Florence Marathon Trip – Full Report by Steve Clarke

Florence Marathon 2015 – Race Report

Where to start with this trip? Well, I think we succeeded in keeping it a fairly low-key and sober affair, so you could be forgiven for having missed the odd Facebook post over the last week or two. With all the hoo-haa around the big Barnsley 10k it seems to have passed largely unnoticed by the majority of Striders, so it’s time to put that right and give it the exposure it should’ve had all along. It’s not a brief report, I make no apologies for that; it was a big trip. Either give up now, skim read it, or settle in and cure your insomnia!!

To try and make some coherent sense of it all, there are really 3 aspects to this; the people, the place, and the race itself, so that’s how I’ve tried to write this review:

First and foremost when it comes to the people involved, I can honestly say that the entire Florence experience has taken everything that’s been so enjoyable about being a small part of the Steel City Striders community for the past 2 years, and condense it into one of the best holidays I have had for a very long time.

Secondly if you think it’s easy to organise a European trip to a major marathon for 15 people, it’s not, it’s like herding cats! In this particular case, our cluster of cats (that’s a proper collective noun too – I checked) deserve a proper introduction, as I know the striders membership has grown so much recently that not everyone will be familiar with the group, so here they are:

Jennifer Rich – Ace runner and chief organiser, without whom the trip would probably have descended into anarchy. We all owe Jen a massive amount of thanks for the months of work she put into this, and out of all of us (for the way the trip went and the way her marathon went) she really deserved to let her hair down after the race, and she didn’t disappoint. More on Jenny’s race later!!

Richard Pegg – master of understated sartorial elegance, ace deliverer of puns, purveyor of games, puzzles, and multiple iPads, and an all-round great bloke. He also found time to run his first marathon in over 20 years.

Laura Fletcher – gourmet egg-poacher extraordinaire, brilliant marathon debutante, with a flying ponytail and the most beautiful blue eyes this side of the River Arno. Laura is a really great girl, but I won’t hesitate to take her down in the Parkrun cup (if I can)!!

Rio Cooper – quiet, shy and retiring, are all words you really couldn’t use to describe Rio. The fastest of the marathon debutantes on the day, and she did it all with a smile on her face, and somehow still looked fresh after 26 miles.

Naomi Rabin – the newcomer to the club, another amazing debut marathoner. 12 weeks ago she had never run more than 5k, and had a badly sprained ankle, so obviously, she signed up for a marathon. Mad as a hatter (in a good way), and if anything even more smiles per mile than Rio. And she’s a fluent Italian speaker as well. Very handy!

Heather Wallis – calves of iron and a heart of solid gold. Heather travelled out laden with bags full of medical supplies, ran her first ever marathon in a fantastic time, partied til 4am, then headed off to save lives in Greece (as you do). A genuinely awesome girl!!!

Mir Jansen – Also know as Mir-cat. Everybody who knows Mir, loves her! It’s nearly impossible not to. Very funny, and prone to fits of giggles, but knows her way around a marathon course, had a great race on the day, and she’s a mean dancer too!

Bob Grocutt – Looks like a man who could tear your arms off, but a great guy, and despite having knees like a pair of rusty hinges, he made the marathon look like a training run, and immediately announced his retirement at the end of the race.

Richard Garton – aka “the dude”. He’s got a running style so distinctive you can pick him out of a crowd from ½ a mile away. Possibly the most laid-back character since Jeff Lebowski.
Darren Maher – a quiet guy, but a good runner, and an even better drinker. It’s fair to say Darren made the most of the pre-race, the race, and the post-race celebrations.

Paul Vincent Stuart – is any introduction needed? If you’ve ever raced for Striders, chances are, Paul was there – you’ll have heard him! Life and soul of the party as always, but the most encouraging and supporting presence you could wish for. Not only did he run a great race (helping me along in the process), but after finishing, he spent the next hour cheering in every other strider, then jumped back over the railings and re-ran the final ½ mile (twice!!) alongside Andy Davies, and then Elaine Watson.

Elaine Watson – Elaine is a lovely lady. Many of us didn’t know her prior to this trip, but by the end of it, we were all glad to have met her but were just left wondering; why on earth does she hang around with four lunatics like Paul, Bob, Darren and the dude?

Andy Davies – Just about everyone knows our self-declared “gold-star strider”, but who knew he was a master of “continuity humour”, a punk band bass guitarist and song-writer, former fashion model, could fight a grizzly bear (or maybe just a beaver) with his bare hands, speaks fluent Italian (mixed with Spanish and Mancunian), and claims to be unbeaten at scrabble since the age of 12.

John Rich – an honourable mention must go to Jenny’s brother, John. A really nice chap who couldn’t take part in the race due to injury, but still managed to put us all to shame by cycling nigh-on 500 miles in 5 days.

Mark Havenhand – long-time friend of the club and a fine photographer, Mark came out primarily for a short holiday. His youthful good looks and flowing locks caused quite a stir amongst the ladies in the group, and his race photos were – as usual – superb.

Steve Clarke – I had a fantastic time in Florence, really enjoyed my race. It has to be said I may have made some regrettable kit choices, and definitely some horrific dance moves, but I managed to get away with it, and I think it’s safe to say no photographic evidence exists of either misdemeanour…
The city of Florence

Florence; birthplace of the industrial revolution, home of one of the greatest football clubs of all time, more canals than Venice… Oh no, sorry, that’s Birmingham, but it is easy to get the two mixed-up.

Florence; birthplace of the renaissance, historical home of the Medici family, the Uffizi gallery, the amazing marble-clad Duomo cathedral, the Ponte Vecchio, and Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David. You can read all of that in any guide-book, but what the guide books might not tell you is
– how good the sandwiches, coffees and pizzas taste,
– how infuriatingly persistent the flower sellers are,
– that the city has a river named by a Mancunian (River Arno – pronounced Aaar-noh), and an official piggyback racetrack right through the heart of the city!

Anyway, it certainly comes recommended as a holiday destination, and contrary to popular opinion, it’s really not too expensive for daily eating and drinking (certainly compared to Venice or Rome). Steer clear of the steaks if you want cheap eats though; 36oz of prime Florentine T-Bone doesn’t come cheap, but it is delicious (just ask the dude).
Firenze Marathon 2105

The marathon is in it’s 32nd year in 2105, it’s a very well-organised and supported race, and the route certainly makes the most of the beautiful setting.

It’s probably a bit much to ask for 26 miles of stunning scenery and historical architecture, but the majority of the race takes place on quite pleasant parkland paths, local side-roads, and finishes in the historic city centre, managing to take in the main sites whilst somehow keeping the race profile almost completely flat. The downside of this is that the route is very convoluted and twisty with countless sharp bends and 180o switchbacks throughout the race. There are also at least 4 miles of cobbled roads to negotiate in the city centre, which makes it quite tricky to take in the stunning backdrop as it’s always necessary to keep an eye out for potholes.

As with many races, much of the set-up and format is the same as any other, and the things which stand out are the little differences. For me, on a purely practical level, the drinks stations were a highlight, with water, salt solution, and sweet black lemon tea being the 3 options for rehydrating. I found that at different stages in the race, each were extremely welcome; water first, then some delicious tea (I know it sounds odd but if you try it, you’ll understand!), and in the final miles, some “salts” drink kept the dreaded leg cramps away (either by physiological or placebo effect, I don’t care which it was but it worked!). The latter stages also featured re-fuelling stops with horribly dry biscuits (not what you want when your mouth is already parched!), “half-time” oranges, dried fruit and nuts, and other bits and pieces I can’t really remember!

Despite the twisting and turning city-centre course, it’s still possible to race hard and achieve a great marathon time; the results achieved by the striders were very good, and in many cases really outstanding.

The Striders Marathon Results

Out of the 14 striders who completed the course, 4 were making their first attempt at the full marathon distance, and each and every one really did themselves and the club proud:

Laura Fletcher – Laura has done some seriously hard work this summer in preparation for her first marathon, she’s put many peoples training mileage to shame and it really paid off in the race, with a great debut time of 4.26. I reckon with her determined attitude to training, she’s a dead cert to take this experience into the next marathon and take another big stride forward.

Naomi Rabin – As she likes to say, she’s “such an enthusiast”, and she’s relentlessly optimistic, but with a good deal of determination too. Naomi managed to transform herself from an injured runner who’d never done a race longer than 5 miles, to a successful marathon runner in under 3 months, coming in with an excellent 4.25 time.

Heather Wallis – another great debut, Heather said before the race that she was hoping to get round in under 4hrs. In the event, not only did she manage to chat, take photos, and phone her young son at home in Sheffield, but she also smashed that 4hr target, getting round in 3.40, and securing a GFA for London 2017 in the process!

Rio Cooper – although Rio can often come across as laid-back and unconcerned, there’s a competitive streak that runs through her, and she’s definitely got some determination to achieve her goals. To go out and achieve a London GFA time in a debut marathon is outstanding, and on the day, she went even quicker than Heather with a superb 3.36.

Richard Pegg – alright, strictly speaking, Florence wasn’t Richard’s debut, but his previous marathon was so long ago the other debut runners weren’t even born (possibly?) so I’m going to give him his dues for coming back from a long-standing leg injury (get it, rich? Long-standing… leg injury), to complete the course in a highly creditable 3.48, and judging by the race photos, he barely broke into a sweat!

Bob Grocutt – He’s a bit grizzled, and the knees probably don’t work as they used to judging by the constant bandaging, but he defied his grinding knees, by getting round the course in 4.47 for a well-earned night out in Florence afterwards!!

Elaine Watson – Elaine was another who wasn’t sure whether she could or should run the full marathon, but on the day she dug deep and did it, the full 26.2 miles, the last ½ mile accompanied by Paul Stuart (a mixed blessing?), to come home in a time of 5.41.

Richard Garton – the dude. What can you say about the dude? He does what he does, he gets round the course (in 4.06 in this case).. When he’s running, he’s relentless, he can’t be reasoned with, and he absolutely will not stop. Ever. Or that could be the Terminator I’m thinking of…

Darren Maher – not quite as grizzled as Bob or the Dude, but another experienced runner who made it look a lot easier than it is, clearly enjoying the race, and finishing just behind Heather and Mir in 3.45.

Mir Jansen – Waiting around in the starting pens before the race, Mir told me she didn’t think she was anywhere near her PB form of 3.44, but although at times she didn’t look like she was exactly loving the experience, she came within a few seconds of beating her PB, and secured yet another GFA for London 2017.

Andy Davies – we’d have understood if Andy didn’t do the race, given his recent spell of ill health and resulting dip in form, but in hindsight, he was always going to give it a go. It’s fair to say he could’ve probably paced it better, achieving possibly the most dramatic positive split of anyone I know to end up with 4.00hrs (after a 1st half time of 1.36!!!). At least he found the time to entertain us all afterwards with his outrageously camp race photos.

Paul Stuart – despite spending at least 9 miles talking non-stop to me, and making jokes about anything and everything (as always), Paul ran really strongly, helped me through a few bad patches, and then left me for dead with 8km to go, finishing in a PB time of 3.16. He can clearly go faster though, and I reckon he’s going to take minutes off that time in Rome!

Steve Clarke – I enjoyed this race immensely. Had a steady start, with the chance to spend a few miles chatting to Mir, Darren and Heather, then a few fellow British club runners, before I decided to really go for it. I learned a lesson though, don’t blindly trust your GPS watch. Mine fooled me into thinking I was running 3.15 pace, and left me still 0.7miles and 5mins from the finish line when the watch said 26.2! Always check the mileage markers!!

Saving the best until last…..

Jenny Rich – Jenny has worked so hard all this year. Following on from her disappointment in London (despite running a time which 95% of people would be over the moon with!) she’s logged over 2,200 miles of training this year. She’s got huge talent and puts in a huge amount of work too. To prove that you only get out what you put in, and that there’s no shortcut to success, Jenny ran a fantastic race, was far and away the fastest strider, and came home in a brilliant time of 3.10, to claim the all time Striders senior ladies marathon record. Amazing.

Well done Jenny. I don’t know what else to add other than huge congratulations once again from all the Florence Team. You deserve it!

To sum up then. A brilliant time was had by all, and testament to that is the fact that before we even left Florence, the whole crew had signed up for another autumn marathon trip next year.

Roll on 9th October 2016.

Budapest; be afraid, be very afraid!

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