(Thanks @mattwildman for the perfect blog title pun)
In 2012 I ran the Brighton half as my first half marathon. It was such a perfect experience I knew I couldn’t run it again, so this year Alex and I set our sights on the Giulietta & Romeo half marathon in Verona. A part of the Verona Marathon series it had everything we look for in a destination race:
- A cheap flight away (£16 pounds each!)
- Food (Italy. duh)
- A place we’ve never been and have some interest in exploring
- A scenic route
When we go abroad to race there’s no pressure on getting a good time, and like all of my running, I prefer for it to fit into my normal daily life. Therefore, our preparation for this race was walking for 6 hours a day sightseeing in Milan and Verona, eating Paninis, pizza, more pizza, wine, our weight in caprese salad, and enough Panzerottis to support the little cafe next to our hotel for the rest of the year. Oh, and the week before I tried 2 new exercise classes and had a little too much to drink on Wednesday at a friend’s dinner party. Not idea training conditions to say the least.
When we arrived in Verona we went straight to the expo to pick up your registration packages. Like France, we had to provide a medical certificate from a Doctor, which is annoying because in the UK these cost about £50 from the NHS – but Alex and I have got 3 races out of ours so I guess the lesson is to do as many races in Europe before it expires.
The expo was PACKED and everyone seemed to be carrying out a gift basket of wine and cheeses. I hung around the stage for a bit, but everything was in Italian and no one pulled me on stage to make a speech as 1 of the 3 Canadians in the race. Sad.
We got our race packages smoothly and one pet peeve I have is when the race number isn’t printed on proper running paper. This one was perfect. It was almost fabric quality. They pin so much easier on your shirt when not all crunch. The timing chip was also in the number. Score. We also got race sacs instead of t-shirts, which I guess will be helpful one day, but I was hoping for a bright pink brooks (sponsor) technical-t like I saw some of the pacers wearing.
Our hotel was right in the centre of Verona less than 100 steps from the finish line of the race. I highly recommend it if anyone’s going to Verona – race or not. The staff were so lovely and accommodating to us who obviously booked it on a budget website. The included breakfast was perfect for our pre-race fuelling the Barista even drew a runner on my husband’s cappuccino! We also grabbed a few Nutella packages for any mid-race slumps.
There were loads of shuttles from the finish line to the start for all racers and spectators so we hopped on one of those and made it to the start with plenty of time before the generous 10am start.
Bag drop off went as smoothly as any race I’ve ever done (a stark contrast to the Paris Versailles run – worst organisation seen in my LIFE) and after some quick Italian speeches a confetti cannon went off and we were running. Slowly at first – even with only 5200 runners, it took us 5 minutes to get to the start. Not that I minded though as I prefer a slow start to any race.
The route started out in the “ugly” part of Verona around the Stadium and train tracks, and Alex and I were chatting away when we were heard by a fellow Canadian who ran with us for a bit. Her husband (the only other Canadian in the race) was competing with some guys from work so was sprinting ahead somewhere.
Quickly the route went back into the walls of Verona and we were running down closed narrow streets lined to the rim with tourist and family watching. It was a very cool “real race” experience and made the next few KM go by fast. The route then went across the river and through more nice Veronese streets and I knew I was running pretty fast looking at my average pace on my Garmin, but I felt so good so I kept going!
We arrived at the first hot tea and sponging station and Alex dared to sponge. I mostly stayed away but have to admit at the last 3km a cold wet sponge on the back of your neck feels amazing. The hot tea was a mix between sweet iced tea and a lukewarm bath water. Not nice. I stuck to water from there on.
The route went over loads of beautiful bridges and winded through the streets past the Arena, Duomo, and Giulietta’s balcony. The route took so many twists and turns it kept things interesting and I didn’t focus on how far there was to go. For serious racers I guess this might be a negative (more turns = slower time) but you will have a hard time convincing me to do an out/back race again.
At 15k we looped back to the start where the people doing the relay met their other half to finish the last 7k (the relay is a very cute idea – it had to be a man/woman team!) At 15k there was a water table, and it was filled with PIES! BIG FRUIT PIES. I stopped to
stuff my face with as much as possible take a picture and it was the best decision of my life because from 15k to the end it was mostly up hill and close enough to the end that you just wanted to finish so the extra energy helped. At around 16k Alex turned to me and said we were going to push to get me a time under 2:00 hours. Yikes. More pie needed.
The last few little hills and bridges were actually kind of nice as I’m pretty good at pushing up a (short) hill and love the feeling of passing people on uphill as they’re slowing down (just a bit of my competitive-streak comes out there). Along the river for the last few km we turned into the city and as we came up to Piazza Brà and could see our finishing line at the Arena, we also saw the 2 hour pacers who didn’t pace so much as start out really fast and then slow down at the end. Of course we passed them just before running through the Arena – Yes, we got to run THROUGH the Arena (the second biggest in Italy behind the Colosseum) that used to host Gladiator matches and Lions and stuff, and now hosts lovely summer operas and as the Italian tour guide said, “top performers of today like George Michael, Sting and Celine Dion.”
My Romeo and I (OK even that was a bit too cutesy for me) crossed the finish line at 1:55:40 (well to be fair Alex’s official time was 1:55:39!) and headed straight for the post-race pie table. After scoffing pies and juice for about 10 minutes we noticed that there was no one left on the course. This was a FAST race, the limit was 3 hours and I saw about 10 people finish between 2:20 and 3:00.
The medals are awesome and are engraved with the famous words of Shakespeare, “Non esiste mondo fuor dalle mura di Verona – There is no world without Verona walls”
The post race queues were long as there were stairs over the race track to get out of the Piazza Brà and to the bag collection, but a little patience and a bit of jumping over gates got us there eventually. Once we collected our bag and turned around we were in front of a gelato shop. Since we chose not to take the shuttle back to the start and go to the FREE BUONO PASTA PARTY I needed a gelato for while we walked around determined not to sit and let the lactic acid settle. But, being Italy, the sidewalk cafes around the Arena were too tempting, so we parked ourselves at one and watched the last few people finish the race over gnocci, Aperol spritz, cappuccinos and biscotti. Basically, we ate every calorie we burned in the race within 30 minutes of finishing. #proud.
I cannot recommend this race highly enough for anyone who wants to go on their first RUNcation, or someone who wants to check Italy off their race list. It was so well organised, cheap, and a route I’ll never forget.