1st V70. Team GB Bronze 1:29:26 139th of 321 runners.
It’s 7:00 in the morning (6:00 UK time), the temperature is already hitting 22°C. You’ve just come from wet and windy unseasonal weather in Scotland, the race starts at 8:30, and you’re looking at hundreds of runners who, judging by their tans, are obviously used to running in the heat and they look super fit.
We’re definitely outnumbered by the Italians who are racing on home soil. However, the Swiss, who seem to be embracing the whole masters ethos, are there in numbers, also making the most noise with cowbells, rattles, whistles and anything else they can find. Nerves are building, then the team manager comes up to tell you that as there aren’t enough M70s to make a team he’s moving you up to the M35s. Okay, there’s pressure, and then there’s pressure!
It’s a fine balancing act trying to stay cool in the heat, but also warming up without overdoing it. I tried to find some tree-lined road for shade to get some strides in, then get inside out of the sun.
At 8:15 we were led to the starting gantry. We were taken past it for around 100 metres down the road and through the call-up zone, then we were held there. It was getting pretty warm corralled like that, amongst a sea of blue and white Italian vests. We were expecting to be taken back to the start line, under the gantry, but for some inexplicable reason known only to the Italian start team, the gun went and we had 100 metres to run before we hit the mat.
Guess what? The chip timing wasn’t counted from the start mat; they didn’t seem to have it on. They instead went for gun time, which added around 20-30 seconds onto the final result. 300+ runners hit the road, all vying for position and a European title; especially the Italians who just swarmed around the road.
It’s a very difficult race to judge, as most runners are on top of their game and you don’t know anyone, so it was a case of trying to mange pace against not ending up in a blubbering heap at the side of the road having overdone it in the heat.
The route took us out of town. Country roads are loooooong and straight. so you could see the leaders two miles in the distance. They were that straight, open roads, no shelter, all the time monitoring how you’re feeling. It’s so easy to feel great at five miles and then later on really struggle.
I had a runner in front of me for around 10 miles when I passed them. Looking at the results later on, they’d lost 10 minutes on me over the last 5K, so it’s easily done.
The first 5K passed fairly rapidly, but I could feel it was going to take a lot of concentration and conservative running to get to the end. My legs felt lumpy, especially my quads. Must have been the culmination of all the travelling. It took nearly 12 hours to get to our hotel on Friday and we only had Saturday to rest, but also had a couple of hours watching the 5K races and tried to pick our numbers up. The hotel was around 20 min drive from all the events, so not much resting!
I got to the 10K point in 41:21, taking every chance to drink at the water stations. This is something I never do in races in the UK, so it felt a bit strange. It didn’t do any harm though and it was best to be sensible.
At the 10K point I was within European record pace, which gave me a boost, but then I thought ‘Yes, but I’ve got to get to the finish line first,’ so I decided that I’d throttle back on the enthusiasm a bit, and my pace dropped to around 6:30-6:40 miles.
It was quite a fluid race, with runners passing me (youngsters of course, V35s and V40s), but towards the end I managed to pull most of them back. As you can see their ages on the bib on the back of the vest, it helped to make a decision on whether to chase or just hold back.
We hit the 12 kilometre cycle path which runs from Grosseto to Termine Marina. Quite a few of the GB team had congregated to cheer us on. After the cycle track we at last headed into Grosseto itself, a welcome break from those miles of straight roads. We were taken through the old town area and headed under the viaduct, populated by the Swiss and their cowbells.
We then turned into the park onto a gravel path, which then led up above the viaduct. A nice touch running through the city was the church ringing its bells. It was Sunday, but I like to think it was for us.
The last 5K saw us running back towards the start on the long roads again. I don’t know what happened at 10 miles but my pace dropped to 7:15/mile. I rallied again back to my usual pace, but that last 5K seemed interminable, trying to keep focused on running and holding the tempo.
Last roundabout and we could hear the commentator in the distance, but it felt like ages before we hit the straight for home. I nabbed a few more places, but something that will stay with me was the feeling when the commentator yelled out my name with “Primo, Primo Tony Martin, European Champion.” I felt close to tears as I finished in 1:29:26, 139th out of 321 runners.
Quick fast forward to the presentation, I was close to bubbling up standing on the podium listening to the national anthem being played. All the athletes in the hall standing for it, then giving you a big cheer and clap. Given commemorative certificates as well. Bonus was Team GB M35 bronze medal, no panic! I came in first counter for the team, so that was just the best end to a very tiring day.
My wife Margaret won individual bronze (1:48:27) in the W65 category and Team GB silver in the W40 team (3rd counter). A good trip all round for the family.