Florence Marathon 2009 Review
If you're looking for an excuse for a city break before winter sets in and want to take the opportunity to run on a fast, flat marathon course, then this could be one for you to look at. Florence is an ideal venue for a marathon weekend. The main tourist sites are quite close together and the race start and finish are only a short walk from the city centre and hotels.
This year's race was the 26th running of the event and took place on November 29th, with a little over 8,000 entrants. I reckon that this size of field is ideal - big enough to get the atmosphere of a big city race without the drawbacks of 30 or 40,000 runners getting in each others way! We went with an organised group, but you could just as easily sort things out for yourself. The only downside at the moment is the exchange rate with the euro, which makes things rather more expensive.
The race starts on a hill at the Piazzale Michelangelo on the south side of the Arno River. This gives great views over the city rooftops, including the iconic Duomo. In typical Italian style, the race started over 20 minutes late, for no apparent reason! After the usual bit of congestion in the first km or so, the course drops gently downhill past some of the historic gardens for 3 or 4 km and everyone gets going. After this it's pretty flat all the way. After turning back along the river and past the Palazzo Pitti, the route crosses the river and heads out east of town. The support gets a bit sparse out here but the runners create enough atmosphere of their own. After looping back round, we headed towards the Sports Stadium (where we'd registered at the Expo the previous day) and the half way mark. Fortunately, the weather conditions were ideal - cool and overcast with a light breeze - so I was quite enjoying myself. It wasn't long before we were heading right into the middle of the city, passing numerous famous buildings and enjoying the best of the support. All the roads were closed to traffic and there were plenty of marshals, so there were no problems with keeping going. We then headed out west of town, past the 30km point and through the Parco delle Cascine. The crowds thin out again and it's another 7 or 8km before you've looped to the far end of the course and back to civilisation. I was going o.k., but I could imagine that this could feel like a long old drag if you were struggling. Once we were back into the heart of the city, the crowds revived us and it was one last push on to the finish in the Piazza Santa Croce.
My overall impressions were very good. The race organisation worked well, with decent drinks stations every 5km and a few sponge stations in between. It's maybe not quite as fast as you'd expect, with quite a few twists and turns to break up your rhythm (it was won in 2:11:21 with only 10 guys inside 2:20, but that probably reflects the pulling power of a medium-sized city marathon as much as anything). If you're a real art lover you could easily spend too much time on your feet looking round all the museums and galleries before the race, so I'd suggest adding on an extra day or two at the end instead. Our whole weekend went pretty smoothly and I'd certainly recommend it.