Archive for Venice Marathon


Is Venice that way?

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The Venice Marathon finishes in the most beautiful city in the world. Or maybe not.

The classic foot race known as a marathon is generally predictable, from the distance (26 miles/385 yards or 42 km/195 meters) to the winner (so often an athlete from Kenya or Ethiopia or Eritrea).  And why should the 32nd Venice Marathon, which was run last Sunday, October 22, have been any different?

Why indeed?  That’s what people would really like to know.

Because in 31 years here no competitors in the lead have ever somehow taken the wrong road at the 16-mile point.  And yet on Sunday there was a little peloton of East Africans who were some distance ahead of the 5,962 other runners.  Abdulahl Dawud, Gilbert Kipleting Chumba, Kipkemei Mutai and David Kiprono Metto were following the motorcycle at the head of the race, as per normal, and when it turned right, going up the ramp onto the overpass leading to Venice, naturally they followed.  Except that they were supposed to be on the highway below the overpass.

The drone — or helicopter — showed this scene in real time. Unbelievable. (

Of course there’s nothing strange about seeing the front runners on an empty road.  It just turned out to be the wrong empty road. (Sports Illustrated)

As two precious minutes ticked by, somebody else on a motorcycle caught up with them, yelling (I imagine) “What the hell, you guys?  You’re supposed to be down there!”  I imagine this because Lino and I were watching the live broadcast and you could easily see the men begin to turn around and trot back the way they came, no longer in the lead although still all by themselves, race essentially over. In fact, it was literally over; they withdrew immediately.  One doesn’t run 26 miles/385 yards, or at that point one hour and 15 minutes, for the sheer euphoric joy of it.  Who was responsible for that wrong turn?  If you know, the world would like to hear from you.  And so would the four runners.

As if we needed another problem, here it is: The winner, Eyob Faniel — who finished with an amazing two-minute lead over the rest of the pack — was born in Eritrea but is a naturalized Italian citizen and runs for the Venicemarathon Club.  Fun fact:  It has been 22 years since an Italian won the Venice Marathon.  About time, you say?  Somebody else might have been thinking the same thought.  I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but the optics here, as the current expression has it, are not attractive.

Here is what Lorenzo Cortesi, general secretary of the Venice Marathon, has said (translated by me): “We need to evaluate if this was an error by the vigili urbani (a sort of local police), or by us.  The service autos exited the barriers and the local police didn’t close the street.  The motorcycles, then, weren’t able to transit the underpass.” (I totally do not understand this last bit.  You want the people to run on a road that the motorcycle is forbidden to take?)  “But I wouldn’t want the significance of this race to be limited only to this.”  Of course you wouldn’t.  Neither would I, if I were in charge.

But enough unpleasantness!  Backpats generously administered by Signor Cortesi to the 2,000 volunteers involved, not to mention to everyone involved in the successful completion of all the unusual elements which the Venice Marathon requires: “Just think of the fact that we have to transport from the mainland to the arrival area, with 12 big trucks and 12 boats, the sacks of all the personal effects of the athletes.”

I can confirm that the organization was impressive as seen from ground level, from the chemical toilets to the bags of snacks to the massage tables with massagers waiting for massaggees.

But although the scaffolding and some bridges and the bleachers have all been removed, the questions refuse to go away.  It used to be that everybody would be talking about how people ran.  Now the only thing they’re talking about is where.

On Thursday, things began to be done on the Riva dei Sette Martiri. Unusual things for the Riva, normal things for the marathon, which is held on the fourth (and usually also the last) Sunday in October.

This spacious area in the Giardini Pubblici was soon to be revised to accommodate the immediate needs of thousands of exhausted and sweaty people.

The accommodation was, first of all, big tents for changing your clothes. Smaller tents were for medical attention of various sorts.

Masses of runners downshifting after the 10K race, which preceded the main event by a few hours. The brown-paper bags contained cartons of fruit juice, cookies, fruit and something else — I only got a glimpse inside one. The broad plastic wrappers were temporary blankets doing double duty as large posters for the main sponsor, Huawei Technologies. I should have mentioned that the official name of the event, as announced by the speaker in virtually every sentence, is “Huawei Venice Marathon.”

Yes, there will be garbage. Let’s see…thousands of plastic blankets and paper bags of food and busted shoelaces and fistfuls of used tissues, or whatever runners throw away when the party’s over, all have to be collected and carried off by the hardy trashmen and women of Veritas.


Three of the 12 enormous boats loaded with bags which contain the bags of runners’ personal effects trundled toward the Giardini to wherever the pickup point was organized.  If you’ve ever had any reason to inquire about the cost of renting one of these boats, you won’t have to ask why there are so many sponsors for this event.

As you see: Sponsors. Job lots of them, which is the only way these affairs can exist.

We sat in the bleachers watching the overjoyed 10K runners cross the finish line. The sky threw down some gobbets of rain but it didn’t last long.

The jumbotron was a great way to watch the big race as the runners coasted along the Brenta river. It all seemed so peaceful and normal…

A few sections of the temporary bridge used for the feast of the Redentore bring the runners from the Zattere across the Grand Canal to San Marco.

There was a little soupcon of acqua alta in the Piazza, but the higher stretch in the center of the square meant the runners kept their feet dry (which was not the case on one memorable day some years ago when “sloshing” entered the event’s description).

The fabulous finish by Eyob Faniel was pretty exciting. I don’t want the backstory to discolor what was a great moment for the spectators anyway.  Nobody had truly grasped the whole situation at this point, and a guy running with nobody to be seen behind him is irresistibly thrilling.

And of course, crossing the finish line was a huge experience for the myriad unsung runners racing against themselves.

And after the glory come the showers. Follow the helpful hand-drawn arrows to hot water and soap, the happy ending after the happy ending.


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The ramps return to Capistrano — I mean Venice

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Seasonal migrations (is that redundant? Sorry) are an excellent way to keep track of the year’s divisions, especially here, where you need a keen eye to discern that there is anything more than one season anymore, which is Tourists.

But at this moment, if you’re paying attention (and if you know, and if you care) you can detect a few important signs of autumn.  I don’t mean the drying, yellowing, falling leaves — anybody can notice them, and besides, the drought began drying them before their normal time to drop.  So leaves are out.

Torbolino — the first draw-off of the new wine.  That’s an excellent indicator, though again, this year it’s somewhat early due to the unusually early harvest (see: “drought,” above).

Ducks are also useful heralds of the season — I saw my first one paddling around two weeks ago, This always makes me happy, except that I had seen my first duck hunter even earlier: The ducks began hitting the water on September 3. So much for enjoying their winter haven.

Seppioline — sepoine (seh-poh-EE-neh) in Venetian — are baby seppie, or cuttlefish.  If “baby” anything on your plate upsets you, skip this paragraph.  We are now in the period of the fraima, which is the annual passage of the fish which have spent all summer fooling around in the lagoon moving out into the Adriatic (or beyond) for the winter.  The cuttlefish spawned months ago, and their small offspring are now in the process of making their first trip out into the world where they will become big, grown-up cuttlefish.  Unless they get snagged before they reach the exit, in which case they will be sold at an outrageous price (there I go, being redundant again), grilled and eaten.  Short migration.

The ramps are used by thundering racers for a few hours, and by countless humbler folk dragging suitcases, shopping carts, or strollers laden with small heavy tired cranky children for six months. I would bet that the shleppers appreciate the ramps just as much as any Ethiopian champion. Probably more.

But the ramps are back.  I saw my first one two days ago and it was like hearing a small, clear trumpet announcing autumn, winter, and early spring.  The ramps are set up for the Venice Marathon (this year scheduled for October 23), and they stay up till the end of March. That’s practically half the year.  Then they migrate back to hibernate in whatever warehouse keeps them till next October.

They’re only installed on the race route — logically — which conveniently passes the Piazza San Marco and other heavily traveled tourist routes.  I bet the people up in Cannaregio and along the northern edge of the city really envy us.  I know they don’t envy us the tourists, but we get the ramps.

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