What long distance runner wouldn't want to run a marathon in Rome, Italy? I couldn't imagine a much more interesting or scenic place to run a marathon. I dreamt about it for a year in my sleep and on my long runs, from the time I signed up! But after running the Rome Marathon on March 17, 2013, I think it's got a ways to being considered an undeniably awesome marathon experience.

Before I get into some of the gory details, I have quite a few reasons why the Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma) IS a marathon to put on your bucket list.

Rome Marathon 2013: The Good

1. The communication: This year's race was to be held under highly unique circumstances - the changing of the Pope. Religious ceremonies in Rome could interfere with the course and start time - pushing it possibly as late as 4pm on race day. The race organizers updated its marathon running community at least once daily, whether news from the Vatican was available or not. They also confirmed the race date as soon as possible. I can't say how much that was appreciated considering my family's travel schedule. In the end, the race went off at 9:30 with a relatively minor course adjustment - not bad at all. My sanity stayed intact all along thanks to the extensive communication. Thank you for that Rome Marathon organizers!

2. The aid stations: Holy cow, the Rome Marathon organizers set a high bar here. Every marathon should follow their lead. The frequency and quality of the aid stations was like none other I'd experienced in any race before. The first few started with water, later to be followed by water with "salts" (gatorade) and "solids" (sliced oranges, bananas, apples and biscuits). Seriously every aid station after the first few miles had that wonderful plethora of food and beverage. In between those stations, you had sponge stations. By the end of the race I was so highly fueled and hydrated that I ran negative splits and my last .2 at a 6:30 pace. I should note I wasn't running this race for anything close to PR - purely a get-back-to-marathoning-after-having-a-baby goal - but still!

3. The starting line, Tiber and last 6 miles of scenery: Wow. That's all I can say. You're running next to the freaking Colloseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Tiber River, etc. etc. It an awesome place to experience - even cooler to finish the race to the sounds of "Gladiator" music tracks while viewing the Colloseum directly ahead of you. 

Rome Marathon 2013: The Bad

1. The sheer lack of spectators and entertainment: Really, Rome? There's no one in your amazing city that is kind enough or interested enough to cheer on thousands of people who spent hours, days, weeks and months of their lives training to run a marathon? I've never seen such an empty finish line. If not for the music playing over loud speakers it would have been silent! Now, there were quite a few spectators at the start, along the river and at some points around the major tourist sites, which was so greatly appreciated, but overall Rome has to do a much better job of a) supporting its runners or b) adding a lot more entertainment to the course. Organizers, if you read this: Thank you for the two DJs out in the boonies, but please add more!! Many runners need people and/or music to help them along. I personally spend enough time in isolation during training - I look forward to the energy of the crowd to cheer me along, and I didn't get that here for the most part. P.S. Most people who did make the effort to clap or cheer me on (calling out my name on my bib) were American or English tourists, and one Italian marathon volunteer. Do the Romans just not like this marathon or something?

2. The sexism: Yep, I said it. I am no boat-rocker here, but I felt like a second class citizen being part of the 15% female Rome marathon running community. This race has so few women it's no wonder it felt divided to me. But several things happened that made me feel almost uncomfortable running it:
  • Some male runners were aggressive: One grabbed my waist and pushed me aside at the start to get around me. Another trampled a woman at the start - she fell to the ground in the first 100 yards. People, it's a marathon. Where the hell are you sprinting off to that you have to push or stampede people in your path? I hope those all those pushy men cramped up by mile 10.
  • Some male runners were blatant assholes: Waiting in a portapotty line - in two different places - I was cut off by men who didn't seem to care one bit that I was there - and I made it clear I was in line! I tried stepping back in front of them and they just brought more of their buddies in to cut me off. There was no respect shown, and I only wish I had the ability to zap people with my eyes. 
  • The marathon organizers separate male and female bib numbers. So there's a bib #601 (some guy) and then there was mine - bib #F601. Race day bag dropoff/pickup and expo day bib pickup was also separated by gender. I felt this was odd, maybe because of the way I was treated by one of the volunteers during bib pickup in particular. This guy directing people snapped at me to get away from the 601 bib pickup booth and shoed me to the back - apparently I had to go to the far end of the room to find the same numbers for females, which was entirely unclear (my confirmation sheet said nothing about an F before my number - as you can see in my last Maratona di Roma post), and it was impossible to see the women's booth because it was buried in the back. I didn't figure it out right away, so I returned to the first booth to talk to the guy... This time he actually stepped toward me, puffed up his chest and blocked me (do I look intimidating?), and snapped in English "MEN" (points to first booth)" FEMALES" (points to back of room). Thanks, dude. I got it. Step off.

3. Bib pickup: First of all, the bib pickup location is miles from any place I'd want to visit in Rome; it's not near the marathon start or any central tourist destinations. Second, the marathon organizers squeeze bib pickup into a room in a basement which can only hold so many people. So, a long, winding line forms outside this building in the nice, hot sun that you'll endure anywhere from 20-40 minutes if you go the day before the race. This is not what I'd call ideal. I didn't even go to the expo because I ended up being an hour late meeting my family for lunch thanks to these unexpected delays - of course I don't have an international cell phone so I couldn't tell them where I was and I ended up spending more time walking to and from the place I was supposed to meet them - they'd left by the time I arrived. The whole thing was annoying and tiresome. Did I mention I couldn't even bring my husband and daughter into bib pickup with me because of the lack of space down there - maybe if I'd had I wouldn't have had to deal with Brutus the Enforcer of Bib Pickup.

Wrapping up this rant, I don't mean to come off as one-sided (negative). I ran the race for pleasure and Rome is an exhilarating place to run a marathon. If you're a marathoner who enjoys running in unique and interesting spots, you have to run Rome at least once in your life. For me, my days of running in Rome may be over for good. As much as I loved the scenery, fuel stations and great feats of the race organizers to get this race off and running with barely a hiccup, I was very disappointed by the lack of spectators, lack of entertainment and sheer disrespect I seemed to run into repeatedly during this whole experience. Maybe I'd reconsider if my husband ran it with me one day... him and a posse of women.