Venice marathon, ramping upBy
Last week saw the arrival of yet another signal of autumn. It wasn’t the tuffetti, my favorite ducks, though that is an important moment for me. Nor was it the first chestnuts, jujubes, and persimmons appearing in the market. (Ignore the persimmons — it’s too early. These are clearly interlopers from some hothouse.)
It’s the arrival, if you can put it this way, of the mega-ramps constructed over the bridges that stud the route of the Venice Marathon, an event which is always held on the fourth Sunday in October. (For a look at the route, see here.)
Perhaps you never thought of Venice as being suitable for a marathon (do they use water wings? Must be one of the oldest jokes around).
No, the magic word for Venice, in the world of runners, isn’t “water,” it’s “bridges.” Specifically, the 11 bridges between the mainland and the finish line way down at the Giardini not far from us. (I don’t include the Ponte della Liberta’, from the mainland to Piazzale Roma, nor the temporary pontoon bridge set up between the Salute and San Marco, because they have no steps and present no special challenge beyond their simple existence.)
I can’t tell you where Venice ranks in the world of marathons (there are 72 marathons in Italy), but thanks to the ramps it’s a great thing for everybody who isn’t a runner — who has trouble walking, or has to schlep a heavy suitcase or shopping cart or child-laden stroller or any object involving wheels, which means just about everybody. The marathon closes after six hours, but here, schlepping is forever.
October 24 will be the 25th edition of this event, so there will be a small celebratory change in the route, which for the first and only (they say) time will be detoured straight through the Piazza San Marco. It will obviously be a publicity agent’s dream. If you’re trying to get around the Piazza that morning, it may be somewhat less dream-like. But at least now you know. Make a note also that the vaporetto schedules will be deranged.
Of the 24 Venice marathons to date, seven were won by Italian men, 11 by Italian women. Since the year 2000 it has been pretty much dominated by Ethiopian or Kenyan runners. If you’re a runner, you may already have known, or surmised, this result. I see by the statistics that during these 24 years the elapsed time for the men’s race has shrunk from 2:18’44” to 2:08’13”. A similar drop has occurred among the women. (If you care, the world’s fastest marathon was four minutes shorter: Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia holds the record for his finish at the Berlin Marathon in 2008 at 2:03’59”.)
Let me repeat, for us mortals the marathon doesn’t mean glory, it means an annual drop in the Daily Fatigation Factor. Because they leave the bridges up till Carnival is over, which means almost six months of ramps.
Yes, they’re ugly. No, I don’t think it would be great to leave them up all year (at least not this version, though a design for a permanent wheel-friendly modification to some bridges was recently proposed). But when they’re gone, it takes a while to get used to doing steps again.
I know, steps are better for you. So go climb steps somewhere else. Try this: Drag your suitcase from the train station to your hotel at the end of the Strada Nova (four bridges).
And remember, to be really annoying a bridge doesn’t have to have a lot of steps. It just has to be narrow, and steep. There are 409 bridges in Venice, and as soon as you have something heavy and clumsy to carry, even just one will be too many.