By Giorgio Pogliano - At the Lausanne Marathon, in 2002, I managed to beat my wife Amy by a full 19 seconds. It was the last time. I wrote a story on that and received very different feedbacks on it from men than I received from women. The men all wrote I had done the right thing, with that final kick... a few added that I should have shot her too, so she wouldn't beat me on the next occasion. Women, in general, found my flight despicable and told me so: we should have finished the marathon hand-in-hand. Amy, conclusively, told me I had been right, that I had shown respect for the race and for her too. And she added that she would not forgive me if I ever waited for her while racing.
What about me? Well... I had many thoughts about that. A lot of water under the bridge, since then. The false certainty of my male ego crumbled during the following marathons. I picked up the pieces, I took notice of my limitations, I did like the fox with the grapes... and put a sprinkling of humor on top of all that. "A comedy is a tragedy plus time...". I didn't stop my marathoning but I started opening my eyes on a few fixations, and running went back to being "just" running. A few months later I started pacing and soon I realized I liked it a lot, while I had never really liked it when I just chased empty numbers.
I completed many marathons since. Alone, with women I knew and with unknown women I got to know later... with Mauro, with Mike, with Pera, with Pietro. Just never with Amy. And every time I finished a marathon I felt an urge to run one with her. In order to pick the beautiful flowers and the rare pearls of the 24th mile. In order to live with her unique sensations, pure intuitions, uncomplicated ideas, unconditional affections. Am I exaggerating? Some think so. But that's the sense of marathoning to me.
Finally, the occasion: in Treviso Amy was supposed to pace the 3:30 group and I the 3:45 one, but at the last moment there was a re-shuffling of tasks and we found ourselves together! A nice woman, Marilena Dell'Anese was our co-pacer.
Race day. It's colder than we had anticipated and it's looking very much like snow, but in the grids we're like between the ox and the donkey. The wind blows and our baloons bump merrily on people's heads all around us. "What time are you going to pace? 3:45? I'll try that. I'll stay with you"... "I don't know, I didn't really train"... "This is just a long run toward Padova"... "I could run faster than 3:30 but in the past few days I had an intestinal flu, a backache, tendonitis...". The usual stuff, the usual caveats by some of the very same people who, at the end of the race, will claim they had known all along this was going to be a PR, that this was their day. What about me? Well... I didn't train either, I was under a lot of pressure at work, I could but I didn't, anyway this is just a long run, I'm just one of three pacers, I may even bail out after 18 miles or so... but I learned to keep these things to myself.
Confidence in pacers must be established within the first couple of miles. We must start out at the right pace, or even a little more slowly. The start is downhill and we must not let ourselves be carried away. Slow down, slow down, slow down to the right feeling, when you're feeling you're slow, very slow, too slow. Then you pick up the pace gently on the second kilometer, and you reach the average speed that will catch you up with the minute you lost at the start. We can do that in the first 10k's, thanks to a gentle descent and a tailwind. Everything is fine and the group around us is thick. As usual, some people stick to us like glue, as if it there were no other way to keep the right pace. I'm running between Amy and Marilena, and my thoughts go back to one year ago, when I ran here with my blind friend Mike.
Tenth kilometer. We had planned 53.22 and we pass it in 53.20. That's good. It's snowing and the wind is strong, but from astern. The balloons are a bit painful: the strings move from one ear to the other ear, or around the neck. But pacing is easy, because we identified all the "diesel engines". After a few miles the pacers are ten, not three, because there are always those who run as regularly as pacers, among many who don't. We can help each other out until we reach the Wall. After that everything will change, because after the Wall the pace naturally tends to fall, and that's when the pacers must do their job again. But the wall is twelve miles from now. Automatic pilot set at 5.20 mpk (8.35 mpm for metric illiterates).
Because of the cold there are fewer people out there than last year, among the public. I don't see the children who give you high five or the mothers whom Mike caressed gently en passant while believing he was giving the children high five... blessed are those who believe without having seen...
But here comes Ponte della Priula. The village is very crowded and the crowd roars. We passed the twentieth kilometer in 1:46.30, exactly on schedule. Since then we picked up the pace a little bit, in order to gain a minute by wall time. We'll need that minute because the last couple of miles will be on narrow streets of cobble stone, with some curves and a hill. Now we're approaching a bridge, the bridge over the River Piave, "sacred river of our country". Sacred because it's here that the Italian army organized its defense after losing the battle of Caporetto in 1917, and it's from here that it launched its final and victorious attack on the Austrians a year later. We sing the hymn of the Piave and then the national anthem. We're still singing it when we enter Nervesa, the town of one of the worst carnages of World War I. The public clap and sing along. (Hemingway lovers may review "A Farewell to Arms" on this subject).
Amy seeks my hand, almost furtively. Words are useless: now we know this was a good idea. A couple pacing together... we had hesitated a bit. I remember many couples who burst on sailboats, when I used to sail. But here we have total harmony, and I'm allowed to talk to women as I normally would, while she talks to men as she normally would too. I talk to Cloe, a Genova girl, a blond girl of 50 or so. She's worried she may not make it, but she looks fine to me. And there are many other people. Other interesting women, each with a story to tell.
Eighteenth mile. We are one minute ahead. We can pick up our oars, so to speak: we'll keep flowing along knowing that we'll have a minute to waste when the going gets tougher. Silence fell, that silence I so like. We're all running in the same direction, bleary-eyed. I think of a scene from a movie I liked. A movie taken from a book I like immensely, "Chronicle of a death foretold" by Garcia Marquez. You know, that scene where everybody runs and the author runs too, while his friend is gutted by killers right in front of his home. And the author could have saved him but he... well, he ran instead. I feel some anguish... my sugar levels must be low... I chew on a power gel. Cloe, where's Cloe? She's gone. I'll discover later that she gave it a shot and made it: she will close her marathon in 3:41 chip time, a PR by far! We're at mile 24, where you pick beautiful flowers and rare pearls. I'm holding Amy's hand and feeling happy. And we reach our friend Giovanni, who has a problem with one of his knees (but his head is working fine). "Come on, Giovanni, let's finish this together! We're a bit ahead of schedule and so the last kilometer will be a little easier!"
"But when does this damn last kilometer start?" asks someone. A couple of kilometers from now... in a while... "Twelve minutes from now" says Amy. "She's a Rolex!" exclaims Giovanni, fascinated. Now we're entering Treviso, with a mile and a half to go. "And for the three-forty-five-group Hip hip hip... Hurrah! Hip hip hip... Hurrah! Hip hip hip... Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"
Enthusiasm is high. We've been telling people to go for it, leave the pack, pick up the pace, give it their best. "No, we did this together and we're going to finish this together" is the answer. This is rare and gratifying. We see Sabrina in the public. And then there's Matt from New York, who's been everywhere along the course today. "Good job, Giorgio! Good job, Amy! Go, go, go!". A final hill, and we pass the 42nd mark. 195 meters to the end. Hand in hand, we spread out like a fan. Marilena is to my left and Amy to my right. Giovanni holds Amy's right hand. I squeeze Amy's hand hard. She squeezes back. The loudspeaker says "A wall! Ladies and gentlemen, a wall! A solid three-forty-five brick wall is drawing near!". I get goose bumps. We reach the finish line as the billboard says 3:44.54 and all around us we still have at least one hundred people. Julia is there, Julia who created this formidable team of pacers, a team unlike all others you see around. And there are smiles and tears and smiles that dry out the tears. Sugar's low, sugar's low... and hugs. And kisses.
And the medal.