PG's Tips for Survival at the RHN

When Sidney meets Rome and Greece - how one man faced the Rome marathon!

"A small step for man…45,760 strides for Mike Bland!

After several half- marathons in the bag I had always sworn I would never run a marathon - but that was before I'd thought of Rome.
It began for real in late November 2002. Gaining a place was far too easy: book on the Internet, pay by credit card, fax off a good health confirmation form (self attested). I'd made a commitment, reputation was at stake, and pride stiffened the sinews. A trip made to a bookshop, where I purchased 'The Non Runners Marathon Guide'. It was complete with daily charts and mileage guide and lots of US-style chat to keep you up for it - everything to make the anorak a nerd!
Italy sounded romantic, the route would follow all the sights, but the main consideration was cheap Ryan air flights, an excuse to see a foreign city. There was sponsorship, and a chance to do a small something!
The training was based on a slow and steady increase in weekly mileage with the emphasis on a long run at weekends. Oh how the family suffered … here was Dad on another selfish pursuit, but at least he had given up coin collecting!
Training was achieved by assiduous attention to the instructions in the Guide, and the week arrived to travel to Rome.

We arrived at Ciampino airport about 10.30 pm and following advice sought out a recommended taxi to take us into the city. Two weeks of teach yourself Italian had not achieved the required level of understanding when dealing with a Roman Cabbie, but I did understand that the journey was probably going to be twice as expensive as we had been led to believe - travelling at unbelievable speeds often on the wrong side of the roads the driver rolling a cigarette in one hand whilst gesticulating in true Italian form with the other somehow we arrived outside the apartment 80 euros lighter. The apartment looked clean and modest and we took to our beds.

Then the horrors began! Little did we know that the apartment although on the first floor was above a restaurant, and alongside one of the busiest one way streets feeding traffic into the city, horns, engines, shouts of pedestrians, Vespa scooters, all night long. By 2 am we were desperate for sleep, as we buried our heads under the duvet, plugging our ears with cotton wool. Then a brief respite as sleep descended until 4 am when the refuse lorries arrived with a particular interest in the area below our window, then 5am the glass recycling lorry arrived and emptied out the bottles, and to cap it all at 6.30 the gully sucker began its rounds.
There was nothing for it, I had to think of myself and the race, and book into a 4 star hotel 400 yards from the marathon start line no expense spare - onto the Metro, bags and wife in hand.

The day broke to a cloudless sky, after a dreamless night's sleep in cosy roof terrace sound proofed room … breakfast a pain chocolat and a small cappuccino snatched in the hotel foyer … stomach queasy from last night's spicy pasta arrabaciata, out into the thronging mass of runners.

I think I smiled the whole way round, at the start because of the cheers and the send off, past St. Peters Basilica because I saw the Pope taking mass, but the rest of the way because I was for some inexplicable reason HAPPY. I had made it against the odds.
There was a point after 21 miles when I stopped smiling - the truth be known - and remained in grimaced state to the end of the route, legs refusing my commands I was forced to walk and stretch, jog, walk and jog again repeating the mantras ' I think I can, I know I can' as suggested by the Non Marathon Runners Guide. In sight of the Colosseum … and the end was around the corner … as 80 year-old men sprinted past me. I collapsed into the arms of a goody bag, T-shirt, medal wielding Marshal and an invitation to do it all again next year. Not me mate…. when in Rome do as the Romans do - go shopping!"

Written by Mike Bland (Sidney's brother-in-law)
June 2003


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