Pisanina Mezza Maratona (Pisa Half Marathon)
Race Date: 18th December 2022
Race Report By: Brian Jenkins
This race was never on my horizon, but I had been looking further afield for potential races for a bit. I had run the 20km of Brussels some years before, and I was signed-up for a race in Belgium in 2020, but after it was rescheduled (and later cancelled), all due to the pandemic, my ambitions became more limited.
Fast-forward to 2022. A casual browse of one of the Striders’ Facebook groups offered the opportunity of “adventure” in foreign climes: an Italian half marathon the week before Christmas. I did my research and decided that this was exactly what I was after. I reached out to the poster of the message, and booked on to the race.
Booking for an Italian Half Marathon proved to be different from anything I had done before. I was offered the choice of a “competitive” race, or an “agonistic” race (and yes that was the word used in the English version of the website page). The “competitive” race required a signed declaration of my “fitness to run” from my doctor, the “agonistic” (or “non-competitive”) race on the other hand, only required me to sign a medical disclamer (stating the same thing). I never thought that I would be challenging for a place on the podium at the finish line, so I went “agonistic” and signed the disclamer.
The race was scheduled to take place in Pisa, Tuscany (of leaning tower fame), and the flights and hotel were booked (with direct flights from Manchester with Ryanair).
Des (the original poster offering the possibility of “adventure”) was still keen on running the race, I was the only responder to the post in a position to take him up on his offer, so there were to be 2 Striders taking part (if only “agonistically”).
I met Des before dawn in Sheffield, it was -3˚c (not massively surprising in Sheffield in mid December) and we headed over the Pennines to Manchester.
Pisa provided plenty to do whilst waiting for the race, but (with us being runners) the nearest Parkrun (Mura di Lucca, running around the medieval town walls) was only a short train journey away, and this proved to be an all-too-tempting warm-up the day before the race. We returned to Pisa afterwards, picked up our race numbers (and t-shirts) from the race event village. We were set for the next day.
On race day we set off to the start line. The race village was based on the grounds of the cathedral (yes, the one with the world famous leaning tower). It was chilly, but warmer than it was in Sheffield, so Des and I elected to run in Strider vests. After entrusting our warm clothing to the bag drop, we warmed-up and headed to the start line (just outside the Cathedral grounds).
The start area included runners of both the Marathon and Half Marathon distances completely inter-mingled, and all the pacers (regardless of time or distance) were at the very front of the queue. As a result, racers did not have the luxury of grouping around the pacer of their choice, and there were no other indications as to where people could start from based on their chosen distance and finishing time.
The race was started, and the runners crossed the timing mats serenaded by the Mariah Carey Christmas song “All I Want for Christmas is You”, t’was the week before Christmas after all.
The first mile of the race was predictably crowded. With 4 pacers for each of the distance and target finishing times, it was necessary to overtake slower pacers (and other runners) to get to a position better-fitted to your chosen pace. The pacers were identified by a colour coded helium balloon (one set for marathon pacers, one for those pacing the half), with their allotted finishing time scrawled on it. Most had the balloon tied to their wrists with a piece of string, making reading what was written on the bobbing balloon all the more difficult.
As time progressed the slower pacers (which would need to be overtaken) proved to be frustrating as they often ran 4 abreast (with their accumulated entourage), overtaking them was clearly necessary to complete the race in your preferred time, but was not always easy, especially on the narrower parts of the course.
We followed the course of the River Arno, crossed it further upsteam, headed cross-town and then out into rural Tuscany, all over the finest Italian tarmac.
At the 8 mile mark, the course split in 2, the marathon runners headed straight on (out towards the sea), us half marathoners went right and back towards town, down a shady road.
After crossing back over the river (next to the Cittadella vecchia) we headed back to the cathedral and on the very last turn (just before the finish arch) the leaning tower came into view, and the finish was just a few yards away.
But would I recommend this race? Yes certainly. Running conditions were ideal and the early chill soon subsided, (when Sheffield was covered by a thin sheet of ice), the Pisa course is relatively flat and covers a range of urban and rural terrain. Sign-up and you get to see the city and its environs as the locals do, including the parts unlikely to ever make it onto a postcard.
I await (with interest) more opportunities to broaden my horizons, possibly even with races I am currently unaware of, and would recommend others to give it a go too.
The race was won by Alessio Terrasi (G.P. Parco Alpi Apuane – ITA) in 01:06:32, and Lisa Marie Bezzina (Malta) in 01:19:46.
Race Results: https://www.endu.net/en/events/pisa-marathon/results