Our team, The Battalion, likes to travel for work. That is, we pick fun destination races. 2016 was the Lake Garda International Marathon in northern Italy. We picked it for it’s gorgeous scenery and well… the food.
The Emirates flight to Milan was a flawless victory for me. One Ambien and I was out for the whole 8 hours. We (Abbe, Dougie, Danika and Eric) landed at noon, rented a car, and set out into Italy’s northeastern lake region. The weather was overcast and would soon get worse, as the Hundred Years Storm was approaching.
Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake. It is roughly 5 miles wide by 40 miles high. We entered the perimeter of the lake headed north just as the rain started. A few more miles and what many of the locals called The Hundred Years Storm opened up, dropping the craziest downpour I have ever seen on us. We slowed down and carefully made our way around the small windy roadway. At one point an apple fell onto our windshield and I really thought it was going to shatter. Go Fiat!
Finally at Hotel Castello in Malcesine, we ran inside and checked in. The place was fantastic and right next to the famous castle that Malcesine is known for. The Etruscans founded the town in 500BC so yea, it’s got history… my kind of place.
We were welcomed by Marco and Matteo at Hotel Castello and they would soon become our trusted friends and top notch hosts.
After dropping our bags off we met in the lobby for a few drinks before headed to dinner. I was beyond Code Red hungry so we had little time. We scouted a few places before landing at Ristorante Caminetto, which was a local pizza place owned by a guy named Mario who was running around taking orders. He spoke zero english. He was extremely welcoming to us and we immediately had pitchers of white and red wine (and a beer for Eric) on the table. Then, the power went out! Nobody in the place really made a peep, they just kept talking and eating. Then guy next to us even used his iPhone flashlight to see his meal and continue chowing down. I had a pizza diavola, one of my favorites. I even get it here in NYC at San Matteo. The food was absolutely amazing and being around the locals was a blast.
The rest of the night was spent at ‘Eric’s Place’. He opted for a suite with a sick balcony, so we partied there, obviously.
It was a bit overcast again and in the low 50’s. For breakfast, we ate downstairs in the hotel dining room with some Italians, Brits and Germans. It was a very wide variety of food and we (as Americans) were thrilled with all the options. A cheese and meat plate for breakfast? Grazie!
The rest of the day was spent exploring the old town of Malcesine. It was quite a cool place and felt like stepping back in time as we wandered through the tight cobble stone streets. We had lunch at Ristorante Aristotele which turned out to be a fantastic place. I had Bolognese as the first part of my carb-o-loading. (This would not be the last time I would have Bolognese.)
Next, we took the local bus ten minutes down the road to Torbole, another lake town. This was where registration was as well as the finish of the race. It was a slightly smaller town known for its windsurfing, so every bar and shop had a surf theme. Dougie and I found these sweet Torbole cycling jerseys that we picked up.
Bib pickup was a cinch. No one spoke english, so it was a ‘simple pass me this and I’ll pass you that’ scenario finished with a ‘ciao, grazie’.
We ended up heading to dinner at 8-8:30 that night. What’s so great about a 9:30AM marathon start two blocks from your hotel… the night is yours!
I forget the name of the place we had dinner, but it was superb. (Fun Fact: all of the meals in this story are going to be amazing aside from maybe one.) Dougie and I got this spicy seafood pasta that the server recommended. I know, I know… very risky the night before a marathon, but we had a good feeling about it. The feeling was spot on and it was delicioso. We finished our meal with some of the homemade grappa-like substance they had brewing and then hit one more bar for a night cap before bed.
Does Danika have her own bottle of wine?!
We casually woke up and hit the hotel restaurant breakfast. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. We would start the race with 50 degrees and end it at 70. I fueled up with some greek yogurt and fruits as well as an espresso. Back in the room as I geared up I had my usual (as of late) peanut butter on bread.
I was very excited to get this run on in such an amazing environment.
Dougie, Danika, Abbe and I set off for the start down the cobble stone streets and all thought, “Wow, it would be terrible to have to run on these.” We think Eric may have gone back to bed.
The Start was in the center of town and all 500 runners were milling about trying to stay warm, even though t was a mere 50 degrees. Dougie and I had Newtons on and people were staring at us as they had never seen them before. It was also very hard to figure out what was happening as everything was being broadcast in Italian. We just waited until people started lining up and we followed along. Then, just like that, we were all just running.
We all started in the back, so it was a little tight running through the streets of Malcesine, although very fun to see the locals cheering. I hit Mile 1 at 8:28 and decided I wanted to pick it up. I even thought how fun it would be do have negative splits on a marathon.
The scenery was just as I imagined it. We were running south on the out-n-back right along the banks of the lake with the Dolomite Mountains cutting into the sky, the sun projecting dramatic shadows across them. I think the local italian racers must have thought me crazy as I stared into the distance, shit eating grin across my face.
Miles 2-5 were in the high 6:50’s and I was feeling pretty peppy and really excited to be running. Tapering can be so hard sometimes. The turnaround took us quickly through a tiny italian town with very narrow streets. It was a very ‘Death Star Run’ situation and it felt like we were flying.
Back on the course heading north I passed Abbe and gave her a high five. A few moments later I saw Dougie and did the same, Battalion representin’ hard.
Miles 6-10 I started to drop into the 6:40’s feeling fluid and really enjoying myself. At mile 10 we passed the town we were staying in and there were a lot of locals out cheering yelling ‘Bravo, bravo!’ By now everyone running by me was in race formation and cutting the tangents very tight. Italians sure do know how to race!
As we started to make our way to Torbole, the fabled winds that rip over the Dolomites from the north hit us dead on. It was pretty rough and there were tiny packs of 2-3 runners here and there drafting each other. My pace for miles 11-15 dropped into the high 6:50’s.
Luckily, we started descending and bearing right a bit so we were shielded from the mighty north wind for the remainder of the run. The course got very twisty now and there were a series of very cool tunnels we went through that passed under the mountains. I was by myself and found that I was just staring out at the lake and mountains smiling. It was so beautiful. Torbole was in sight now, some 4 miles into the distance. You could see all of the wind surfers enjoying their Sunday on the lake zipping back and forth at very high speeds. Without exaggeration there were between 30 and 40 of them. Miles 16-18 were clocked at 6:38, 6:11, 6:36.
We leveled out as we entered Torbole and started to see the cheering crowds. Then, in the center of town we passed the finish line turn off for those running the 15K or 18 miler.
Marathoners had to keep going, which was tough mentally. We ran out along the waters edge and caught some really cool views of the side of the lake we had just come from.
Then, the most challenging part of the day approached. We had a 3 mile out-n-back along a flat sunny stretch of road. It was really hot by now and I was slowing down. The remainder of my pace would be in the 7:15-7:30 range. At mile 23 I was fading pretty bad and all by myself out there without anyone in sight. My mental game was collapsing. Then, I heard this pitter patter of speedy feet catching up to me. It was a woman I had passed and said hello to at mile 16. As she passed I said “Bravo! Great pace, go, go, go!” and she replied back to me, “You too, come on!” This was such a big help. I held her pace and for the rest of the race shadowed her from about 10 meters back.
The last 3 miles were on a small paved trail and at least offered some shade for us, which was very helpful. We hit the lake front again and took a left making our way to the finish. I was totally spent and very happy to cross. My time was a 3:05 and change which I was very happy with.
Comin’ in way hot on that turn!
It turns out Monica, who finished in front of me, was 3rd Place Female so there were loads of cheering! So much so that they didn’t even announce my finish.
After getting my medal I made my way to the food and drink tent. A banana and Gatorade set me straight and I started to regain normalcy. Our meet up spot was a restaurant called Winds on the main drag, so I headed there, ordered a beer and waited for my crew. Shortly after, Danika followed by Abbe and Eric and then Dougie all showed up.
Not a bad location for a race.
We left Wings Restaurant and headed down to the shore to bask in the glorious sunshine. After a few drinks and some food we headed back to Malcesine for showering.
That night we headed back to Ristorante Aristotle where I had a really hearty and tasty pasta dish. We finished up the night at Eric’s Place, obviously.
Thank you Lake Garda, for providing me with a truly epic setting to run a marathon. I was overwhelmed with the beauty that surrounded me countless times.
The next day we headed out to the Ferrari Factory in Maranello to test drive Ferraris!
Italy… to be continued…