Ever since deciding that I would run off the excess fat that was hindering my teenage years, running has been a big part of my life. I’ve covered every inch of Leeds, run up Kenyan hills with future Olympic hopefuls and completed half marathons in Prague and Glasgow.
I decided that my next goal would be a marathon, a benchmark for any amateur jogger, but with whom and where was still very much undecided. Fate delivered an answer in September 2008 on the 10.47 Glasgow to Leeds train in the guise of a talkative passenger.
After chatting continuously we discussed our respective passions for running and I warned that one day I would call on her to join me for a marathon. Finally, she relented and we signed up to do the 2009 Pisa Marathon in nine months time thanks to cheap no-frills flights.
When the time had come we massed at the starting point in the pretty town of Pontedera surrounded by much fitter Adonis’s who could actually fit into their alarmingly tight souvenir running t-shirts.
The stifling heat – a slight oversight – was unrelenting despite it being an early morning start. The back of my legs began to burn almost immediately and I soon started to contract a badly chafed left nipple that by the fifteen-mile mark had worn down to a bleeding nub.
A useful distraction was the beautiful scenery. As we snaked alongside the Arno River, the Tuscan countryside offered up endless vineyards, peaks and forests, punctuated by beautiful Renaissance-era buildings. As we ran down long tree-line boulevards a serene silence descended over the pack. With traffic blocked from the road, all that could be heard was the soft rhythmic padding of rubber footsteps on tarmac. The beautiful surroundings stood in stark contrast to months of training, pounding the concrete and dodging wheelie-bins of the less than picturesque suburbs of North-West Leeds.
For the majority of urban events, runners are met with beaming smiles and enthusiastic cheers for those brave enough to take part. However, as we snaked through the Tuscan countryside we were met with many a look of bewilderment projecting a sentiment of “why are you crazy people blocking my road. I want to go to the shops.”
The main motivation for doing this in Pisa was the thought of running up to the Leaning Tower with crowds cheering us on. However towards the end of the run, with our less than impressive pace, we were left to dodge shoppers and sightseers and much to our annoyance the Tower did not come into view until the last fifty metres. I never thought I would curse an inanimate object so much as I did that piece of shoddy building work.
Finishing together we managed a time of 4 hours 38 minutes in joint 367th place. It was, as a friend commented, “a long way to go for a quick walk” but we finished and were proud. Now was the time to gorge on ice cream and beer.