtaking a few more people than I would have liked, so spent a bit too much time worrying if I was going at too fast a pace, and by the time we were a few miles in, the clouds parted and the sun came out.
Now it was lovely day; perfect for a trip to the seaside, but maybe not so ideal for a pale Englishman running a marathon. I cursed myself for not bringing a hat with me, and tried to stick to the shade, which wasn’t so hard once we were a few miles in and left the city proper. For a good deal of the middle part of the race, the crowds were fewer and the cobble stones eased, which is when I noticed that I had run 15 miles in only 2.35. This was the moment I realised that this course is definitely one for a PB. There are very few hills over the course and those are all so gradual that they do not pose much of a problem.
The final few miles of Marathona di Roma are by far the most enjoyable. The crowds were at their thickest, there were a few tunnels to escape the sun for a moment, and passing through Piazza Navona and seeing Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi through the cheering crowds was as great a morale boost as I could have asked for to see me through to the finish.
Overall the organisation of the course was truly inspiring. There were so many water stops, which also gave out energy drinks and even an assortment of solids (mostly fruit pieces). The medal you received at the finish line was subtle yet stunning, and has made a handsome addition to my collection of marathon tokens. Yet the greatest thing about Marathona di Roma is unquestionably the experience itself. Running through one of the most visually elegant and historically romantic cities in the world was an experience that I will not soon forget!