Race Report - Maratona Ticino
Marathon #2 - Europe.
The southernmost region of Switzerland, Ticino, was the site of the second marathon on my adventure. This one made me a little nervous, because while I believed I was in shape for a sub-5 hour marathon, this one actually had a 5-hour time limit. The cool fall weather and the flat course gave me ideal conditions to work with.
The field was fairly small, 186 men and around 40 women would finish the full marathon. The marathon start was at the Central Sports center in Tenero, and head generally south and east for the first loop, around a bit loop on bike paths. I had lots of company, but didn't really find anyone to run with. I was running pretty well, well ahead of my pace in Soweto last week, and approaching the 5K aid station felt I was right on pace. Flat, cool, ideal conditions made the running easy. Aid stations only every 5K had me stopping to make sure I was getting replenished enough along the way. 10K and we were back past the stadium and headed toward Locarno along the lake. Soon the course took an up-hill turn for about a kilometer, running on the roads a little over 100 yards from the lake. About 3 or 4 kilometers west then downhill into Locarno. We took a about a 2K loop around town and then to the shores of Lago (Lake) Maggiore. The course hugged the shore on the way back to Tenero. Still running steady, and I got through the first half at about 2:17 on my watch.
The second half would start when I crossed the finish line and began the course all over again. Suddenly, I was by myself, working my way through the pedestrian traffic and hoping I could remember the turns early in the course. No course marshalls were there, or at least none who took any notice of me as I worked my way through some pretty heavy pedestrian traffic. After leaving the Sports Center, I made a right turn, but it didn't seem like the right way. I turned around and managed to get someone to understand me well enough to point me back to the course. Still, I wasn't sure. I got part way across a bridge which I didn't really notice when I was with the mass of people at the start, and stopped there for a minute. Two women came up behind me, not in the race, but knew where it went and pointed me in the right direction.
Soon I saw a sign that told me I was on course, but the slight detour and resulting confusion cost me about 4 minutes during that first kilometer. I had no time to lose and hopefully had the legs to stay on pace the rest of the time. Between 1 and 2 kilometers, a kid started following me on a bicycle, staying just behind me where I could hear him. I was getting a little irritated until I turned around and saw a race sign on the front of the bike. He would be my escort for the rest of the day. At least I wouldn't make any more bad turns.
The second loop I was all by myself. I never caught anyone, never saw anyone behind me. I was able to look across the field and see some runners 3 or 4 kilometers in front of me, but that was it. After that, it was just me with my bicycle escort. He spoke not a word of English, so the conversation was nonexistent. About 2/3 of the way through the second loop, I was able to determine by his brief conversations with court marshalls that I was the last person in the race. Still, I was easily on pace for sub-5 hours. Finally, the downhill into Locarno, only 8K to go. I was doing math at every kilometer, knowing that if I kept going I was still on. The final loop around Locarno and back to the lake side--about 5K to go. Stay steady and keep going. The kid was a little inexperienced with escorting and would sometimes end up crowding me or almost cutting me off, but at least he was keeping me on course.
I had walked along the lake a couple times during my visit, so I was in familiar territory--signs at 38, 39, 40, 41K as we approached the final stretch. Finally I could see the tops of the Sport Center buildings and the lights of the sports fields. Turning left into the Center, then right past the field-house, then the final turn toward the finish line. 42K, I looked at my watch--I'd finish, first American, and DFL (dead freakin' last) in the race. Still, my best time this year, and exactly what I set out to accomplish.
Going into the gym for the awards, it turns out that Stephan, one of the guys I had dinner with the night before, won the race!