And the beat goes on…
Some things are so precious that I just want to sit and linger a moment over the memory. For me, running the marathon in Lago di Garda is one of those precious things. I wrote and re-wrote blogposts about the Lake Garda Marathon in my head, but when I went to commit those words to computer, something else seemed more important.
My route to Lago di Garda consisted of a midnight arrival in Milan, a quick car rental pick-up and hotel breeze-by, then the drive to the lake. As I drove away from Malpensa airport in Milan, I felt a quickening in my stomach at each thought of the marathon. The steady city traffic did little to dull my nerves, but as I neared Brescia, the scenery started to distract me. Foothills were rising out of the mist and fog, and traffic was thinning. As I went headlong into a mountain tunnel, I imagined myself beginning the long journey of the marathon. Minutes later, I emerged from the tunnel to the stunning beauty of Lago di Garda.
Arriving at the southwestern edge of the lake, I followed the road north to Limone sul Garda. Limone is the quaint town where the race started and where I chose to find a hotel – the Villa Elite. This hotel is family owned and operated, with staffers who embody the Northern Italian personality while managing to exude a welcoming graciousness. The breakfast was generous and served in a charmingly cozy dining room at the main hotel. I was in one of the newer buildings, and the view to the lake was more than breath-taking. With the cool October temperatures, I merely daydreamed about spending a hot summer day in the well-kept pool just outside my hotel room door.
Limone sul Garda defines picturesque! Here is the conference center where the marathon registration took place.
The anticipation was strong, but as I was traveling on my own, I had to be strong enough to get myself to the starting line. After checking into the hotel and completing my registration, I ambled down from my hotel to the lake, tested the waters for fun, and then logged my last training run of 2 miles. I trekked back up to the hotel (about ten minute walk), showered and ventured out to eat dinner. After this, my preparations at the hotel consisted of listening to music, writing down any thoughts that were distracting me, and getting to bed early. Pleasantly, I drifted off to sleep around 10pm.
Marathon day dawned brisk and slightly overcast. I consistently checked the weather through the curtains as I prepared my gear bag, got dressed, and mentally braced myself for the day. I left my hotel room around 8am, walked ten minutes or so over to the starting line and chucked my gear bag in the appropriate bin. The excitement was palpable and runners were everywhere. I was taking care of my final fueling, and final bathroom breaks until I joined the queue. After jovial chit-chat from the announcer, and much shuffling among the ranks, many of us ditched our final layer of clothing and settled in for the race. With the crack of the starting pistol, we headed across the start line and away from Limone sul Garda.
I had a plethora of running advice swirling around my head and I put it to good use. I felt strong and able as I plowed through the first half-dozen miles. The path hugged the lake, but inevitably traversed several mountain tunnels that obscured satellite reception, rendering my Garmin pacing watch slightly more than useless. I was able to guesstimate my pace, though I continued to focus on how I was feeling as the roadway undulated under my feet.
Soon enough, the path curved away from the lake toward the village of Arco. I ran alongside vineyards and farms, through tiny neighborhoods with warm-hearted townsfolk cheering me (and the others). Still feeling strong, I pushed through my first signs of fatigue and made it to the halfway point on pace to hit my target time. This push and pull between longevity and fatigue became a soothing rhythm. Fatigue was never far away, but preparation, training and determination were keeping me on target as the route meandered back toward the lake, in the direction of the final destination, Malcesine.
This upbeat experience continued until my first panic attack around mile 20. The race is marked in kilometers, and I was focusing on each segment so much that I wasn’t tracking the miles distinctly. Yet, I could describe the corner where my emotions began to rise in my throat, where I felt the exuberance that should have waited for race completion, and where my pace began to take a nosedive. Though I had known that marathoning is 90% mental and 10% physical, I had never trained for mitigating extreme joy during my run.
As I bent over to catch my breath, I thought quickly of the six or so miles between me and the finish that was bringing me to my knees prematurely. Almost as quickly, I redirected my focus to taking the next step forward, and then picking my heels up and bringing my pace back to speed. I successfully refocused in a matter of moments, but my pace never fully recovered. “Fuck!” came out of my mouth several times as I struggled to stay focused in the moment. Though I took only two more walking breaks, I still added twenty-three minutes to the second half of the race. At one point, I vowed never to waste my time training for a marathon again.
The route began to descend into the center of Malcesine and I knew the end was near. I dug deep and picked up my feet just a little more. About 200m from the finish, I saw two small children dart out into the finisher’s chute to cross the finish line with their father, who was just ahead of me. Tears burned to the corners of my eyes and I puffed over the finish line to a final hyperventilation at the benches on the other side. After catching my breath, the desire to cry remained. I seeped tears of joy, disappointment, relief, and dismay all at once.
The organization of the race was seamless and I easily recovered my gear bag and found the shower facilities. With a freshly washed face and clean clothes, my sense of self was renewed. I wandered through Malcesine’s historic center to the ferry booth and pondered my next marathon. Would I really be crazy enough to train for another? Only time would tell, but as I waited to board the ferry that would take me back to Limone sul Garda, I felt the undeniable buzz from the crowd. This buzz is an uplifting force that taps into my soul and thrills me to no end.
After a stunning ride across Lago di Garda, I trekked up the hill to the Villa Elite amidst mental race review and dinner plans. The throngs of racers returning to their hotels thinned and finally faded to only one. As I turned away from her and into my hotel, I was again alone. I cracked open my hotel room door and was overcome with emotion as I spied celebratory flowers awaiting me.
I looked down at the medal hanging around my neck; lemons, olives, runners, mountains, lakes, and me.
Limone sul Garda had bewitched me; and, even as I bemoaned my time, I was also relishing the strength and fortitude I had displayed along the way. I shook my head as a huge grin spread across my face; no matter the time, I would always be able to say “I Did It!”
Limone sul Garda, Italia
Lake Garda Marathon, F81