Footprints in Europe. Ronelle Isaacs recalls her Rome Marathon experience…
When I started my fitness journey, I never imagined that running a city marathon outside of South Africa, let alone two races a week apart, would be one of the selling points for taking the plunge and booking a holiday abroad. But I guess completing a race overseas is one of those bucket list items I have always wanted to tick.
I heard about Disfruta Tours through a running buddy, I followed her feed cataloguing her adventures and I made the decision to make my dream a reality.
Through Disfruta I was approached by a local non-profit organisation Hilltop Legacy to join their team and raise funds for the iCoach Bjorn initiative. The idea of running for such an amazing cause really appealed to me. So agreeing to run for the charity was a “no brainer” and made the experience so much more memorable.
What a blessing … What an experience… As this was my maiden voyage and I didn’t know what to expect, I frequently had to pitch myself as I simply could not believe that this was actually my life. A small town girl from the townships of South Africa, walking around the iconic cities and streets of Europe, tasting the amazing food, breathing the air, experiencing foreign places and sounds that I have only ever seen on TV or read about in books.
I arrived in Italy the Friday before the marathon and was welcomed by the Disfruta representative who whisked me away to my hotel. I fell in love with the Rome as I saw the sunrise and the city waking up around me.
Since I was there on a running adventure, I figured; what better way is there to see Rome than on some easy runs through the city? From the Colosseum to the Vatican, Piazza Venezia, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. Walking around the streets and alleys, browsing through designer stores and frequenting coffee shops, made me feel like I was part of the city, and experiencing Rome like a local.
The expo was a hub of activity and not unlike the ones I have experienced in South Africa, it’s always amazing to see so many other like-minded people together. For me, this always kick starts the excitement leading up to the race. New Balance was the technical sponsor, they supplied a beautiful moisture management shirt and a large branded backpack which doubled as the preferred bag for the tog bag service offered at the race.
Race day, however, is worlds apart from what I’m used to, in South Africa, were wake up several hours before sunrise because of the early starts. In Europe, races start later as in hours later. The evening before I was still walking around and exploring the city, soaking up as much as I could. After a good nights sleep and a leisurely breakfast, I headed off to the starting point in the full light of day. Surprisingly enough on the day of the marathon, I was relaxed and felt rested.
With the Colosseum as a backdrop, it was overwhelming to realise I was surrounded by such rich history. The morning started off a bit chilly and moments before the gun went off, it began to rain. It continued to rain for at least an hour into the race and started up again the last hour and a half before I finished.
Certain parts of Rome, especially the streets surrounding the iconic landmarks, have a rustic old world feel. Many of the streets are paved with smooth, uneven cobblestones. Combine that with a splash of rain those cobbled lanes add a scary element to the course. This somehow, added to the experience and I was completely immersed in the moment.
It was a circuit course starting and ending at the Colosseum. The inner city pavements were lined with cheering crowds, who didn’t seem to be phased by the downpour. Bands and musicians gathered on street corners to entertain the crowds and runners. Even though I was hearing all these foreign languages being spoken around me, the energy and camaraderie of my fellow participants during the last stretch kept me motivated to finish strong. Rome Marathon is hands down one of my favourite marathons to run; the scenery was incredible, the refreshment stations were fully stocked and everything was planned and executed well. En route they even had sponging stations which were unnecessary because of the rain. I remember I chuckled each time I was offered a sponge by one of the volunteers !
I ran a personal best that day and was rewarded with the most beautiful medal.
Taking on this challenge has taught me so many lessons, not just about running but about travelling, exploring and life itself. Throughout the entire experience, I was acutely aware of and extremely grateful for everything that had come together for me to be there. I will always remember the city and feel grateful for the experience. It gave me memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.
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