20 March 2011

Marathon Day

Isn't Marathon in Greece?
Yesterday we watched as thousands of runners streamed by the Vatican, which was at the approximate fifteen kilometer mark of the race.
We arrived early at Via della Concillazione - the grand boulevard that runs from the Tiber to St. Peter's Square - to find it almost deserted. There were a few policemen and a couple of photographers, but not many others. Suddenly, a pack of motorcycles and a large stair-car came screaming around the bend, followed closely by a small group of men running very, very fast. We were pretty unprepared and didn't have any time to get into position, so our photos weren't great. This is the group of leaders, though. The man who ultimately won the race, Dickson Kiptolo Chumba, a Kenyan, is the last runner in this picture. He's wearing red and only his arms, shoulders and head are visible.
The frontrunners were gone quickly, leaving us with an empty street again. Having never seen a Marathon in person, I was surprised by the speed of the running (there were much slower people to come), and by how much separation these men had gained after only fifteen kilometers.
A trickle of others began making the turn a few minutes later. The photographers and early fans left when the famous faces had gone by. Soon, though, more people began showing up - both in the race and along the course. This view is up Concillazione, with St. Peter's Basilica in the background.
As the morning went on, the mood became more festive. A band showed up in formal police regimentals and intermittently blasted a snippet of song. Behind them, from speakers mounted to the Vatican colonnade, Sunday mass was being broadcast.
We set up shop near the halfway point of the boulevard, taking pictures of interesting people. The second thing that surprised me about the marathon: how many people wear costumes. These two were part of a group of four dressed as Romans, appropriately enough. When we saw them, we wondered why there weren't more like them.
This guy was one of the most enthusiastic about having his picture taken. A middle aged, breathless couple actually stopped in front of us and demanded that we take their camera and photograph them with the Vatican in the background. A third thing I was surprised by at my first marathon: how many people had cameras strapped to their hats or in their hands. Also, the number of people taking pictures on, looking at or messaging with their phones - as they ran!
The best part of the spectator experience became watching people cross the street. There were volunteers at the crosswalks, trying to dissuade people from crossing. If it was apparent that they were dealing with someone very stubborn, the guards would sometimes allow them to cut through during less-crowded moments. This old man shuffle-sprinted across slowly, weaving his granddaughter (daughter? abducted child?) through annoyed runners.
In general, the bulk of the people we saw were energetic and enthusiastic - this being less than a third of the way into the race, it's good that they were. We left as we began to see more people struggling.
It was a perfect day for running, it seemed. The air was cool, the sky was blue, Rome looked beautiful. We wandered along the colonnade, looking out past the "border" at the athletes, listening to the singing from inside the basilica.
The woman who won the race, Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado, took her shoes off before the finish line, paying homage to the woman who won the 1960 Rome marathon. You can read more about her here. The amazing thing - she took her shoes off and STILL won by more than two minutes.

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