by Brett Larner
Japan Running News was invited to the 2009 Venice Marathon to cover the race for Runners, Japan's largest running magazine, from a Japanese marathon tourism perspective. Below is an English translation of the first draft of the Runners article, along with photos by JRN's Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner. Click photos for full-sized versions. For a report on the course record-setting elite race click here. Special thanks to the Venice Marathon's Mara Carraro for extending the invitation and organizing JRN's trip, to Angelo Sagramora for local expertise and to the Copenhagen Marathon's Gavin Doyle for his part in making JRN's coverage possible.
“The Venice Marathon?” “Where can you run?” “Is it an aquathlon?” “An open-water swim?” These are the natural reactions to hearing the words ‘Venice Marathon,’ the image of running through the historic Italian city of canals sounding like something from a fantasy. But the race is very real, a spectacularly colorful course through the ultimate romantic location making the Venice Marathon one of the world’s most scenic and unusual.
On race day shuttle buses from major hotels around Venice and the mainland city of Mestre take runners out to the start in the village of Stra, deep in the Italian countryside. The marathon begins in front of the 300 year-old Villa Pisani and follows the winding Riviera del Brenta for 20 km, passing ancient farms and churches.
Great-grandmothers dressed in black stare from upper-floor windows in centuries-old villas while the snow-capped Alps loom in the distance.
Like Japan, Italy has a proud tradition of Olympic marathon gold medalists and competitive amateur clubs, a tradition clear in the number of runners wearing their club uniforms and in the thick, boisterous crowds lining the course and calling out, “Bravo! Bravo!” with characteristic Italian passion and oversized hand gestures. It’s a warm and loving atmosphere which leaves runners smiling and helps carry them along.
Passing through Mestre, just before 30 km runners enter San Giuliano Park, Europe’s largest. The first small hills on the course give athletes a glimpse of Venice across the water and bear them up onto Liberty Bridge, a perfectly flat and straight 4 km-long span. The church towers and the anticipation grow larger as the island approaches, and just past 37 km the bridge climbs and runners step into another world.
The last part of the Venice Marathon is like nothing else.
With world-famous cathedrals, museums, and homes of legendary artists, musicians and writers brushing their left arms and the Adriatic Sea literally lapping at their right feet runners have the privilege of Venice’s stunning waterfront flagstone walkway all to themselves.
In the final 3 km there are 13 stone bridges across canals, all with wooden ramps installed for the race. These are the most popular spots for spectators and give the marathon its slogan “No Bridges, No Fun.” The courseside cafes and windows are crowded with supporters roaring as each runner crests a bridge.
Most spectacularly, race organizers build a 180 m-long floating bridge across the famous Grand Canal, giving marathoners a 360’ view of the heart of Venice and its most famous site, the Piazza San Marco, a view unavailable to anyone else.
The race finishes near Venice’s southeastern-most tip, with ample food, drinks, massage services and changing facilities. Boats deliver runners’ bags to the goal line. Soak your tired legs in the Adriatic Sea to help bring them back to life before walking across one last bridge into the nearby Giardini Pubblici for a unique post-race pasta party. From there runners can make their way back through the city on foot to absorb the history and take their time with a gelato, espresso or some of Venice’s famous local seafood, or they can take a boat directly back to the Tronchetto transportation and hotel hub.
The day before the marathon, Venice hosts a 4 km family run in two locations along the marathon course. The family run gives marathoners a chance to share their experience with their children and spouses and has proved immensely popular, drawing almost twice as many entrants as the marathon itself, which due to the physical limitations of the last part of the marathon course and finish area is capped at only 6000. In 2010 the Venice Marathon will celebrate its 25th anniversary and race organizers hope to have Japanese runners amateur and professional alike join in the party for the first time. With ideal conditions and a course both fast and spectacular it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity for an inside view of one of the world’s greatest jewels.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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photos (c) 2009 Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
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